On "Retard"

Katherine - posted on 03/02/2011 ( 184 moms have responded )

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I’m all over the 1st Amendment. Good stuff, that right to free speech and assembly.

I even agree with the Supreme Court decision to let Fred Phelps and his family of bigots picket funerals. Do I agree with them? No, not even a little. Do I think the Westboro Baptist Church should be arrested for their actions? No, not that either. (I actually wish we’d all start inviting them to our funerals, give them friendly waves and a plate of church lady fried-chicken and hash brown casserole. But that’s something to explore in a different post.)

I’m against laws censoring language (hate speech is an important exception), but I think as individuals we could do more self-regulating. Because the word “retard”? With every free speech bone in my body, I wish people would just stop saying it.

I’m bringing this up because Wednesday was Spread the Word to End the Word Day, an annual push by people in the organization R-Word to get others to stop using the word and to be more inclusive. Ellen Seidman, a mother who blogs at Love That Max, spent the day responding to Tweets that included the word “retard” or “retarded.” She doesn’t think people will drop the word immediately, but she just hopes to raise awareness that those words refer to real people who find the term hurtful. The Tweeters’ reactions are, well, here’s an excerpt:

You’d expect most people to ignore you, which they do. You’d expect some be defensive, as the very act of tweeting at them is confrontational, even though you try to keep your tweets even-handed: Hi. Mom of kids with disabilities here. The word “retard” is demeaning. But still, you will surprised by how people dig in their heels:
end the r word 9 On Retard: Just Because You Can Doesnt Mean You Should

Now, I understand the temptation to use the word. “Retard” is such a strong word. Not just the meaning, but the sound itself: two strong syllables, that hard “d” end. Those heavy and rich American “r’s” making it actually feel good in your mouth to say. It’s a stronger way of saying “ridiculous,” right? It’s a more vicious way of calling someone an idiot. It’s powerful. It’s demeaning. It gets attention. And since the people it describes are thought to be spazzy, perpetually happy and sometimes cross-eyed, it’s funny. As insulting words go,”retard” is a pretty good one.

Ahhh, but it’s not just a word. It refers to a specific group of disadvantaged and misunderstood human beings — a group who, some argue, use the words themselves. Well then! That makes it available to everyone, right?

No, not really. Not really at all.

Just like “fag” and “that’s so gay” and the “n” word, anyone who basks in the privileges granted those who are not gay men, gay women, black — or, in this case, not intellectually disabled — don’t get to use those words. Does it sound unfair? Well, honestly, how much more do straight, white, neurologically typical people want? We win already. We really do! Are we at risk of falling into a linguistic crisis if we give up derogatory terms describing an often obvious and always unchangeable characteristic of, not ourselves, but other people? People who, thanks to prejudice about those characteristics, have suffered deeply as a group?

Go ahead and call me a language cop. Cops make arrests yet I’m letting you off with raised eyebrow and a flinch. I’m not trying to tell you want you can and cannot say. But I would ask heavy users of “retard” and “retarded” to think about why they’re so reliant on the word. What is it about those words in particular that make it their go-to put-down? And why, if I’m striking a nerve, do you feel so compelled to hang on to it?

Is it because even though you’re neuro-typical you’re just not that smart? (Oh, did that hurt?)

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Krista - posted on 03/03/2011

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I'm with Johnny in that I never think of it in the context of people with mental disabilities. I tend to use it more to describe people who are foolish and utterly lacking in common sense.

The funny thing is that in the OP, it says that it's a more vicious way of calling someone an idiot.

"Idiot" used to be a psychological classification, as did "moron". Those words were basically the "retard" of yesteryear.

Nobody now thinks of the mentally challenged when hearing someone use the words idiot or moron. I think that the time will eventually come when "retard" will go the same way. But right now, we're in the period where it's transitioning -- and like many transitions, it's not always comfortable.

Jenn - posted on 03/03/2011

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If it's being used in it's proper sense: mental retardation, physical retardation - that's fine. Otherwise, I don't like it. I have several friends who work for Community Living and my Grandmother used to work at Participation House (both are services that deal with people with varying forms of physical/mental impairments) and I have NEVER heard of any of the handicapped people calling each other "retard" - ever. It is considered a very offensive word to them, so why would they call each other that? :(

Isobel - posted on 03/06/2011

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ok...no more using stupid, moron, idiot, imbecile, learning disabled, handicapped, chick, broad, bitch, cunt, whore, black, coloured, Oriental, Indian...please add anything else that has ever been considered offensive by ANYBODY in any culture...so we can publish it somewhere so nobody will ever offend anybody ever again.

