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Is using the phrase "that's retarded" offensive?
April 25, 2012 9:27 AM   Subscribe

"That's retarded." Offensive, or not offensive? Also, if offensive, help me come up with an alternative to my life/work philosophy, which is "Don't Be Retarded."

When someone says: "That's retarded," is that offensive to you? Is it generally considered to be in poor taste to use the word "retarded" to mean something that is senseless, absurd, illogical, irrational, ridiculous, etc?

Here's the deal. We do so many things at my workplace (and I see so many things in my life) that make no sense, and that make us look ridiculous as a company. Thus, I have adopted a personal motto of "Don't be retarded." It cuts to the core of this concept of *not* doing things that are ridiculous, and fixing things that you find that are completely wacky, and not perpetuating the culture of stupidity, etc.

I don't share the motto often (it's not something I bring up in meetings or anything), but occasionally I find myself making references to "this goes against my policy," and so it will come up... and the last thing in the world I want to do is offend anyone.

So, I have two questions:
1) Is using the word "retarded" offensive?
2) If so, help me find an alternative way of succinctly expressing my life/work philosophy. "Don't be ridiculous," doesn't work for me. It's not strong enough. I need something better.
posted by eleyna to Human Relations (85 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
1. Yes, very much so.
2. How about "don't be stupid"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


It is offensive and in poor taste to use "retarded" to mean something that is senseless, absurd, illogical, etc. I'm sorry. I like using it the way you do, too, but it's not appropriate, so I just do it in my head.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, in the adult world, using "retarded" as a pejorative is offensive. Generally, when you have to ask if something is offensive, then it is probably offensive.

It seems like you're using it as a synonym for stupid. Why not just say stupid?
posted by Think_Long at 9:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


1) Is using the word "retarded" offensive?

Duh, yes! Of course it is!

2) If so, help me find an alternative way of succinctly expressing my life/work philosophy. "Don't be ridiculous," doesn't work for me. It's not strong enough. I need something better.


"Don't be a fuckwit".
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


I use "Don't be stupid. "

I hope that, at least, is still Politically Correct.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:29 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Be smart. If you can't be smart, at least don't be stupid."
posted by gauche at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


Setting aside the relative offensiveness of the word ... your life/work philosophy is a negative statement? That's upside down.

Replace "Don't Be Retarded" with a positive, aspirational statement. It doesn't have to be woo-woo cosmic, either.

"You're Better Than This."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [63 favorites]


If 'ridiculous' isn't a strong enough word, use 'ricockulous'.
posted by echo target at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]




1. Yep. Even among the not-easily-offended, it's unprofessional and juvenile.
2. "Use common sense" may not have the punch you're looking for, but it's succinct and universally understood. (Or: "Make sense.")
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:32 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first response is "that sounds juvenile - although I find it distasteful on a political level, it also sounds so childish/faux-transgressive that it would make me think less of a person or business if I heard it. My gut response to hearing it would be, juvenile-ly, "What are you, twelve?"

Also, people who have mental disabilities and their families have asked politely that folks knock it off with the r-word. I tend to think less of people who continue to use a replaceable word after a polite request like that.

"Don't be stupid" or "Do it right the first time" or some of the excellent suggestions that I'm sure mefites have would be better.

(I mean, I know we all grow up with stuff like this that doesn't register in our heads as offensive - my grandmother always used to say "don't run around like wild indians" and it took forever for me to hear that as messed up and offensive, because my first association was "random thing my grandmother said that means 'calm down'"....but it's a phrase I would never, ever use none the less.)
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


I find it extremely offensive, and if possible I ask people not to use it in my presence. If people continue to use it after I ask them not to, I think less of them.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yes, it's offensive and in poor taste. I put that in the same category as any gender-based insults.

I agree with Cool Papa Bell that you're better off avoiding a negative statement. "Be smart." or "Think."
posted by Specklet at 9:34 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Will it help to see what people with intellectual disabilities and their families think about the use of the word, and why they see it as a problem?

