The Underwear Police

Hi Readers: This one is so weird, such a PRIME example of bureaucracy gone wild, I don’t have much to say except [sound of eyes crossing, drool dripping from slackened jaw].

Apparently, Canadian Sears stores have just recalled a line of girls’ boxer shorts sold for past four years without any adverse incident. So why recall them now?

Somehow, they have been reclassified as “sleepwear,” and sleepwear must hold to a higher non-flammability standard than undies. So now they are not fire retardant enough.

I’ll tell you what IS retardant enough…  L.

63 Responses

  1. so stupid! What next?

  2. Strongly agree it’s ridiculous, BUT. Please don’t let your name and site be associated with using that derogatory word, it’s an insult to people with disabilities. I hope I’m not over reacting, just trying the be sensitive to people I know and care about.

  3. And exactly what would these girls be doing in their undies to require a high fire resistance rating?

    Like my Aunt Carmela used to say, “No youth can bear the heat of Saint Tomaso’s disapproving stare.” It didn’t make sense in Italian, either.

  4. @Kathy- I agree totally about that word. I know no insult was meant, but I am very much against the perpetuation of that word as an insult.

    As for the story, if the underwear doesn’t meet the standards of sleepwear, are they suggesting that millions of children sleep without underwear? THAT concerns me…

  5. well i suppose undewear isnt meant to be ‘flappy’ enough that it could catch fire near a heater or fireplace. Which is why underwear may be exempt.

  6. @Kathy and bmj2k,

    I’m sure that Lenore meant no harm in using the word “retardant” in her post. Note she didn’t use “retarded.” The two words have the same root, of course, and are similar in meaning, but they do not mean the same thing.

  7. Weird. Most fire retardants are somewhat toxic to humans and wildlife. Some are suspected carcinogens.

    Sleepwear that touches your skin should not be treated with fire retardants at all. It’s applied to mattresses and upholstery to save the lives of smokers who fall asleep while smoking, but furniture and matresses don’t touch your skin directly as much.

    Long term this policy will likely result in greater incidences of cancers and allergies while providing no benefit. No one has ever died because their underwear caught on fire.

  8. That is very weird, because I have been buying my kid non-flame-retardant sleepwear for eight years now, right here in Canada. (She’s picky about the “feel” of her clothes, and fabric treated with flame retardants, as we all know, is skeevy on the skin.) I always thought it was the US that had the draconian rules about flameproof PJs.

  9. As Andy said, why would these girls need fire retardant underwear? Why do they need anything fire retardant…period. If they are in a situation where they will be engulfed in flames, I don’t think fire retardant clothes are going to help that much. Unless it’s a whole ensemble, hood, long sleeves, long pants, socks, balaclava, and gloves. lol

    Sounds like another company dotting their “i’s” and crossing there “t’s”, for fear of any law suites from paranoid parents, should these parents be dumb enough to set their kids on fire.

  10. Flame retardant sleepwear drives me crazy. They are made of the worst kind of polyester. My daughter had one nightgown that generated so much static electricity that we could see sparks as she slipped under the covers.

  11. Sparks under the covers? Cool!

  12. @Alison: The other commentors are right to ask Lenore to be careful with her words. Lenore obviously means to use ‘retardant’ in place of ‘retard’ here; not a wise choice. We know exactly what she means, so she might as well have just used the word.

  13. comfy cotton = good
    polyester doused with toxic flame retardants = bad

  14. @Kathy. I think you’re being way overly politically correct. Frankly, I will say this–political correctness is, in fact, RETARDED.

    I know you’re being compassionate about those you know & care about, but frankly political correctness is, to me, a very CRIPPLED way of thinking.

    @JenininCanada. No, the other commentators are NOT right, they are wrong. Those of you with this bend really need to lighten up, big-time.

