About the “R” word

Much is being made lately of the fact that Rahm Emanuel is being exposed as somewhat who berates people in meetings by calling them “retards.”  I don’t expect any better of Rahm Emanuel who is, by all accounts, an extraordinary boor and bully.  He’s also yet another example of the fact that the Left, by using government might to impose speech and thought codes regarding various minority groups, feels that it owns those groups and can insult them with impunity.

My usual tropes about the Left’s crudity, though, is just a lead in to something I really want to talk about here, which is the “R” word:  Retard.  It’s used as an insult, and activist groups want to strip it from people’s vocabularies.  That’s a laudable, but ultimately foolish, effort.  The problem isn’t with the word, it’s with the reality behind the word, which is that there are now, and always will be, people who have mental disabilities.

Good human beings, being of kindness and moral worth, would not insult mentally disabled people to their faces, nor would they use whatever label happens to be applied to those people as an insult to others.  For example, whether someone is described as having “Down syndrome; ” being “mentally disabled” (today’s PC generic term); being a “mongoloid” (that was the old polite term when I was growing up); or being “mentally retarded” (the generic polite term for all mentally handicapped people when I was growing up) I would never use any one of those terms as an insult.

Someone like Rahm, though, whether he’s a 9 year old bully on the playground or a middle aged bully in the White House, will use any one of those terms as an insult because it’s not the term that matters — it’s the thought behind it.  To Rahm, the mentally disabled are stupid and defective, and the people who don’t get with his program are stupid and defective.  It’s all the same to him.

That’s the problem with trying to police language.  Some terms are meant from their inception to be rude and insulting.  (I won’t repeat them here, but you can imagine them.)  Others, however, degrade over time because the words become associated with a condition or race or orientation that is viewed in a negative light, no matter how well-meaning polite people are.  So we keep changing terms.  The classic example, one that I keep getting back to, is the way in which people with genetic roots in Africa keep changing the label by which they wish to be called, because they perceive others using that label in a negative way:  Colored, Negro, Black, African-American, People of Color.  Each time that the term seems to be pejorative, someone gets the bright idea to change it — but the associations with that label don’t change.  (Although I would argue, strongly, that American’s prejudice has changed substantially in the years between “Colored” and “People of Color.”)

It’s absolutely true that vocabulary can affect thought.  Orwell certainly understood that.  It’s also true, though, that there are some prejudices that linger inside people that are resistant to mere language changes.  For Rahm, everyone who doesn’t instantly agree in all ways with him is manifestly a mental failure — and what better shorthand than the current politically correct term, whatever that term happens to be on a given day, for people who have cognitive disabilities?   In other words, the problem here isn’t words at all, it’s debased people in political office.

Just another reminder, as if we needed one, that substance will invariably triumph over Leftist PC manipulation.  The PC manipulation can damage society profoundly, but it can’t ultimately change human nature — especially when the human nature at issue is someone who is mean, condescending, demeaning, and ill-mannered.

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  • suek

    “Colored, Negro, Black, African-American, People of Color.  Each time that the term seems to be pejorative, someone gets the bright idea to change it — but the associations with that label don’t change.”
    And at the heart of the problem is the fact that what they’re really saying is “don’t name me by what I am”.  Self hatred.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    They’re too busy controlling reality with words that they aren’t putting any resources into actually changing the reality of people’s behaviors.