I think if your life's motto is not to do counterproductive, foolhardy, careless things, not being needlessly cruel to people who are dealing with the challenges of cognitive and intellectual disabilities should be part of your plan.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [59 favorites]


I work at a school that is an inclusion school, and many of my students who are in middle school have participated in this program this year:
http://www.r-word.org/
Many of them at some point in our recent history would have been called retarded. These kids work so hard everyday to be the best they can be- and they know they have limitations. I know they would be really hurt and offended to know people use it still. I put it in the same category of calling someone gay. So, yes, I would say that you shouldn't use the word retarded.
posted by momochan at 9:36 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Don't fuck around" has a roughly same amount of bite to it, without denigrating anyone.
posted by griphus at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


1) Yes. It's offensive and juvenile.
2) Cool Papa Bell makes a good point. Why not use something positive, like "Do your best", or "Be excellent with one another", or "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:38 AM on April 25, 2012


1) Yes. Really, really offensive.

2) I don't know if the word 'idiot' is still PC, but I generally have a 'don't be an idiot' policy. That or 'You know better,' if you want something positive.
posted by Tamanna at 9:42 AM on April 25, 2012


It's very offensive. How about "Don't be asinine"?
posted by argonauta at 9:44 AM on April 25, 2012


Can we not describe this as a "PC" vs. "non-PC" question? We're talking about rudeness to people with disabilities, rudeness which people living with those disabilities have been very candid about wanting to stop.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2012 [35 favorites]


"Do the right thing."
posted by valeries at 9:46 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Re negative mottoes, Google has done pretty well out of don't be evil.
posted by zadcat at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2012


I grew up in Massachusetts in the 70s and 80s, which is pretty much a high point in the space-time continuum for use of the word "retarded", so I threw it around like everyone else. I have since learned that it is in fact super offensive to the world at large and so I have stopped. I recommend doing the same.
posted by dfan at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we not describe this as a "PC" vs. "non-PC" question? We're talking about rudeness to people with disabilities, rudeness which people living with those disabilities have been very candid about wanting to stop.

To reframe this a bit, you're never going to get a judgment about whether something is or is not, objectively, offensive. But tons of people view the casual, jokey use of "retarded" as something completely, apocalyptically beyond the pale, and you'll hurt yourself badly if you use it in front of such a person. Since you can't know in advance which type of person is which, that means you just can't use it at all.
posted by gerryblog at 9:49 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ok, thanks for the responses.

I think we're good on the "yes, it's offensive" part of the question. Thanks for your responses. I think this is something like what Frowner describes above. Growing up in a scenario where this is normal usage of the word, and never even considering that this might be a problem until just now.

I'm still interested in getting better suggestions for how to express my basic thought, which is: "Let's not do things that are completely ridiculous anymore." While I appreciate the suggestions of "positive thinking", that's really not what I'm going for in this case... I may not have expressed myself clearly before, but this specific life/work philosophy is not the sum total of my *entire* life philosophy. I actually do have a positive outlook on life, in general.

I think what I'm actually looking for is something I can use to express my thoughts about these situations I deal with that are completely absurd, and where we, as a company, are doing something ridiculous, and need to STOP.
posted by eleyna at 9:50 AM on April 25, 2012


Here's a somewhat related thread for some ideas.

I like the phrase "Let's fix this."
posted by hooray at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


What about, "Don't Be the Problem"?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Let's cut the shit."
posted by griphus at 9:53 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Start making sense" is something I used to say to clients a lot.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:53 AM on April 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think you're looking for the right mix of denigration and solution. I'm a fan of "We need to cut that shit out." Shit barely offends anymore, the We avoids most blame, it puts the crazy behind you and leaves no question as to the intensity of the statement.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:54 AM on April 25, 2012


"That's retarded" = not offensive. "Don't be retarded"= offensive.
posted by agregoli at 9:54 AM on April 25, 2012


Non esse FATUUS!
posted by mazola at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2012


help me find an alternative way of succinctly expressing my life/work philosophy.

As Blackadder made Baldrick learn,

"We're not at home to Mr. Cockup."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:05 AM on April 25, 2012 [13 favorites]


Accepting my last name is "Happy", I generally go with, "Watch what you're doing, Happy!" in a warning, recriminating, drill-sergeant kind of way. I usually have to hit myself with that and "Get your act together, Happy!" a few times a day.

