Should Rahm Emanuel have used the word "retarded"?

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Feb. 2 2010 1:24 PM

Rahm Emanuel Calls Liberals "F---ing Retarded"

He should have said they were "f---ing intellectually disabled."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called the CEO of the Special Olympics last week and apologized for having used the phrase "f---ing retarded" in a 2009 strategy meeting with liberal groups. In an "Explainer" column first published last summer and reprinted below, Adrian Chen looked at whether it's still OK to use the word retarded.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, died Tuesday morning at the age of 88. A number of articles made note of her work on behalf of the "mentally retarded" or in preventing "mental retardation." Is it still OK to use the word retarded?

Advertisement

Not really. The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—which is used by psychiatrists to make clinical diagnoses—still employs the phrase mental retardation to describe people who score below about a 70 on IQ tests. However, most who work in the field—including psychologists, activists, and bureaucrats—prefer the term intellectual disability. (The next revision of the diagnostic manual, due out in 2012, may update its language accordingly.)

Intellectual disability has become the preferred nomenclature only in the past few years, so it's understandable that some newspapers are still using mental retardation. (Even disability experts were uncertain as to the status of the "R-word" until at least 2001.) The nation's most venerable organization of professionals concerned with ID used to be called the American Association on Mental Retardation but renamed itself the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the beginning of 2007. Still, the association's Web site contains numerous references to "mental retardation"—a fact its executive director attributes to "housekeeping" issues. The American Psychological Association has moved a little faster, subbing out "Mental Retardation" from the name of its "Division on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities" in 2006. The academic journal Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews updated its name just last year.

Government offices have also been moving away from mental retardation. In the past two months, six state agencies in charge of helping those with developmental and intellectual disabilities have dropped it from their names.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Doreen Croser of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Sandy Root-Elledge of the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities, and Richard Rowley of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 6:43 PM Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Is Skipping Windows 9
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.