  • Oldflyer

    I do believe that our “society” (if that term is even applicable) has gone off the deep end with the notion that certain words are apriori insulting, and therefore must be restricted or banned.  It is sort of like the “zero tolerance” policies in various venues, particularly schools.  All common sense goes out the window and bizarre incidents occur, because human judgment is over ridden by bureaucratic fiat.
    Clearly, the real issue with Rahmbo’s usage was the inclusion of the obscenity, along with the fact that he corrupted a descriptive word “retarded”, and tried to use it as a noun in an insulting and demeaning way.  Few people with any class would do this.
    For the life of me I do not understand how “mental retardation” is a more hurtful term than “mentally challenged”, or whatever is now acceptable.   I know that the terms such as “xxxxx challenged”, or “differently empowered” are supposed to make people feel better, but do not change the facts that some individuals are indeed handicapped in their endeavors–usually through no fault of their own.  My son-in-law is technically quadriplegic, although he has use of his arms, and impaired use of his hands.  I first heard the term “big butt parking” from him to describe reserved parking for the xxxx challenged. He clearly is not particularly sensitive about language.   Most individuals, as opposed to groups, probably agree.   He is sensitive to people who try to impinge on his independence. He certainly knows the challenges he faces, and the handicaps he deals with.  Calling it something else changes nothing.
    In my opinion we would do much better to focus on allowing each individual to achieve full potential at whatever level that may be; and lending a helping hand where needed and where possible.  And quit worrying so much about minutiae.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    It’s thought control or thought crime. Orwell was quite right to label it such in 1984 because that is what it is.

  • 11B40

    When I was a youngster and referred to Negroes as “colored people,” my mother would admonish me by saying, “They’re not colored, they’re born that way.”
    I still prefer the accuracy of “Negro”.  It seems to me to be the most accurate descriptor as it is based on biological facts, kinky hair, flat noses, thick lips, dark skin…  The derivative “Afro-American” and “African-American” are far less accurate if one considers northern Africa and the  formerly colonized areas of southern Africa.  (I wonder why Afroid-American was skipped over, or is it yet to appear?)  The bottom line for me is that our politicians, media, and academics are just too willing to kowtow to victimization claims instead of applying the appropriate amount of ridicule.
    Similarly, I a fan of “homosexual” as the most accurate term, especially versus “gay”.  I find it useful to have the word’s root, “homosex” in any discussions, because that is the most important concept no matter how many times it is ignored.  There are as many political machinations in its suppression as when the American Psychological Association “voted” to take “homosexuality” out of its diagnostic manual.
    As to the immediate brouhaha about “retarded”, I think I would follow dear old mom’s approach, “They’re not retarded, they’re born that way.”  I see this issue as another superficial claim of victimization and emotional damage such as usually flow from the vast iceberg of dependent NGOs and advocacy groups that seem to be growing in spite of all this global warming.  I will admit to a personal failure to be appropriately and continually propagandized, but I think it accurately and succinctly says what often needs to be said.
    The bigger and more important issue for me is “the tyranny of the minorities”.  They have become so adept at working what’s left of our society, our politicians, our media, our clergy, our teachers, that there is an almost continuous assault on our culture.  As each sub-group claims and is given control of its own slice of our cultural salami, less and less remains of the social consensus that a culture, and its morés, need to endure.

  • suek

    Way off topic:
    Washington is about to get gobsmacked with snow.  They’re predicting _30_ inches!!!
    Is Hell about to freeze over?????

  • expat

    I agree, especially with your last paragraph. When we were told that we had never had a discussion about race, my reaction was that anytime someone tries to honestly and respectfully start a discussion, he is told he can’t use those words. I get tired of having to figure out the euphemism de jour.  Please note that I did not use “he or she.” I figure that as a she, I can do what I please on this issue. I don’t like unnecessary words.