Oh wait...assholes will just make up new words to make fun of people with, THEN we will have to add those to the list of unacceptable words until nobody can remember why the first ones were ever offensive in the first place.

for example...retarded simply means slow. Slow is allowed these days right?

Isobel - posted on 03/05/2011

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a lot of religious people can't fuckface...it's a sin.

does that mean fuckface is a slur against them???

~♥Little Miss - posted on 03/04/2011

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Using the word retarded to describe someone with a mental disablility of any kind makes me cringe...PERIOD! Trying to describe someone to the police? This is freaking a ridiculous reason to think it is acceptable. I can see what Kati was saying about calling a friend a name when they goof up...but I still choose not to use certain words in my vocablulary. It is very easy to use occassional words and they progress to become part of your daily vocabulary.

There are certain words I avoid using in front of my children such as stupid, retarded, idiot, fag, really anything that is derrogitory...now I do slip up and say idiot or stupid occassionally, or the random swear pops out...but I really try to avoid certain words that can make it into your daily vocabulary that i would NOT want hearing from my kids.

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Bobbi-Jo - posted on 01/03/2012

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I also do not like the word and really really make conscience effort not to use it. I've gotten into arguements and spats with friends over this. I was in a group meeting one night and someone I know said "G*D I'm such a re-re" then laughed and said "you must be a tard too because you almost did it!" and kept laughing. I looked her right in the eyes and said "you know I have a disabled child with HFA and I don't like the word retard or anything similar to it. How can you laugh and think this okay, my goodness, your a teacher, do you call your kids that?" She laughed it off, thought it was funny and then tried to change the subject. I on the other hand decided to find another ride home (I had ridden with her) and have very limited communication with her. I was always sensitive to those around me growing up. I had a deaf and mute neighbor that would sometimes babysit me and I remember even as a young child getting into fist fights defending her because people would be so cruel. She could read lips and would cry.

Words really do hurt people, they really really do.

Jenn - posted on 03/10/2011

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While I think my stance on this issue is quite clear, it would appear that Alyssa is unclear on the definition of "noun". :/

Alyssa - posted on 03/10/2011

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So it is offensive to use these words as a noun...agreed. And it is also offensive to use them for the original purpose ie, "Retard" to describe a person with a disability because it is outdated and non specific.

So, awesome!! we agree NOT TO USE THEM AT ALL!

[deleted account]

Kati - agreed i've heard many an african american on tv say "nigger please" or "can't you give a nigger a break"

Rosie - posted on 03/09/2011

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no it's not being used in a derogatory way, it's a word of brotherhood basically. and it's only acceptable if black people say it, which i think it ridiculous, but that's a different debate...as for white rappers and saying it. i don't think any have. eminem has referenced it in his song criminal, but it's blanked out. you are just left to imagine the word.

Jenny - posted on 03/09/2011

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The spelling may have changed but has the context? Is it being used in a way that is not derogatory or is the only acceptable use still only between black people?

Do any of the white rappers use it?

Rosie - posted on 03/09/2011

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nigger has been evolved to be a different word laura. well, actually it's "nigga" if i remember that thread from months ago. taking a word, and taking the power out of it. oprah even changed her mind on that word recently....

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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the n word has not evolved to be anything other than a slur against black people...therefore I have no reason to use it.

retarded, however...HAS evolved to mean many other things than (mentally handicapped?)..I'm totally seriously asking if that one's ok these days

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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and yet...it has not evolved that way. Who do I call to do something about that?

Jenn - posted on 03/09/2011

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Well Laura, by that logic then we should use other words as slang and nobody should be offended. "Damn this nigger weather!" It makes just as much, or as little sense, as calling the weather "retarded".

Jenn - posted on 03/09/2011

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Well Laura, by that logic then we should use other words as slang and nobody should be offended. "Damn this nigger weather!" It makes just as much, or as little sense, as calling the weather "retarded".

[deleted account]

I think the kids may have been but it was described as a satire page, according to wikipedia (the very reliable source lol).

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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I don't think it was satire though...I think the kids were actually trying to get it going.

