The “r-word” should never be used

Even if used in banter, the usage of the “r-word” is demeaning to a large group of people in our society.

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The “r-word” should never be used

by Olivia Wirtz, Writer

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Since grade school, I can recall the “r-word” being present in banter amongst friends, basically being used as another word for “stupid.” I didn’t realize the overarching issue with this word until I reached high school, when the word suddenly started having a bite to it when it was said. Knowing that it was a derogatory slur for an individual with intellectual disabilities, so I thought, “Everyone says it, why don’t they know the meaning behind it?” However, no matter how or why it is used, the usage of this word is unacceptable.

I was in middle school and sitting around the dinner table with my cousins. We were playing a game in which one of the questions was “what is your pet peeve?” Everyone expressed trivial annoyances, but my oldest cousin said something that clings to my memory. He said, while holding tears back, “My pet peeve is when people use the r-word. They are disrespecting one of the few groups of people in this world that cannot defend themselves.” The fact that he was so expressive about this struck me.

According to the Boston Globe, the r-word can be found in texts dating back to the 1600s. Ultimately, the word appeared in the “clinical context of a pediatric journal” discussing children with special needs. However, the term did not appear as a slur until the mid-twentieth century. This is when the word was used to describe people without mental disabilities who were viewed as foolish or incapable. And even most recently, the suffix “-tard” is used in terms like “libtard”‒ a stupid liberal. Any variation of this word is toxic.

Whether deliberately or accidentally, the r-word disrespects those who have intellectual disabilities or cognitive disabilities. The word, even if meant as a joke, is demeaning because it broadcasts the idea that individuals who are cognitively impaired are stupid. When the r-word is used, it reinforces the negative connotation and gives strength to the cultural taboo about individuals with intellectual disabilities— that they are meant to be outcasts. However, by focusing our energy on the inclusion of these people, we can break down the cultural taboo which created the word in the first place.

The r-word offends those who are unable to defend themselves. According to, for the 6 million to 8 million Americans with intellectual disabilities and their families, this word is equally as hurtful as any other slur. The argument “words are just words” is not valid. Due to the language we use being our main form of communication, words actually do break people’s spirits. It is essential that we support and accept these people, not breaking their spirits but lifting them up.

I feel that non-disabled individuals can be more aware of the usage of the word. By eliminating the word from your vocabulary, you are showing respect to those who are intellectually disabled. As a society, we should make the r-word just as unacceptable as any other slur. By eliminating the word from our vocabularies, and encouraging others to do the same, we are taking part in the acceptance of those who sometimes feel like outcasts. We need to defend those who cannot defend themselves, because that is our job as decent and moral human beings.

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