  • Oldflyer

    Suek,  indeed we are getting gobsmacked out here about 40miles west of DC.  So far we have maybe six inches with the bulk yet to come.  As we passed two inches in this storm we apparently exceeded the record for a winter.  Several years ago we approached 30 inches in one storm, although the official records say a bit less.  Too much snow. There has been 1/2 day of school in our county over the past week, and perhaps 3 days over the past two weeks.  Probably won’t be any most of next week.  We don’t cope too well with winter–yet our politicians whine about the imagined effects of global warming.
    I put out corn this morning just before it started and this afternoon we had 7 or 8 deer in the yard.  We had a high of 12 last week.  Afraid the herd is getting too large. Although a couple of inches of snow had covered the corn by the time they came today,  they were able to find it and nose their way down to it.  I will probably wait until it stops to replenish it.  The birds and squirrels were attacking the bird seed as if there were no tomorrow. Come to think of it. . .   (We long ago gave up on squirrel proof feeders, and besides my wife loves the little bandits),  Winter is good just for the visitors it brings to the yard.  There is nothing more striking than  bright red cardinals against the snow.
    On the original topic.  I am glad to see that someone else rebels against the hi-jacking of the word “gay”.  I do not understand why the term homosexual is not acceptable for general usage.  The same people that insist that I use the term Gay, will turn about and call  me hetero-sexual.  As to skin color/ethnicity, I have started referring to myself as a native American.  That is perfectly accurate, as I am also a native of the state of Florida, and the city of Tampa.  In fact my family are native to America going back at least three or four generations.  I don’t suppose I better use the term for the census.  No sense of humor, or reality for that matter.
    We continually let a small minority of the population re-define traditional usage of long accepted words and terms.

  • Mike Devx

    11B40 says,
    Similarly, I a fan of “homosexual” as the most accurate term, especially versus “gay”.  I find it useful to have the word’s root, “homosex” in any discussions, because that is the most important concept no matter how many times it is ignored.

    I think homosexual is an appropriate and useful word, and that “gay” was co-opted because it is both friendlier and less clinical.

    I do find it interesting that 11B40 focuses on the “homosex!” “homosex!” “homosex!” part of it, and I find no corresponding intense interest on his part in the “heterosex!” “heterosex!” “heterosex!” part of that word.

    It’s been quite some time since I had sex, and the reason is that during my experimentation with “all of that” almost twenty years ago, I found the cheapness of it to be soul-deadening.  So I’m waiting for something with real meaning to it, because the alternative (cheap frequent sex) is psychologically devastating to me.   Now, there do seem to be a hell of a lot of homosexual guys out there frantically trolling for sex 24/7, statistically.  I suppose if you want to use the word “freak” to define a small percentage of a population, that would make of me a freak among freaks?  But surely I can’t be the only one.   I don’t consider myself unique – not, at least, among 300 million plus other people.  In a minority of a minority… definitely.  But not unique.

    As to “retarded”, well, it would be retarded to use the word retarded all the time, wouldn’t it?

    I prefer the general’s term (General Honore?)…
    “Don’t get stuck on stupid” is a phrase I really like.

  • Mike Devx

    Oldflyer #8:
    > Suek,  indeed we are getting gobsmacked out here about 40miles west of DC.  So far we have maybe six inches with the bulk yet to come.

    Oldflyer, please keep us updated!  I was just looking at the “Weather in motion” over the last two hours near Baltimore.   It looks like your area just to the west of D.C. got the brunt of that moving blizzard pattern earlier this evening – though maybe the worst of it was just a little further to the west of you?

    I’m fascinated by huge weather events.  It would be neat to hear from someone who’s digging out from this one.  (My fascination with huge weather events probably ties into my love of end of the world and zombie movies.)   Though I walked out of Roland Emmerich’s idiotic 2012 movie half way through.  Even I have my limits.

