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The Using Phrase “Retardation” Essay

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2021

In order to create a better world, it is important to personally take efforts to avoid using words that can offend a certain group of people. It is especially true of informal insults referring to mental health disabilities because they contribute to further stigmatization of the population’s vulnerable segments. If my friend called me a retard, I would, therefore, call the behavior incorrect, since this is an example of hate speech, as well as an incorrect and outdated way of assessing a person’s intellectual abilities.

People who use the phrase “retardation” in a negative context unknowingly promote feelings of enmity on the grounds of mental health. According to Davidson, Warmsley, Macy, and Weber (2017), hate speech means “language that is used to expresses hatred towards a targeted group or is intended to be derogatory, to humiliate, or to insult the members of the group” (p. 512). It is possible to say that people who call their friends mentally retarded to insult them humiliate those with health disabilities indirectly by attributing to them a certain pattern of behavior. In other words, they, intentionally or not, allow themselves to resort to hate speech. This behavior cannot be ignored even in informal conversations.

Calling a friend a retarded person is also an incorrect way of assessing intellectual abilities, showing the illiteracy of the speaker. The main reason for this is that the disability does not necessarily imply an inability to solve a task nor does it always indicate a low IQ. According to Harris and Greenspan (2016), “it is not uncommon for people with brain dysfunction … to have IQ scores over 75 but have severe deficits in adaptive functioning” (p. 36). This, in turn, means that any attempts to fully equate mental retardation and low intellectual abilities are unfounded and contradict current data. One of the possible reasons why a person can use a term he or she does not fully understand is illiteracy.

It is also essential to help people understand that this disability is not always congenital. According to Freedman (2014), it can also be an acquired issue impairing a person’s life. A friend who uses a certain mental illness as a reason for joke probably believes that the problem will never be relevant for him or her, so it may be important to show the person that this point of view is not valid.

What could be more crucial, the phrase “mental retardation” is considered incorrect even at the state level. It is confirmed by the implementation of Rosa’ Law that caused the replacement of the original term with a correct analog. Researchers note that it is an important step to alter the current situation in a manner favorable to the status of people with mental disorders in society (Friedman, 2016).

It is possible to assume, however, that changing the problematic situation for the better will not be simple and require much time. According to the same source, many people continue to use the old term ignoring the fact that it has been recognized as outdated and incorrect (Friedman, 2016). The fact means that a person who wants to improve the current situation should make efforts to educate his or her friends in the field.

The above arguments clearly show why I would call my friend’s behavior incorrect if he or she called me a retard. It is not only an outdated and incorrect way to assess a person’s intellectual abilities but also hate speech that can offend a certain group of people. Consequently, it should be avoided.


Davidson, T., Warmsley, D., Macy, M., & Weber, I. (2017). Automated hate speech detection and the problem of offensive language. In A. Gangemi, R. Navigli, M. Vidal, P. Hitzler, R. Troncy, L. Hollink, A. Tordai, and M. Alam (Eds.), Eleventh International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (pp. 512-515). Heraklion, Greece: Springer.

Harris, J. C., & Greenspan, S. (2016). Definition and nature of intellectual disability. In N. Singh (Eds.). Handbook of evidence-based practices in intellectual and developmental disabilities (pp. 11-39). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Freedman, A. (2014). Mental retardation and the death penalty: The need for an international standard defining mental retardation. Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, 12(1), 1-21.

Friedman, C. (2016). Outdated language: Use of “mental retardation” in Medicaid HCBS waivers post-Rosa’s Law. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 54(5), 342-353.

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