I agree with Jack Shafer that the ritual self-criticism Rahm Emanuel was forced to engage in for using the word "retarded" is ultimately counterproductive, even if it makes sense to retire the word as a medical description. But I have my own case to make for retiring a commonly misused medical term. In a recent piece on whether Barack Obama is the next Jimmy Carter (dear God, please, no), Walter Russell Mead describes Obama’s "split personality" on foreign policy and then writes, "Afghanistan is a case study in presidential schizophrenia." I often see the word schizophrenia used to describe conflicting impulses in mentally healthy people, but this does a disservice to our understanding of this devastating disease. Schizophrenia is characterized by delusions, social withdrawal, and malfunction. It’s just wrong to use it to describe a person who has rational but incompatable impulses. If Mead felt Obama was delusional about foreign affairs, the label might have fit. But saying someone has schizophrenia rarely works as a figure of speech.
Photograph of Rahm Emanuel by Win McNamee/Getty Images.