"He is such a retard."

 

 A Seventh-Grade Student

 

Moments before the bell rang, I overheard a seventh grader refer to another kid as a retard.

 

Rather than taking roll, I wrote the word Noun on the board and eventually found a student who could define it. I wrote the word Verb on the board and a girl in back explained it.

 

Then I wrote RETARD on the board. This elicited some measure of shock and several nervous giggles. Retard is one of the no-no words that teachers, especially substitute teachers, can’t say, along with stupid, moron, shut up, and asphalt.

 

Once they settled down, I asked whether the word retard is a noun. There were a few noncommittal head shakes, some for, some against, and some discussion about whether the word describes a person, place, or thing. “But isn’t retard an adjective?” a girl asked, and most of the students nodded in agreement, like they also knew what an adjective was.

 

I shook my head. “No, retard is not an adjective,” I said. “What does the word mean?” Several students volunteered words like dumb, ignorant, even mentally challenged. “What?” I asked, feigning shock. “No, that’s not what retard means. What are they teaching you here? Retard is a verb, not a noun, certainly not an adjective. It is a verb, an action word. To retard means to slow or to stop the progress of something.”

 

My statement was met with dumb stares. “The word retard is a verb,” I repeated. “It is a verb and is always a verb, and can only be a verb. Any other use of the word is incorrect. If you need a word to describe a student who uses verbs as noun or verbs as adjectives, perhaps stupid or ignorant would work, but don’t you be one who does that. Retard is a verb and can only be a verb. When you use it incorrectly you only reveal your own ignorance.”

 

 

From Quotidian the Llama Volume 2: The Stupid Things People Say.