[deleted account]

Ok after a little research I am thoroughly disappointed, it appears the kick a ginger day was a satire page on facebook, which was inspired by an episode of South Park - and isn't an actual day...now what excuse am I going to use to kick my hubby? Maybe I am pregnant and hormonal? LMAO ;-)

[deleted account]

Laura, what day is the kick a ginger day on, your telling me I had a genuine day where I could actually kick my hubby for being a ginger ninja (which is what I do call him on occasion) and I've been missing out - I'm going to go and research this because England (I live there and have never heard of it) are NOT advertising it enough why do hallmark not have a card for that?

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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that's our point...in slang form, it no longer has ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT'S FORMER MEANING...that means, it does not refer to mental handicap (is that ok these days?) it does not even refer to slow anymore.



THAT'S why we keep saying that when we use it in that respect people should have enough common sense NOT to be offended by it.

Jenn - posted on 03/09/2011

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I happen to see quite a similarity between "retard" and "nigger". Both are groups of people who, for a long time, were treated as second rate citizens - less than human if you will. Beaten, abused, neglected, sexually assaulted, raped, hidden from the world, shamed. I understand that a word is just a word, but some words hold power - power to the people that they are used against. If the majority (if not all) of the people who the word is meant to describe find it offensive, don't they deserve enough respect that we not use it? And Jenny, if you're trying to use the word retarded like that, it makes no sense. How does the weather have slowed growth? And if the price of gas were "retarded" I would think you would be rejoicing, not complaining.

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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I'm actually going to agree with the person who said that used as a noun it becomes much more offensive...I'm trying to think back to the last time I used it that way, and I'm pretty sure it was in regards to my brother when I was a child...

Lisa - posted on 03/09/2011

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You're right, Jenny, that nothing seems quite as universally insulting as the word "nigger." It confuses things, at least in my mind, that using retarded as an adjective seems about the same level of offense as any other synonym for idiotic. But the word "retard," used as a noun, is much more offensive. I don't know why, exactly, but I cringe when I hear it.

George Carlin had a routine in which he said that words themselves shouldn't be offensive. How can sounds in and of themselves be offensive? Why is "fuck" horrible to hear, but "fug" isn't? The answer is that words have meaning and history and connotations, any of which can change in the flash of an eye.

How many had even heard the word "macaca" before it was used by a politician? But now almost everyone knows it's offensive, though few people know why. So there was a word that was added and discarded from my vocabulary in the space of a minute.

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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One of my best friends is a ginger...and she had NO idea how badly they were treated in some places...she came to me the other day with a big pout on and said "Did you know that in England they have "kick a ginger day"?

awwww...you'll notice I still call her a ginger though ;P

Isobel - posted on 03/09/2011

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SHIT! now ginger is off limits...what will I put in my stir-frys?

Jenny - posted on 03/09/2011

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Nigger is not a good comparison to retard. I can't think of an alternative use for it aside from a slur. Please correct me if there is another use that doesn't refer to people.

Retard covers all sorts of situations. This weather is retarded. This traffic is retarded. The price of gas is retarded. There is no mixing up in that context that it is not used to describe Handi-capable people. If you take it to refer to them that is plainly on you. I think in another 20 years or so it will be so watered down it will lose it's derogatory meaning to people too.

Jenn - posted on 03/09/2011

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And yes, I would think to be compared to an orangutan based on the colour of your hair would be insulting.

Jenn - posted on 03/09/2011

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The difference between word like idiot, cretin, moron, etc. are that they weren't used specifically as a slur against people with disabilities, but were used at one point as a scientific explanation of the specific IQ level. Yes, they are also words with a negative meaning, but they were not used like the word retard was/is. Perhaps a select few used them as a slur against people with disabilities, but that wasn't the norm.

[deleted account]

oh this is a littke off topic but this will explain a ranga...and it was this clip that started "Say sorry to a ranga day"

[deleted account]

Emma - depends if you are one. this kid would find ranga offensive warning theres a bit of colourful language

Mary Renee - posted on 03/09/2011

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I get what you're saying. I really do, I'm not being sarcastic. That said, I think it matters if other people take offense to a word, even if the person using it doesn't think so. Even if the people defending its use don't mean it "like that" if someone with special needs or the family of people with special needs are offended then the right thing to do is to abstain.

It's like white people and the "n" word. I live in DC. I would love to see a white person go up to a black person and say "n" this and "n" that and then try to explain that they're doing it in "hopes that the term loses its power." I would pay money to watch that go down.

To me, using the term "r-tard" is just a senseless. Only you don't see the people you're hurting getting as defensive about it because they can't be.

And I understand that "dumb" and other words used to have specific meanings but it's worth it to pay some attention to the time period you're living in. Unless you're living under a rock you know what "r-tarded" really means and always have.

