I don’t know whether Facebook simply decided to show me a post of ‘Words you can’t stand’ on some language-related Facebook page, or whether a friend commented on it, but I spent a few minutes scrolling through people’s discussions of the usual suspects.

One person said something like: “Any word with TARD in it, because you really mean the r-word”. 

I immediately thought of custard and mustard, and also bastard (which some people might take offence at, for other reasons) and bustard (which is close enough to be possibly questionable). 

The Free Dictionary has come to my aid with a list of words containing -tard, including, in their various forms:

tardy, dotard, petard, retard as a verb and noun and retarded as an adjective, costard, dastard, leotard and unitard, stardom, stardust, tardigrade and ritardando

Of these, the only objectionable word is retard as a noun, which is of course what the original commenter really meant, no doubt thinking about words like (you know which words I’m going to say after the break)

fucktard, conservatard and libtard. Possibly retard as a verb, retarded as an adjective and tardy are or will be tainted by association, but the first two are perfectly fine when used about things and not people. We need fire retardants to retard the spread of fires.

Once upon a time, idiot, imbecile and moron were used as clinical descriptions of people with IQs of 0-25, 26-50 and 51-70 respectively. These soon entered general use (or returned to general use, because they had been used generally previously), so people (especially children) became developmentally retarded, which might include physical and/or mental retardation. Then they became retarded, then retards. Idiots, imbeciles, morons and retards are now everyone who either you disagree with, or they disagree with you, or who do something which inconveniences you in some way (which might include yourself). (True confession: I sometimes refer to other drivers as idiots.) Meanwhile, the problem of what to call people who really deserve and really should get more of our attention, individually and collectively, continues.


7 thoughts on “TARD

  1. I’ve heard/read “developmentally disabled” and “intellectually challenged.” The word “slow” was also part of that euphemism chain, which led to unfortunate jokes about road signs saying



  2. Or

    At primary school in an Australian country town in the 1970s, the description/insult was ‘mental’ (from mentally retarded) or ‘spastic/spaz/spazzo’ (cerebral palsy).

    Stephen Pinker’s phrase ‘euphemism treadmill’ is probably better known, but Wikipedia also mentions ‘euphemism cycle’ from the University of Oregon’s Sharon Henderson Taylor in 1974. I don’t think it’s a cycle, though. One these words have fallen out of favour (or been pushed), they don’t come back.


  3. You may appreciate this story, then: my wife told me once of a Korean family (immigrants to America) who were told by their child’s school that he needed to be put into a “special” class. This made them quite proud that their son was considered special by the school, until they discovered what that really meant.

    And on the religious front, there’s the line that encapsulates the message of the church: “Remember you are special, just like everybody else.” Well, isn’t that special!


    • I had to check the quote from The Incredibles –
      Mother: Everyone’s special, Dash.
      Son: Which is another way of saying everyone is.

      I can also picture Monty Python –
      All: Yes, we’re all special!
      One: I’m not.


  4. The Python quote from “Life of Brian”, which was originally “We’re all individuals; we’re all different” / “I’m not”, may be found here:

    The “I’m not” was an ad lib, not in the original script, and considered by John Cleese to be the funniest line in the movie.


  5. Pingback: dumb and stupid | Never Pure and Rarely Simple

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