Everyone needs a little R. Lee Emery in their life. (One that lives in their heads and no-one can hear but them and he's also invisible.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2012


"Don't be a dipshit!"
posted by TheCavorter at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2012


I say "Dummy No-No" to myself. Possibly not a good professional 'philosophy,' but it can be interpreted a number of ways (as a command, as a reprimand, as a reminder or tease) and it just kind of rolls off the tongue. Alternatively, "Don't be a Dummy." Is dummy offensive? I hope not, I love it too much.
posted by Katine at 10:13 AM on April 25, 2012


Sidhedevil: Helpful link! Many thanks. While I was growing up, the word "retarded" was never used to refer to people with intellectual disabilities, and so while I was sort of distantly aware of the word's origins, those two things weren't really "connected" for me. It was just sort of a synonym for "stupid". Reading more about the origin & history of the word and the people that are affected by it is super helpful, thanks.
posted by eleyna at 10:17 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


2) If so, help me find an alternative way of succinctly expressing my life/work philosophy. "Don't be ridiculous," doesn't work for me. It's not strong enough. I need something better.

Don't be a moron.
Don't be a dumbass.
Fix the stupid.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:25 AM on April 25, 2012


As a replacement word, I'd just go with "don't be stupid." It's just as pleasantly punchy:

"Well, we could maybe try (obvious unworkable thing)."
"You know what, that would go against my policy."
"Oh, what's the policy?"
"Don't be stupid."
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:31 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think what I'm actually looking for is something I can use to express my thoughts about these situations I deal with that are completely absurd, and where we, as a company, are doing something ridiculous, and need to STOP.

Lay off the crack? It's not very professional though.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:34 AM on April 25, 2012


Cut the crap.
That's bullshit / No B.S.
Put up or shut up.
The shit stops here.

(If you're Dan Savage you could use "leotarded," but that doesn't actually solve the problem. If you're The Awl you can use "be less stupid," but that's taken.)
posted by dekathelon at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2012


"That's retarded" = not offensive. "Don't be retarded"= offensive.

To whom? The issue is about disrespect towards human beings with a medical syndrome. To ever equate stupid with "retarded" IS offensive. It is disrespectful, stupid, and juvenile.
posted by DeltaForce at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


One of my friends, who is herself disabled and is therefore very ableism aware, has supplied me with a wonderfully pleasing nonsense phrase to replace my previously unfettered use of "retarded" (which I now realize was absolutely horrendously offensive): dingus.

Say it a few times. Really let it roll around in your mouth. Diiiiingus. It is, on some level, sort of reminiscent of euphemisms for phallus, without being one. It's a bit like dingo, but more satisfying. Dingus. It sounds, on its own, enough like what it is that no one has to guess what you mean, but it is not affiliated with any marginalized groups.

"Don't be a dingus."

Problem solved.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


One of my faves (because yes, yours is offensive): "That's just pure fuckery."
posted by nubianinthedesert at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2012


Let's focus!
We're off the rails.
Off point.
Off mission.
Time to course-correct.
Let's get back to base on this.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:41 AM on April 25, 2012


not perpetuating the culture of stupidity

Firstly, regarding other people's ideas as "stupidity" is not such a great idea.

Your chosen motto might seem to some people to be "stupidity" - just think how the answers here could well have been framed as: "Well, Duh! Your behavior is stupid."

But it didn't seem stupid to you did it? It seemed like a good idea to you, right? And there was a legit reason why it seemed like a good idea.

You want to be effective? Look for the value in what people say, and if you want to point out a problem, articulate what the problem is precisely. It doesn't help anyone to say "Your suggestion is stupid", no matter how you phrase it. It can help everyone if you say: "Yes, that would be great for X, but I think Y would be a problem."

Maybe they'll even surprise you and explain how they've got a solution for Y that was obvious to them, but not to you.
posted by philipy at 10:49 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


The word retarded has an original meaning, you know. I don't see how its at all offensive when applied to inanimate processes. The way the OP wanted to use it, yes, it was offensive. The other way? Not at all "juvenile."
posted by agregoli at 11:06 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Something like "Hurf durf" avoids the problems with pejorative words like retarded, stupid, moronic, etc. If you're looking for something... aspirational seems the wrong word here but I lack a better one... how about "Let's avoid ready-fire-aim" "Not all movement is progress."
posted by phearlez at 11:06 AM on April 25, 2012


Agreed, original term is offensive. And there are good suggestions here.

But IMO many alternatives propose here share another offensive trait: They rely on personal insult rather than objective discussion.

'Don't be stupid' -- whoa! If somebody said that to me in a conversation, I would have a hard time taking them seriously. That's a great way to end what might have been a collaborative discussion.

After all, it implies that someone is being stupid. Don't be a moron, etc, same thing. And even if you shift off the 2nd person, and describe an idea as stupid, moronic -- does that really enable professional collaboration.

