Related stories this week:
The power of those words
Christine LaPado responds to Anthony Peyton Porter’s turn of phrase.

Some people seem to be upset about words I used in a recent column, specifically “tardos” and “cripples.” I don’t know if the people who reacted badly to my diction were cripples or not, but I bet they weren’t tardos.

I first heard tardo from a friend of mine who directed an agency that looked after developmentally disabled people, and he’d heard it from the professional social workers and whatnot who cared for, and about, such people. The people I’m talking about had been retarded only a few years before, but by the time my friend got there, they were developmentally disabled, which somehow sounds like progress but isn’t.

For you borderline cases, tardo is short for retarded. “Developmentally disabled” doesn’t say any more than “tardo,” even with all those extra syllables, and it sounds like the person used to be able but isn’t any longer, which seems seldom to be the case. It reminds me of “maintenance engineer” instead of “janitor” and the “Department of Defense” instead of the “Department of War,” more flim-flam.

I grew up within a block of three other boys close to my age and acceptable to my delicate sensibilities. At some point during our teens in the late Pleistocene Era, one of the guys objected to our referring to him as a “dummy.” We were as coarse and vulgar as is required of adolescents, and when we called him dumb, we didn’t use the term affectionately. He said that when we talked about him like that it hurt his feelings, and he wanted us not to do it any more.

We all oozed down between the floorboards, and that was the end of it. We never disparaged his intellect again. He was no sharper than he’d been when we called him a “dummy,” but we never referred to him that way again. He chose to be offended, and we chose to speak differently about him.

I don’t think I’ve denigrated anybody’s mental capacity since then, except that of people I don’t know, and I think of tardo as a catchy adjective, probably because I don’t know any tardos.

I remember when “cripples” got to be “handicapped,” sometime in the ‘60s, I think. That was silly, too.

I have one disabled friend, and I refer to her as disabled because I bet she’d be offended if I called her crippled or handicapped, although she is. In fact, she used to be able and now is physically less so, and so disabled fits her better than it fits a lot of people.

I don’t do or say things just because the bleating hearts want me to. I use words the way I choose to use them, as do you. Offense and hurt feelings are choices and can result from anything. We all have a right to, and control over, our own. How we talk about others is about us, not about others. I see no reason for me or anybody to assume responsibility for how everyone feels. I don’t care what words the herd wants you to use either.