Saturday, February 13, 2010

The R and C Words

While in college I worked at what was then known as the Arkansas Children's Colony, in a section of the facility then known as Level 1. Profoundly Retarded. I worked with kids who had severe learning disabilities--giving baths, changing diapers, feeding kids who couldn't feed themselves, and so on. It turned into a full-time job for me, and I worked there for about seven years.

Years later I was at a party and I mentioned to someone that I "worked with retarded kids at the Children's Colony." A girl standing nearby took great offense. "First," she said, "the word is not 'retarded' and, second, the place is now called the Human Development Center. The word colony is offensive."

Of course, she was a snotty little witch, but she also was right about the "R" word. We have no control over the English language. Words evolve. At some point in the recent popular culture, the word retarded, or especially the shortened RE-tard, was abused until it became an insult. But colony? Maybe not the best choice of words, but hardly offensive. I shot back to the girl, "That's what it was called when I actually worked there." (I'm not very good at conflict.)

The "R" word has cropped up again, this time in the political landscape with Sarah Palin playing the role of snotty witch, that is until she realizes that her snottiness might implicate some powerful friends.

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