Johnny - posted on 03/08/2011

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I think some of us happen to believe that we can respect people with mental disabilities, believe that they are entitled to be valued and involved in our communities but that the word retard should be disassociated with them because it was indeed used as a slur.

My issue is that when we continue to obsess over a word, we give it power over us. It's not ignorance, it is actually a different perspective on the culture of language. Like has been stated many times in this post, there are quite a few other words that were once common names used to describe which then became slurs against the mentally disabled that have been consigned to common use. Words such as idiot and moron are obviously still used by hateful people to describe those with mental disabilities, but you do not see a fatwa being issued against them because they are now so commonly used in our language.

There will always be horrible people who think that they can devalue others. Making one word verboten will never fix that problem. That just increases its power. Do you think that those with mental disabilities or their families get upset every time someone refers to something as being idiotic? Perhaps a few, but it's not a big issue. Why? Because a word that was once specifically used to describe or insult people with mental disabilities simply became a term that is used to describe something generally stupid or often something frustrating. You did not see the families of those with mental disabilities marching in the streets outraged over the signs during the GW Bush era "A Village in Texas is Missing its Idiot". The word has been changed and as a slur it is far less specific and far less powerful. It won't be too long before people don't even recall what its original meaning was.

I'm not sure how it is so tasteless, ignorant and insensitive to hope that the term retard also loses its power and specific meaning. That it just becomes another word that means something that we don't like and no longer references those with mental disabilities in our lexicon. Sadly, of course, people who like to make others feel small with just find new terms, like LD or SPED to insult. Which is why we should focus on actual compassion and empathy, not obsessing about words. There's always a new slur, because there's always a new asshole.

And just to add, I don't really use the word retard, except in its original scientific growth related sense. I was raised by a father who liked calling people morons, and it sort of stuck. But the fact that I use moron while other people use retard doesn't somehow make me more sensitive or caring. It just means that I use a different word when something or someone upsets me.

Mary Renee - posted on 03/08/2011

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Alright, I haven't been following this post but I think we all agree that you have the right to be insensitive and use the word r-tard. No one is arguing against your first amendment right which guarantees your right to freedom of speech. I think many of us here were only hoping to educate those of you that were unaware that using the word "r-tard" is very offensive to people with special needs who can not defend themselves, it's a hateful word, no matter how you use it or what connotations you think it has, it devalues an entire group of people who have worked long and hard to prove to the world that they have value and deserve equal respect. It's insensitive to those who have loved ones with special needs, as well.



I think the goal was to spread this message so that people weren't going around ignorantly using the word like it's the "cool" thing to do.



That said, many of you are plenty educated but still chose to sound ignorant and insensitive - which is totally your right. No one is forcing you to cut it or any other words out of your vocabulary. We're just letting you know how tasteless it is, regardless of the absurd amount of joy you get describing the weather that way.

Jenn - posted on 03/08/2011

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OK - I should also say, that I will most definitely use curse words like fuck and shit, as I'm sure you've seen on here, and I have also called people names. I'm thinking right now of the clip about the Muslims where the lady was shouting at them about God and Allah and I called her a fucking bitch, because people like that make me absolutely irate. So I don't want to act like I'm all little miss perfect or anything, because I'm not. ;)

Jenn - posted on 03/08/2011

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LOL - I'm not insulted at all. I can absolutely be frustrated with something that's not alive, but it cannot cooperate. I'm just too darn literal, I know. I've always been that way; as a child I would watch cartoons and say "as if that could happen" LOL!!

Rosie - posted on 03/08/2011

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is a couch unable to frustrate you because its not alive either? my couch cushions are not as fluffy as they once were, that frustrates me-the couch frustrates me. we give inatimate objects the ability to do and be things all the time. maybe it's cause you're from canada you don't say these things? lol! -totally trying to lighten the mood with that one, don't take it as an insult please! :)

Jenn - posted on 03/08/2011

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Well Kati, the weather is not able to cooperate with me as it isn't alive. If you mean, how do I react when it's raining and I was planning a picnic? I'd probably say something like: "darn, that sucks. Oh well, another time I guess." or perhaps "ARGH!" or then there's one of my favs that I use quite frequently "Ay Carumba!"

Lisa - posted on 03/08/2011

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Mary Renee Reuter is wrong. Nigger's etymology starts with the Latin niger, meaning black, and was used as a neutral term to described dark-skinned people, starting around the 1600s. It was considered a pejorative by the early 1900s.

