The Case Against Stupid

TW: Discussion of ableist language & bullying

 

 

 

 

“You’re S-T-U-P-E-D. Know what that means?”

“Stuped? It’s not a word.”

“Yes, it is! Stupid, do you know what it means?”

“That’s not how you spell ‘stupid’. It’s with an i, not an e.”

“It means you’re r******d.”

Stupid first entered the English language as a word back in the early 1540s. According to current current usage and definitions, its most common usage has to do with describing a lack of ordinary “quickness or keenness of mind” and describing things characterized or proceeding from “mental dullness”.

In other words, it is a word that exists to belittle those based upon their perceived mental acuity. If you doubt this statement, look only to its accepted list of synonyms, which includes such words as “dull,” “dumb,” “unintelligent,” “dim,” “doltish,” “half-witted,” “idiotic,” and “moronic”, all of which are words with well-defined ableist history (several of which were once ableist medical terms). This belittlement of perceived mental acuity is harmful to those with cognitive and developmental disabilities – we who, due to those disabilities, are often perceived as having lower mental acuity than our peers.

So, we’ve established that it has an ableist definition. Now I’m going to talk about my case that it constitutes a euphemism for one of the most vile ableist slurs out there. The first part of my case is to look at the synonyms of that slur. It includes many of the same words as the list of synonyms for stupid, and even includes the word stupid itself. If you look at the definition, a common slang use is as a synonym for stupid or foolish – this is the ableist slur usage we’re so familiar with.

In other words, even dictionaries, which are notoriously slow to accept changes in language usage, recognize that stupid is synonymous with that slur. Dictionaries exist to document current language usage patterns, not to stay on top of slang fads. Hence, for something to be placed in a dictionary as an accepted definition, it must be both 1, common usage (technical definitions almost never make it into general English dictionaries) and 2, old enough for the dictionaries to recognize it’s not a one-year fad like the neologism “ruly” was in my childhood.

On the more personal side of this argument: That’s exactly how it was used against me. The exchange I wrote at the start of this post actually happened to me, and I learned very quickly that the other kids couldn’t get away with calling me a r*****d in public, but they could get away with calling me stupid. So they used stupid as a euphemism for r*******d, probably just like their parents told them to.

But, you see, kids possess less ability for self-deception than adults. So they didn’t try to rationalize that they were just going around the social condemnation of the use of the word retard by saying that wasn’t really what they were doing, they were actually just saying it was a bad idea or I was annoying or made no sense or what have you. They said it like it was: When they said stupid, they meant r*******d.

As people get older and they learn the why of why retard is so very offensive, many of them don’t want to give up other ableist insults while they’re at it. After all, how can they express ableist sentiments without ableist words? So they rationalize. Stupid doesn’t mean r*******d, it just means dull-witted and dumb, amirite? Some get angry: How dare you tell me that stupid is a euphemism for retard! That’s offensive! I don’t use it to mean r******d, I use it to mean [insert other ableist word here]!

But the kids are more honest. They say it like it is.

That means you’re r******d!”