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  • Mark Mark

    Really? This is obviously your opinion that it is wrong and harmful/hurtful. Why can't it be appropriate in one context and inappropriate in another? Kids will ALWAYS use names and they do have different meanings depending on context. Can they not call anyone or any action dumb? Stupid? For fear it will offend the dumb and the stupid? People need to spend more time on being productive to society instead of wasting everyone's time with bs like this. Get over it. Oh yeah, I have several gay friends and work in a hospital special care unit. Most people don't get offended when used in the more appropriate context. It's mostly people on the outside looking in that get offended and have nothing better to do. Don't be the old lady staring out her window all day waiting for someone to step on her property so she can complain to the parents.

    • JD3

      Just because it doesn't offend you, doesn't make anything written here irrelevant. This post is taking into account more than just YOU. More than just your friends who [seemingly] do not get offended.

      There is no point in jumping down someone's throat and attacking them. If you're worried about people needing to be more productive with their time, then do what you personally feel is productive. Put yourself in a situation, gather some observation/data, then come back and offer a justifiable rebuttal.

      Don't be that typical internet troll that uses cynicism and zero factual data in an attempt to trump someone's observations.

      • Mark Mark

        I'm not saying it's entirely irrelevant. The post is expressing this THEIR opinion so I shared mine, ME. I don't think I attacked them at all, just trying to give a different perspective. Where's the data in this post? I shared my observations as they did. I'll share another. I have never heard anyone over say the age of 45 use the term gay unless they meant happy or homosexual. In the right context I see retarded as being extremely foolish. Would I be fine with these words not being used? Sure. Will I still call someone retarded if they drive under the influence? Sure. If I call you a gangbanger do you have orgies or belong to a street gang? Tone and context are key. If I was a typical internet troll why would you bother to respond?

  • David Matthews

    This is a really nice article. It's interesting to hear about this from an educators perspective and how powerful language is from a developmental standpoint. We must begin to put more thought into the words we use so that we may communicate accurately.

  • Sovanna Pouv

    Thank you for sharing this article. I've made a conscious effort to not use these words since pre-high school and it urks me when close friends use it without knowing how much it can hurt. Time not just heals, but teaches as well :-)

  • Jiffles

    If we can be supportive and nurture a supreme sense of self-worth in every human being regardless of identity or ability, then we will see some positive social change.


  • lovinlife

    i totally agree that language matters, and that we should stop using those terms like that, but really, since when have kids followed their parents lead for slang terms. I'd change the title and focus on intervention and discussion when overhearing kids say them.

  • NoArms Duck

    Language is fluid. Just as gay used to mean "happy" before it meant "homosexual", it can now mean "lame" as well. As with any use of language, context is everything. When someone calls something "gay" as a synonym for "lame" it's no different than someone calling someone "gay" as a synonym for "happy"

    • tanvee

      Thank you for this comment. It expresses my reaction quite perfectly.

    • Jiffles

      Truth! but when you replace "lame" for "gay" there is an unfortunate implication that gay IS lame. EVEN IF YOU DON'T intend that to happen! Which can be hurtful to the 15 year old gay dude who now considers himself kinda lame. Self-discovery and identity issues are tough in school... especially in world that outwardly displays so much intolerance. It pays to be sensitive and supportive of people who may not have as much confidence as you.

  • Madeleine Yu

    Interesting. I read an article a while back - I wish I could find it - where a mentally challenged individual (who didn't like that term either) didn't mind the use of the R word because in his opinion it's more relevant in describing ignorance which is doesn't not necessarily go hand in hand with mental disabilities. He later describe people who are intolerant are "retarded". Sometimes political incorrectness is coined by those who aren't on the receiving end of intolerance. And instead of starting a conversation and being all inclusive on the matter, we get on our high horse and think we're doing the right thing - not unlike this post :)

  • JessRenard

    Retarded is a word with several definitions, and none of them currently includes use for someone who is by modern school-test definition "severely mentally challenged." That definition has been updated, so you can regroup retarded with its old-time family of adjectives, like moronic, idiotic, etc. Retarded is a word to describe a regression in process, and more. I.E. - A chemical reaction can retard the effects of one chemical on its own, filibusters can retard the legislative process, etc. If a modern-day kid gets tested on its meaning, well those are included, so let's get with the times.

    I also appreciate Thierry Phillips' comment below. Not every remark is a call to offend any party possible, and it's a tired notion when you sacrifice an open public for any sniffle you can muster. Maybe kids should not feel bad about everything and anything, but then, they won't grow up to become adults that feel bad about everything and anything, would they? Moreover, slangs are widespread. Spend your dinners with people that don't use modern day definitions of words, in preference for historical parlance, and moreover, choose to surround yourself with anyone that strives to cowardly misunderstand a context as much as possible. Censor yourself.

  • Thierry Phillips

    Growing up in the '70's (i.e., no longer a teen in high school, "That's gay" didn't have much of a negative connotation, especially as it was my friends who were gay saying it the most (as in, "That's soooooo gay" in a wispy, lisping voice). I guess it does now, but that seems to be just another example of the substantial retreat from openness most of the society seems to have taken since the early '80's. As adults, we can watch our language usage (why do we need to be reminded of that? Doesn't that always hold true?), but since it seems to me it's high-schoolers who've made the phrases/terms common parlance to the extent that they pervade ALL conversation.

