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

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Music
Sept. 14 2014 11:44 PM A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now … The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?