  • Oldflyer

    Mike, you wanted updates.
    Well, out here in the sticks it has been uneventful.  Very quiet. The farmer who does my drive came over about 8:30pm to try to stay ahead.  Unfortunately, he told me he had a hard time getting his tractor up the road, and might not get back this morning.  The TV coverage in the DC area indicates that they did work the main roads all night, and the TV news folks are standing out in the snow telling us not to go out in the snow.  They have video of some people on skis.  Others walking around on top; so I guess they have plowed/packed it down.  There is no walking around on top out here.  It is deep.
    The emergency folks, i.e. fire, EMT, police are earning their pay.  So are the medical people in the hospitals. Some may staying there for quite awhile.
    The snow is wet and heavy.  Trees, shrubs and overhead wires are loaded down.  It is a beautiful sight.  Too bad I can’t post pictures for the snow-deprived to enjoy.  TV folks are calling it cardiac snow because it is so heavy that shoveling it will be very hard work.  I won’t try.
    It looks as though we have between 12 and 18″.  There are reports in the near by area of 22″.  Out in the mountains some observers are reporting 30″, and there is one report north of DC of over 40″.  I am a little skeptical, because there was plenty of wind and the snow is banked.  Forecast is for up to 9 additional inches in areas as the storm moves off to the East/Northeast.  Our local forecast out here west of DC is for another couple of inches through this afternoon.
    It is going to be a slow process getting out.  The problem is going to be removing snow from the secondary roads where they did not stay ahead of it.  Without very large equipment, I don’t think it can be handled.  The typical contract pick-up truck with a blade is going to be close to useless.  Forecast temp is 12 deg F in our area tonight, and we will not be warm enough for a melting trend for some time.
    The kids should have lots of winter fun the next week or so.  Parents not so much.
    The birds are working hard digging into the snow out front and finding some seed.  I  spread seed on the ground under the eaves and they are very busy there.  I am going to go out and serve them a meal in a few minutes.  No sign of deer.  I am sure they are wisely laying up until it settles down.
    BTW, where are you, and what kind of weather do you have?  My daughter in a canyon in Southern California was sand bagging around her house to avoid floods last week or so.  Last summer and fall she was worrying about wild fires.   Everyone has their own brand of poison when Mother Nature decides to remind us of who is BOSS.

  • Gringo

    I experienced relabeling overload some three decades ago. I worked at a state institution for the mentally retarded/disabled in two hitches during and after college. When I first worked there, our training class instructor informed us that while previously the people institutionalized at our place of employment had been called “patients,” from now on they were to be called “residents.”

    While most patients are cured of what ails them, out instructor reminded us, the mentally retarded/disabled have a permanent condition. It ain’t a staph infection, folks. They were to be called “residents” because they lived at the institution. I could live with that change in labeling.
    Several years later, needing an infusion of cash for a post-baccalaureate trip, I went back to work at the institution for the mentally retarded/disabled.  We were now referring to the former patients, to the former residents, as “clients.” I found that labeling absurd. While a client  who uses the service of a professional, such as an attorney or an accountant, can inform the professional what the client needs the professional to do, in most cases someone who is mentally retarded/disabled- I still prefer the term retarded- is unable to articulate his needs.
    Regarding our favorite ballet dancer’s recent utterance, if he hadn’t used “retard” he would have used another term to indicate the utter contempt he has for those who disagree with him and NObama.

  • Oldflyer

    Interesting Gringo.  My Mother-in-Law lived her last couple of years in a residence for the elderly run by a Mennonite family.  The management insisted that the staff and visitors use one of  two terms to describe the folks; residents or elderly.  Those two terms served very well, and they never felt that they had to update them to accommodate fashion.
    Needless to say everyone was treated with love and respect.  Every resident dressed and  moved, or was was moved. to the sitting room every day, unless too ill.  Each had his or her personal chair.  They ate family style.  Worship services were conducted by a visiting pastor (I don’t know his denomination, but not Mennonite, nor were most of the residents–didn’t matter); and he was heroic as he gamely preached week after week to a mostly snoozing audience.
    Wonderful things can be done when simplicity and a serving spirit transcend other attitudes.