  • Richard Starr

    "And, while people don't always use these words maliciously, we can't allow it to be acceptable in one context and inappropriate in the other. "

    Why not start with the elephant in the room, the "N" word?

    In any case, while I agree with the intent, words in fact do have multiple definitions. Context and intent is always the key.

    Gay, at one time simply meant "happy". It was adopted by homosexuals and now
    the term is acceptable as a direct reference.

    At various times colored, negro, and black were considered correct. Black was actually considered an insult at one point. Now the "correct" term seem to be the far less accurate one, African-American. I say less accurate, because calling a black man from Europe an African-American is not something they generally would like to be called. Not to mention you have White and Arab populations in Africa. *shrug*

    Ultimately, I'm always concerned about any form of censorship. And regardless of the intent, it is indeed censorship. The best we can shoot for is the reduction of its use in "polite" company. The reality is, as long as the words exist, and they are acknowledged as "bad" words, you will always have a segment in society that will choose to use them precisely for that reason.

  • Henok Elias

    also, if you want to be radical, change the context of the words, I use the word gay in it's original meaning as often as I can... "don we now our gay apparal, falalala lalalala"

  • Henok Elias

    I'm a CYLA alumnus, so hey! Incessantly doing the little things at local levels will be the way we change our world for the better. Thank you for serving in this fashion - I did this as well over here in South Los Angeles.

  • Outlier Babe

    I'm sorry, but I can't just limit the scope to gay and retarded, when we pass over pussy and wussy, henpecked and nag--all the everyday insults and terms which apply only to women. Every time any of these--gay, retarded, pussy, nagging--are used, the effect is to remove an entire group of people from personhood.

  • andreathekline

    I never use the words "retard" or "retarded" or gay as an insult. People who claim this is just political correctness are wrong. I probably won't change their minds because their minds are too small for that. I have told people that being mean to others is just being mean and have been told off for it. I will keep doing it and perhaps in time, the world will change.

  • FudgeSundae

    As an eight grade student, I have to agree with this article on the fact that "gay" and "retarded" are thrown around too often, but not because adults use them. I think it's more because media has presented these words as flexible insults and new ways to label people and our government still hasn't fully accepted these people (ex. gay marriage is still mostly outlawed). I don't hear adults (not counting media or tv) describe something as gay often, I think the kids just take it upon themselves because the adults don't teach their kids from the beginning that homosexuals and physically disabled are people just like them and fully equal.

  • sirlawrence17

    Words define reality.
    Whether spoken aloud or to one's self.

  • Kristin Pedemonti

    Words have more power than many people realize. There's an old Yoruba tale that says the Greatest Gift and most Horrible weapon is the tongue. With the tongue we can use words to create friendships, build bridges between and uplift or to tear down, berate and cause disintegration. Here's to using our words for Good.

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    I have to admit that I sometimes catch myself using the r-word in reference to myself- which is incredibly inappropriate. I know it's wrong - it's out of habit from my school days- and that shouldn't be an excuse. Glad you're starting the conversation. In your classroom, do you ever have talks on empathy in the week to bring up issues like this?

    • Susan Varghese

      Hey, Alessandra!

      I've used those words before, too. I was so used to hearing it around me growing up that it became a part of my vocabulary. I think that both of our experiences/exposure to these types of words speak to how important it is to teach and correct language in schools.

      I'm no longer in a classroom, but last year when I supported a teacher in a classroom, I did talk to my students about empathy. One of my students would never get enough sleep because of home issues, so he'd doze off or be really distracted in class. The teacher would talk to him and cut him some slack when he knew the student was having a rough day. So, when I would hear my student say offensive words, I'd mention his classroom behavior and explain how the teacher was being empathetic to him: he considered the student's feelings and put himself in his shoes, even though he may not have gone through the same thing. Then, I'd bring it back to the offensive words - i.e., "just like Mr. A tried to understand where you were coming from, when you say words that hurt other people like the f-word or the r-word, try and picture how someone would feel. [explanation of those words]....Mr. A always thinks about how you may be feeling. So do I. Should't you try and do the same thing?" Hope this helps a little!

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Definitely helps to have a conversation like that. I usually use the same type of approach with my niece- and she really internalizes it. Thanks for the example.

        • Alexander Rose

          This post is definitely initiating a conversation that has been needed for quite some time now. However, I have a problem with censorship, and I have a problem with not letting people who are stupid not present their stupidity by using such words in a negative way. And maybe they don't have a clear grasp on the meaning of such words, but they definitely know their intent is to be harmful, and in that respect, they deserve to be reprimanded especially in a school setting. We all know language is automatically limiting and binding, i don't know if we need to add to that by imposing censorship, and eventually, I think when things fully change for the better in regards to understanding others and their backgrounds and their struggles, only then will those words ceased to be used in the fashion that is destructive and hurtful.