With every generation, language changes a little bit. However, it isn’t an overstatement to say that young Americans today speak a completely different language than their parents. In many ways this is a good thing; a wave of political correctness has swept across the new generation, and many terrible sayings have disappeared completely. However, as in many social movements, the groups with the smallest representation always get shafted. Thankfully, racial slurs are becoming more and more unheard of, but there are still two categories of people that are slandered in common conversation.
The word “retarded” actually refers to someone who suffers from a disability that limits his or her ability to learn and understand. The word “gay” refers to someone who is homosexual. Both of these words are given a negative connotation when used in common language to describe something people don’t like, or when used to belittle someone. Both of these words also represent large groups of people.
It would never be appropriate to belittle someone because of race or gender. For the most part, our society has tried to create a more open and friendly environment for all kinds of people. However, this sensitivity is typically overlooked when the person being put down is someone defenseless or simply different from you.
The worst part about these expressions is that most people don’t see a problem. Many don’t even realize that they are being offensive. After asking a friend who used these expressions if she knew whom they singled out, she claimed that she wasn’t actually referring to the group of people actually defined by the word, and that "it's just an expression." To this I must respond that there is no other way to see it. There have been many simple “expressions” in the American dialect that have been deemed offensive, and these are no exception.
I know that these references are more than just expressions because I have witnessed the embarrassment of what these words can do. I have a special needs cousin, Michael, who has autism. Michael is one the most genuine and kind people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and is capable of much more than people expect of him. Every time I hear the word “retarded” used to degrade someone, my entire body begins to cringe, I think of Michael, and I am hurt that someone could ever so easily discredit someone with a disorder.
The word “gay” is even more commonly used than the word “retarded” and, unfortunately, many people see the offensiveness in this word but still refuse to correct it. I don’t know how the word referencing someone’s sexuality became the go-to expression for anything negative, but it has. It doesn’t matter if you are for or against homosexuality; humiliating any group of people for any reason is immoral, unfair, uncalled for and just not right.
Perhaps if people stopped to realize how the things they say affect other people and have the potential to hurt them, they will see the error of their ways. It is amazing how small, overlooked words used in one person’s everyday life can affect the world as a whole.