  • suek

    We live in Ventura county…about an hour (depending on traffic) north and west of LA international (yes, you can get west of LA!) and about an hour south of Santa Barbara.  The weather is as close to perfect as you could ask for.  If we want snow, we can drive a couple of hours and visit it.  No shoveling required.
    I’ve lived my time in snow country.  Mainly Ohio, Germany and Michigan.  We also lived in Virginia – though in Manassas so a bit east of you, I’m guessing.  In Germany, the common practice was to start sweeping the snow on the front walk as soon as it started snowing.  That way, you didn’t get the build-up that required shoveling.  Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing snow shovels in Germany.
    In Ohio, we had a blizzard one year – about 1948,  think – that put snowdrifts 8 ft high in our driveway and back yard.  That was exciting.  Of course, right next to the snow drift, it was practically bare ground – it was a matter of wind blowing the snow.  The snow and the wind were so bad we couldn’t even see the street from the front window – maybe 50 feet?  My Mom sure worried that my Dad wouldn’t be able to get home – and he couldn’t have worked more than a couple of miles away.  You don’t want to be out walking in a blizzard – too easy to get disoriented even in familiar territory.  It does amaze me to see how many people still try to go out and do things in weather like that.  Seems more sensible to just stay home and wait it out.
    In Virginia, we had one snow storm that was pretty bad, and the kids had a 6 foot drift to play in, but on the whole Virginia wasn’t exactly bad for snow.  We did have some kind of a weather episode every year so that we bought a wood stove.  We could count on some kind of an ice storm about once a year – either winter or early spring.  Just about guaranteed.  Electricity would be out anywhere from one day to a week.  I will _never_ own an all electric home again if I can help it!  Fortunately we had a camper in the driveway, so we at least had the means to cook.  Toilets were another problem.  I’ll also never have an uphill septic field again!  The system worked great – except when the power went out.  Ah yes…the things you never think about – till you don’t have them!!


    Your snow update: 26″ plus locally. I am stone’s throw from Valley Forge National Park. All city and suburban buses – halted. All train service – halted. What road surfaces have been plowed will be freezing over. A winter wonderland. If you can’t enjoy cabin fever, grab and shovel and help a neighbor.
    There are small mutterings of more white stuff (Tuesday/Wednesday). Gee, I hope I didn’t offend using ‘white stuff’ for snow.
    And now for a snow story …
    My great grandfather came from Russia (also known as the USSR) and moved to Winnipeg where he raised a family for several years before going to Israel (which was called Palestine). He got lost in a snow storm and was saved by (Native Americans). Of course, when I heard the story they were just called (Indians). Anyway, they took him in until the storm passed (weather event). He was the first white man (sometimes called caucasian in some circles and honkies in others) they had ever seen.
    True story, end of story, but no end to the constant changes to people and places and events.

  • Mike Devx

    Sadie said in # 15:
    My great grandfather […] moved to Winnipeg where he raised a family for several years before going to Israel (which was called Palestine). He got lost in a snow storm and was saved by (Native Americans). […] He was the first white man (sometimes called caucasian in some circles and honkies in others) they had ever seen.

    Wow, he moved to Palestine and got lost in a snowstorm there, and while stumbling around, was saved by those Palestinian Native American Indians out on the Palestinian Plains, seems those Native Americans are just everywhere!

    😉   Sorry about that!  I was reading the paragraph linearly, and that concept struck me as incredibly funny.  (The first white man in Palestine, at a night-time campfire with Native Americans.  Who pulled out the harmonica?)

    Actually it’s fascinating that he could have been the first white man they’d ever seen near Winnipeg.  That part of Manitoba is just a hop skip and a jump north of the Minnesota border.

  • Mike Devx

    Oldflyer #11
    The snow is wet and heavy.  Trees, shrubs and overhead wires are loaded down.  It is a beautiful sight.

    Yeah, you called it “cardiac snow”, and it is.  Two feet of the heavy stuff!  I grew up in Michigan, about 1/2 hour south of Detroit.  I’m sure it is beautiful!  I remember the beauty.  I live in Dallas, TX, now, and I’m glad to be free of all the snow and  sub-freezing temps that can last for weeks.  Growing up, I actually never saw a single snowfall of more than eighteen inches.  Our area of Michigan just never got gob-smacked, I guess.  When we’d have to shovel drifts of the heavy stuff off of the driveway and sidewalks, my dad would instruct us to “take a little off the top” over and over til we got down to the pavement.  My mom would be standing at the window fretfully, worried about his heart.  “You’d better be careful out there!  Don’t overdo it!”  But she’s always been the constant worrier.

