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Monday, February 15, 2010

The R-Word and the A-Word

In the Washington Post, Christopher Fairman argues against banning the word retard.

The latest battle over the R-word kicked into high gear with a Jan. 26 Wall Street Journal report that last summer White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel blasted liberal activists unhappy with the pace of health-care reform, deriding their strategies as "[expletive] retarded." Palin, the mother of a special-needs child, quickly took to Facebook to demand Emanuel's firing, likening the offensiveness of the R-word to that of the N-word. Limbaugh seized the low ground, saying he found nothing wrong with "calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards," and Palin rushed to his defense, saying Limbaugh had used the word satirically. Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert took her up on it, calling Palin an "[expletive] retard" and adding, with a smile: "You see? It's satire!"

Though not nearly as widespread, there is a growing use of the word autism in a negative sense that does not deal with ASD. In November, the London Times led a story this way: "The Conservative leadership came under double attack today when two frontbench Eurosceptics resigned and a French minister accused the party of political `autism.'" In December, blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote: "At times, Bush's indifference to the system around him bordered on a kind of political autism."