Rather than elevate a motto, I'd focus on getting better at explaining a point of view without resorting to attack, profanity, etc. I predict a good motto will emerge from that effort.
posted by LonnieK at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


personally i feel that it depends on the intent. if you're just saying a process is stupid, cumbersome and slowing you down, then theoretically no harm done. however if you're saying that a process is stupid like a mentally handicapped person because mentally handicapped people are stupid then it's probably offensive. since people can't read your mind and like to get self-righteous you're probably best off avoiding it. you could always move to a french speaking country where 'retard' still means delay but that might be a bit drastic.

you could use 'that's brain dead' instead but somebody somewhere will probably find that offensive to people in comas ... who knows.
posted by canned polar bear at 11:16 AM on April 25, 2012


my life/work philosophy, which is "Don't Be Retarded."
Think of it this way: for people with mental disabilities, they cannot simply not be retarded.
posted by Gordafarin at 11:27 AM on April 25, 2012


1) super offensive (i have someone is my family who has these issues, when i hear this it hurts emotionally and makes me feel awkward even if noone can tell i feel this way).

2) i really think some of the old military phrases like BOHICA and FUBAR and SNAFU are great. Funny, self-depricating a bit and insightful.

Maybe, "Don't contribute to office SNAFU, think first" or "If you do dumb things then BOHICA".

Cheers,
posted by pytar gucchy at 11:30 AM on April 25, 2012


Coming late to this, but I think it's not only offensive, it's the worst kind of offensive because it's also inaccurate. Retarded basically means slow; if you were talking about not working slowly, well, it would still be offensive but at least it would be correct. But you're talking about not being senseless, absurd, illogical, irrational, ridiculous, etc. The people who were until fairly recently termed "retarded" don't behave that way. They do some things more slowly, and sometimes they behave in ways that are not appropriate for the situation - they can't control their their behavior or emotions the way people without developmental disorders usually can. But what you're describing isn't that at all. So you're not even being un-PC by using it, you're just being wrong.

On that note "Don't be wrong" might be a good motto, though personally I like the more curse-word-filled varieties people have suggested above.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:32 AM on April 25, 2012


"No more monkey business."

not monkeyist
posted by ke rose ne at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always liked "it wont fail because of me" because it encourages me not to fuck up, but to understand I can really only be responcible for myself. It also reminds me that it's ok to fail, but it's not ok if I don't do my best to prevent failure.
posted by fuq at 11:38 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have replaced it with "that's ridiculous". It's starts with R too so it flows similarly.
posted by ADent at 11:41 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don’t if this applies directly, but my phrase is "How will I explain this to the cops?"
Meaning; Follow the thought to it’s conclusion, and when it all goes horribly wrong how will I justify my actions, and how ridiculous will it sound in retrospect? If everything goes wrong and your explanation of how you got there still sounds good then you’re OK.
posted by bongo_x at 11:54 AM on April 25, 2012


If you're looking for something with the same punch as "Don't be retarded" I'd suggest something like "Don't be an asshole" or "Stay smart, tough guy."
posted by looli at 11:54 AM on April 25, 2012


Welcome to [company x]. Don't fuck it up.
posted by haqspan at 12:08 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe "absurd" helps get at the behavior you're trying to avoid? Not quite sure how to word it though.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:12 PM on April 25, 2012


Don't be foolish.
posted by davejay at 12:15 PM on April 25, 2012


1) Is using the word "retarded" offensive?
2) If so,
1. Yes, and it's unkind and unnecessary.
2. Be positive -
Be smart
Be your best self, etc.

You may find it useful to set goals for the kind of person you want to be, as well as goals for htings to accomplish, large and small. Then focus on the goals.
posted by theora55 at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are the kind of person who would generally tell people to "not be retarded" (and to even ask if it's offensive?!), then I would suggest that you take a peek at yourself and your own proposed maturity. Even if you "Grew up hearing it", you know what it means because you're using it in a sentence to describe behavior that is silly or immature or ungood.

What else to say? Do you have to say something negative? "Do your best" or "You're going to be awesome."

This little girl has a video she needs you to watch.