    Your daughter in California… wildfires during the  Santa Ana, torrential rains and mudslides, and frequent earthquakes.  The “weather” events there seem calamitous, so the “climate” itself must be paradise, to make it worth it.


    Mike #16 – I really laughed at your version of the snow story – just loved it, in fact. You are correct about the geography and now I am wondering if he was lost and found in Manitoba or had crossed into the USA.
    California and its weather:
    My grandmother once said, “it shakes, it bakes, it burns” who would want to live there.

  • suek

    We don’t shake much – the San Andreas Fault is far enough away that we aren’t especially affected.  If I _feel_ and earthquake, I know that it was probably a 3-4+ magnitude, and probably centered  somewhere in the San Fernando Valley.  Part of the reason for that is that there is a massive in the underlying geologic properties, I understand.  Supposedly if we have a really big one that centers in the Oxnard plain, it will turn the entire plain into something like quicksand and everything goes boom, but I really don’t no if that’s factual or not.  In any case, earthquakes are pretty infrequent – I’d rather have that as our natural disaster than the annual hurricanes of the south coast or the tornadoes of the midwest.
    Our maximum temp in the summer is normally about 96*, and due to our proximity to the ocean, we have maybe a half a dozen days in the summer when there isn’t a breeze, which makes 96* a breeze.  It seems to me that the temperature highs increase about 1* for each mile you travel inland – at least up to a certain point.  The humidity is so low that even higher temperatures are more bearable than places with lower max temperatures, but incredible humidity.  I remember New Jersey – with highs around 90* to 94* … and humidity at the same level.  You couldn’t get perspiration on your skin to evaporate – it just sat there unless you toweled it off.  Leave a slice of bread out and it stayed soft and fresh for hours – and molded in days.  In California, leave a slice of bread out for hours and you have dried bread.  No mold.  Hang clothes out to dry in California and by the time you get to the end of the clothes line, the first things you hung out are probably dry. (Yes I have a dryer – but I didn’t always have!)
    We do have a problem with burning.  Lots of that is due to the environmentalists who object to deliberate burn-offs.  When the vegetation is allowed to grow unrestricted for 40 years – you _are_ going to have a problem when it burns off.  And people are stupid about not clearing brush back from their homes.  And when you have massive burn offs, you _are_ going to have a problem with the rains – at least in the mountain and foothill areas.  That’s a given.  If the fire departments were permitted to burn off small areas in a managed fashion, both problems would be avoided.  Oh yes – and add to that the fact that people like to build high up on the hills where they have grand views – and very limited means of getting out due to somewhat narrow access roads due to the steepness of the terrain.  There was one house we didn’t buy when we moved here because my husband – who grew up in So Cal – noted that the access road into the valley had a point where the road narrowed and curved due to a monster rock.  He said a fire engine would never get past that point – so although it was a really attractive property, he wouldn’t consider it.  If you weren’t from So Cal, you probably wouldn’t be aware of the potential for disaster – I wasn’t.  And _many_ who live here came here from other places and _aren’t_ aware of the potential for disaster.
    There’s a town not far from us where they recently built a subdivision that as far as I can tell is in the floodplain – at least in the 100 year floodplain.  They have to get approval, of course, so maybe I’m wrong.  Or maybe someone got paid off – I don’t know.  But I can tell you I wouldn’t buy in that subdivision!  I’ve seen our local dry river bed turn into a flooded powerful river that would destroy pretty much anything in it’s way.  You ignore nature at your own peril, that’s for sure.
    When it doesn’t rain often, it sort of has to rain “much”.

  • suek

    Sorry for all the errors in #19.  I have a dog that keeps bumping my arm and distracting me… should have done the review thing!