Mali Asked Me What "Retard" Means

...because one of her friends at school uses "retard" as a casual pejorative. I suspect she already knew; she is nine after all. But this is an age where one's big kid ability to take in and process information is often at odds with one's little kid assumptions that the world is entirely a good, safe, and happy place. So here is what I told her:
'Retard' is a word used to make fun of people like your brother, people with intellectual disabilities. It is an awful word, and people who know better should not use it.
She asked me what to say to her friend, and I told her she could try the following:
1) 'Retard' makes fun of people like my brother.
2) So it hurts my feelings when you use that word.
3) So please do not use that word.
She'll be home in a few hours. We'll see how it went. And I think I'll have her watch the Not Acceptable PSA, even though it will further puncture her safe happy assumptions bubble.

What would you have said?


  1. Anonymous12:35 PM

    I think you handled that really well. I hope her friend is responsive in a positive way.

  2. TH asked me this once because someone had called *him* that. I said it's a word that people use to suggest the other person has an intellectual disability of some kind but that what their use really means is that they can't think of better words or nicer things to say. And because he'd been called that, I also had to explain that (a) he doesn't have an intellectual disability and (b) if he did, that's not any more something to mock than his being blond is. His brothers have both absorbed this lesson and his middle brother, in particular, is very quick to let peers know that language like that isn't acceptable. I get a little teary just writing that because he's being so just and protective of his brother at the same time, and it takes some real courage to tell peers such things.

  3. You did very well. I hope it stops her friend from using the word.
    I think I would have also said that the original meaning was "late", "delayed" or "slow", to explain where it comes from (but I am nerdy like that). Hugs.

  4. many things, firstly that it is a rude word, used by people to hurt. secondly, it was a word used in the past (would have talked some about history). but mostly that it is not a nice word and we don't use that word to describe anyone ever...

    basically in agreement with much of what you said here...

    sadly, its a word used to bully and it hurts... and too many teachers use it as well to bully and hurt children...

  5. Yes, I was going to echo what Catherina said, and I probably also would have said that a related word in music is ritard, which is what it says in a piece of music when you are supposed to slow down. So it ORIGINALLY wasn't meant to be pejorative, but became so. And then I would have probably talked about how labels for people tend to change over time and the impt thing is to consider what people want to be called themselves, and to avoid using words that hurt some groups even when not referring to said groups. With examples from black and gay communities. But you did just fine!

  6. I think you did very well. When she's mastered the three-step process, then there's time to discuss the other meanings of retard, the acceptable ones, like retarding the spark in an internal combustion engine. And to start talking about the history of intellectual disability.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.