Speech formalities too extreme, yet ‘R-word’ rightly discouraged

Ben Olson/Staff Writer

I Tuesday, March 31, was “Spread the Word to End the Word” day worldwide, sponsored by the Special Olympics. The goal of this day was to end the use of the word “retard” in a derogatory way. Universities and high schools throughout the country held rallies and speeches.

This was the first time that I have heard of an international campaign devoted to hate speech focusing on the r-word, and I have to say I think it is a great idea. As a high school student, it’s virtually impossible to walk down the hallways without hearing “retard” being thrown around. Sometimes it is used to replace “dumb” or “stupid” or simply as a joke between friends, but either way the word definitely has a negative connotation. I admit I have even used this word jokingly, but I think a lot of times people don’t realize that using “retard” to negatively describe someone is a form of hate speech against special needs people.

Concerning the mentally disabled, it’s interesting to see how our language has evolved over time due to political correctness and censorship of some words. It was only this past November that the “Idiot Clause” was passed in Iowa due to the word “idiot” being used to describe the mentally ill on voting ballots.

On the other hand, other words have become sensitive as well. You used to be able to use “queer” to describe something odd or out of place, but now a whole new meaning has taken form. More examples include saying someone is Jewish instead of a Jew, African-American instead of black, financially challenged instead of poor, a food-server instead of a waitress, differently-sized instead of fat, involuntarily-leisured instead of unemployed and the list continues.

Overall, I 100 percent agree that the r-word’s negative use needs to be addressed and reduced because it is hurtful to our mentally handicapped citizens and their families, friends and activists.

However, this leads me to think about the extremity of political correctness and semantic changes of words in our society. After all, “retard” used to be a completely politically correct term that literally means “slowed-down.”
Don’t get me wrong, this is one word that I definitely believe should not be used to describe a person, but I think in general our society is becoming too strict on our terms of speech.

In a way, I sometimes wonder if it is against the First Amendment that guarantees our freedom of speech. One thing I realize, though, is that it hasn’t been the government that has cracked down on restrictions on free speech, but rather businesses, employers and certain organizations.

I truly believe that all people should be able to use any speech they want as long as it isn’t extremely hurtful to a specific group, or groups, of people, which is why I don’t understand how “waitress,” “poor” and “unemployed” could possibly be harmful to others. Sure, all of those words describe a certain group of people, but it describes what they truly are. If you are low on money, you can be considered poor compared to a millionaire. If you are a female who serves food at a restaurant, you are a waitress. If you currently have no job, you are unemployed.

The current trends of words and supposed negative meanings have me worried that soon we won’t be able to say “darn” if we make a mistake or “what’s up” to a teacher because it could be deemed disrespectful.

I truly hope that our speech can be taken more lightly in the future, but in the darker times our country and world are facing, I’m not sure that can be possible. Individuals should be more conscious of their words and whether or not they are demeaning. That is the only way our language and speech could continue to maintain some freedom.

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