Niggard, the etymology of which is unclear, predates nigger by at least of couple of centuries (Chaucer used it!) and probably comes from Old Norse (hnoggr, meaning stingy).

There was a kerfuffle a few years ago about a D.C. politician using the word "niggardly" and being pressured to apologize. It was a silly debate.

Rosie - posted on 03/08/2011

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why is calling the weather retarded so hard to figure out? once again it's slang. i say stupid car when it's not working like i want it to, i say stupid weather when it's not doing what i want it to. do you really not say any of these examples i just gave at all? what do you say when the weather isn't cooperating?

Jenn - posted on 03/08/2011

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@Laura - Well, I don't think I'm a hypocrite, because I don't go around particularly "fighting" to ban any words, I also don't use the words idiot, cretin, retard, etc. This post was about the word retard - so that's what I discussed. I generally try not to speak in a negative way about anyone or anything - it's just who I am. And as I said, I'm not "upset" about you describing the weather as retarded, it just makes no sense to me. I could see if you were annoyed by the weather, or frustrated, or angry, or didn't like it - but to call it retarded? I just don't get it.

[deleted account]

Erica - I think calling someone an idiot or stupid mocks those with intellectual disabilities but in all honesty my use of the word retard has gone down in the past few years I think the last time i used it was when my sister was trying to touch me with her malformed knee ( she knows it creeps me out and she uses it as a way of getting what she wants) I told her to "keep your retarded deforma-knee (cos its a deformed knee hahaha im so funny) away from me" i have no problem in telling her that her knee is in fact medically retarded because she calls it retarded..and is quite proud of its...retardness? i don't know somedays i think she's kinda special

Erica - posted on 03/08/2011

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I don't like the word retard, I work with people that have physical and mental disabilities. I cringe when retard is used in the correct term for medical reasons as well. I've grown up around people who openly called the disabled retarded.

For me, I think I've used it a couple of times, and I felt like crap, and it wasn't even towards those with disabilities. Now I will use Stupid, and idiot, but I don't associate those terms with the disabled. I guess it's just what we were used to hearing as growing up, so if you were around people that used idiot, moron, or stupid towards people with disabilities, I guess that would be more offensive.

Isobel - posted on 03/07/2011

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my sister hates the word wench...should they close down Medieval Times? or just make them change what they call their waitresses?

my point was not that YOU called me an idiot...just that it's hypocritical to oppose one and not fight against the other...and if you start fighting against ALL of them, the people who really ARE trying to offend people will just make new ones.

SOOOOO...what's the point? Get upset when somebody is making fun of you or somebody you love, not when they are talking about the weather.

[deleted account]

Jenn - "ranga" a derogatory term for a red-head...short for orangutan cos theyre red. I think when any word is first "made up" its never meant to be nasty ie faggot buddle of sticks gay - happy queen - female ruler of a monarchy queer - strange and in all sense the word "retardation" was simply meant to describe something that had mutated and changed in a way it wasn't supposed to

Charlie - posted on 03/07/2011

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Actually the origins of faggot meant a "bundle of sticks" used to start a fire AKA ciggarettes ( sticks to light in fire ) I have no idea how it became a derogotory word for a homosexual .

Nikkole - posted on 03/07/2011

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True but i do admit i like to piss her off sometimes :) if looks could kill id be dead!

Jenn - posted on 03/07/2011

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It's one thing to not filter what you say - it's another thing to intentionally say it just to piss someone off when you know they don't like it. And Laura - I didn't call you an idiot - nice try though. ;)

Nikkole - posted on 03/07/2011

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@ Jenn YEP i hate that women so i will say whatever i want im not walking on egg shells because she doesn't like a word or doesn't like how me and my husband and his friends joke. This girls is 22 almost 23 years old and has a 11pm curfew still and is not allowed to drive at night and she is EXTREMELY rude to everyone she knows! Im not going to filter my mouth around ANYONE but my children and of course other kids! I can care less WHO thinks im mature or not i just like to piss her off because she is hateful and spiteful to me and our friends, she has also said rude things about my children!

Im just trying to make a point it dosen't matter if you don't like a word people will still use it, is some words nice to use or right NO of course not BUT again people can say whatever they want even the "N" word, do i use retard or the "n" word no but i don't care if someone else does how does it affect me, If someone was to call my kid retard and they were (mentally handicapped) I wouldn't get mad i would just feel sorry for that person for calling a person (who can not help what they are) a name.

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