03/07/2012 04:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Should This Word Be Removed From The Language?

Today is Spread The Word To End The Word Day -- and the word on the chopping block is "retarded."

"I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities," reads the petition that was created (as was the day) by The Special Olympics. Hundreds of thousands of signatures have been collected so far.

Language is a living thing, regularly pruning words that once had benign meaning (this one, for instance, was a medical term for "slowed") after they take on connotations beyond their original point. This process is not just window dressing or political correctness but rather a chance and provides a regular re-evaluation of whether we are saying what we really mean.

This particular battle is being fought on two fronts. First is a campaign to remove the term from the medical realm that created it in the first place, in the form of a recommendation by the American Medical Association's House of Delegates that the term "individuals with intellectual disabilities" should officially replace the term 'mentally retarded'.'

Then there is the more sweeping movement to erase the word every where else. The blog "The R-Word Reporter", for instance, tracks the use of "retard" or "retarded" in TV shows, films and by public figures, and calls out the offenders. You would think that this would bring forth apologies and abashedness right? Not exactly. The comments on the site show the entrenched attitudes the campaign is up against. Many cite the AMA (hence the movement to get that to change):

Mentally Retarded is the official clinical name for the disorder.  If you can't handle that, you might as well jump off a bridge, because the medical association has no such qualms about calling it what it is, mostly because they're not a bunch of fragile, hand-holding helicopter parents.  There are people starving to death in the streets of our own country, and you're worried about a dubiously offensive term? Get real. Grow up. Welcome to life.

Others accuse those who are offended by the word of being too sensitive:

This whole movement is utterly ridiculous, it isn't the mentally disabled that are offended or marginalized by the "r-word," its (cq) the self-righteous parents and other bored, humorless, politically correct suburban housewives who desperately need a cause to champion in order to make their lives seem worthwhile. 

Ellen Seidman, who blogs about her son's life with cerebral palsy on the blog Love That Max, celebrated this day by responding to those who believe a word is just a word -- "just slang" they tell her, or "just a joke." The best evidence, she says, is that the fight is half-way won:

People would never call a kid with cognitive disabilities a 'retard' to his face (and if you are a person who would do that, step away from this blog and go search for your soul). If you wouldn't say the word to my child because you know it's offensive, you should avoid using it elsewhere, too. Either way, it's demeaning. Either way, it hurts my child.

Ellen also made a video. You can watch it here. And I'll bet you won't ever hear the word the same way again.