Also, for those in the biz, it's no longer MR/DD (Mentally Retarded / Developmentally Disabled), it's ID. Intellectually disabled.
posted by TomMelee at 12:39 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Take google's 'Do No Evil' and change it to 'Do No Stupid'.
posted by Vaike at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sometimes being positive has a bigger effect than being negative. I like to say "Let's be awesome" or "Continue being awesome" - and I'll ask myself if I'm being awesome if I feel like I'm not doing my best. Perhaps something like that will work for you?
posted by k8lin at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2012


I'm here to say I really appreciate you asking this question. You came here with total open-minded honesty and have been very gracious about hearing a wall of people tell you that what you were saying is offensive. So my hat is off to you for being interested in doing the right thing and interested in finding out how to do so.
posted by latkes at 12:54 PM on April 25, 2012 [11 favorites]


The question about the r word has been thoroughly answered, so I'll just focus on the second part of your request.

It seems to me that you are looking for a phrase that means more of "don't do something that is ridiculous" as opposed to don't you individually be stupid. So, what about:

"Don't make it harder than it needs to be."
"Stop. Why are you doing that?"
"What would Eleyna Do?"
"Think before you act"
"Think company. Act accordingly."
My personal favorite that I use at work "we're not reinventing the wheel here".
posted by Leezie at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2012


"Don't be an idiot" (or the Futurama version: "Don't be a fool, you idiot!")
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:04 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't believe I forgot one of my long-time favorites!

Don't buy trouble. The universe gives it away for free.
posted by phearlez at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Don't be a numpty."
posted by daysocks at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no doubt that it's offensive. I like something along the lines of "Make sense" or "Does this make sense?" Because I totally agree - there is something about the business world that makes people do things without actually asking themselves if it makes any sense at all. Maybe "What is the point of this?"
posted by theuninvitedguest at 1:18 PM on April 25, 2012


1. In this context, offensive, absolutely yes.
2. I support the suggestions of verbalizing your frustration in a more positive tone. Something that encourages better performance, not criticizes poor. I tend to steer away from ever using the word 'stupid' to describe people/situations, as questioning someone's intelligence level is is not necessary commentary on a error.
posted by relevant? at 1:44 PM on April 25, 2012


I like Jacked and Jack-ball.

"This shit is Jacked!"

"Why are you being such a Jack-ball?"
posted by Kloryne at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2012


Hard Habit To Break, another previous related thread.
posted by ellenaim at 1:59 PM on April 25, 2012


I know I'm late to the game, and it has been established that "retarded" is an offensive term. Just wanted to note that "stupid" and "dumb" have "similar" roots to "retarded" in terms of their correlation to people's intellectual/cognitive abilities. How about using just a few extra words to describe what you really mean? Or using the spin of the positive - Be intentional! Do your best! Etc.
posted by anya32 at 2:13 PM on April 25, 2012


How about "why are you trying to reinvent the wheel?"
posted by vivzan at 2:32 PM on April 25, 2012


Wheaton's Law.

"Don't be a dick.". which is like some others before.
posted by mephron at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2012


Yes, offensive. Alternative, via RuPaul: Don't fuck it up.
posted by hworth at 3:36 PM on April 25, 2012


I find the term 'idiothole' (coined by Adam & Joe) a rather pleasing substitute.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:27 PM on April 25, 2012


Yeah, I agree that it is unkind. You can still have punch and keep it kind. In fact that is how you punch harder.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:27 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


How about: Stop the absurdity.

Though, I think Dingus will be my new favorite word...
posted by getmetoSF at 5:43 PM on April 25, 2012


IMO, this is a pretty fascinating discussion.
I like latke's recognition of the OP's willingness to ask ... anya32's point about other words having similar roots ... the posts, like mine, that suggest a more positive approach. I appreciate all of these.
But I can see a place for 'negative' -- specifically, in a slogan that discourages future bad acts. Like haqspan's 'Welcome to [Company] -- don't fuck it up!' That's light but serious, and you won't forget it. And yet it's not accusing you of having fucked anything up yet.
posted by LonnieK at 6:54 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't be a knucklehead. Or a chowderhead. Or a muttonhead. Unless you want people to think you're some kind of Stooge.
posted by Devoidoid at 7:51 PM on April 25, 2012


I've often heard it suggested to shift to using ridiculous instead of the original word when you're still getting used to not saying it. Since they both start with the letter R, you can just roll that letter excessively when you realize you're about to use the wrong word and then go into ridiculous! (Not to mention that was the primary word you used in your description of the context.)
posted by buteo at 2:23 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't be a jackass.
posted by apostrophe at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2012


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