  15. Here’s a PS & my apologies for not addressing this to start with.

    I understand being sensitive/compassionate etc, but enough with these rants about how Lenore’s choice of words seem offensive to you. This whole thing is really ridiculous.

    My wife works at Taco Bell, I once did, I don’t take offense when someone says “I want a career, not to end-up working a dead-end job like being a cashier at Taco Bell.” I once was the victim of terrible burns at Burger King in 1988, but I didn’t–and still don’t–take offense at someone saying “I got really burnt on that deal.” I’ve been fighting migraine headaches the last 3 days or so, I don’t take offense when someone says “waiting for 2 hours at the DMV is such a headache.”

    My African-American friends didn’t take offense today when, speaking of my headache, I said “today I’m just going to be a “white boy,” I don’t have the strength to “get down like James Brown” today. In fact they laughed. THAT’S what we need more of today.

    I don’t tell crude racist jokes, I agree about that part being tacky–but the sensibilities some expect out of people today because of political correctness, frankly–it is very retarded indeed.

  16. I “Get” why Flame retardent sleepware was made a law for kids and I agree that the fabric is…weird. My 2 children roamed the house in mens XL t-shirts that my husband and I got from work with regularity (we had over 50 between the 2 of us at one point). they were long sleeves and hung to their ankles.

    My kids never caught fire, never had any problems and even had the loose clothing be a good thing when one spilled hot cocoa down the front of himself one night.

    Kids are now 15 and 12 and wear some of those same t-shirts as CLOTHES because they FIT now.

    I must be a terrible parent because I didn’t worry about my kids catching on fire.

  17. @JeninCanada, it’s obviously a play on words.

    And putting all political correctness aside, like it or not, the word “retarded” seems to be mostly used these days to describe things, not people. Again, like it or not. However, I do think we’ve reached a point where the differently-abled are no longer called “retarded.” At least I hope so.

    Again, Lenore made a play on the word “retardant,” which means “serving or tending to retard.” And retard (v.) means “to make slow; delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder or impede.”

    So I see her point that this decision in Canada is retardant: it retards our progress as a people, in a way. This underwear is fine for years, and then it’s sold as “sleepwear” and is no longer fine? There are other, more important issues out there. Really. Concentrating on such a trivial thing retards progress.

  18. I’m going to have to stand up for Lenore here. I think she might have actually intended to call the nanny-state bureaucrats and politicians “retardant”.

    The only problem is that we don’t have much hard data on how retardant the average bureaucrat and/or politician is.

    I say we take a representative sample (oh, about 535 in particular seems a suitable number), light them on fire, and record our results.

  19. Ridiculous.

    I vaguely remember when the whole “Sleepwear must be able to withstand gales of fire” thing started in the 70’s, due to kids’ pajamas melting on them and fun stuff like that, but it doesn’t make so much sense now. There’s not many kids wearing nylon PJs these days. Personally I’d rather my child be in cotton or something breathable.

    But the idea of knickers needing to be flame proof? HAHAHAHHAHAH.

    And I enjoyed the play on words with the use of ‘retardant.” Awesome.

  20. I feel strongly that the “retardant” joke is inappropriate and offensive. Here’s a link to a blog that explains it better than I could ever hope to.

  21. […] Lenore Skenazy from Free Range Kids with her take on it: Somehow, they have been reclassified as “sleepwear,” and sleepwear must hold to a higher […]

  22. I also enjoyed the play on words using “retardant” to indicate the backwardsness of bureaucracy.

    Not all words with the root of “retard” are correlated with the former term for developmental delays. It has a sufficient amount of words with other meanings that you can’t jump on other iterations for being to closely related to “retarded.” Unless you suddenly want to tell all musicians they must find another term for a slowing of tempo in a score….

    Retardant is NOT the same word as retarded, and it is accurate in this piece both as a term for the requirements of sleepwear and for the policies in place regarding this recall.

  23. 1. Zie and Allison, you’re deliberately missing the point. That clever little word swap is no different than “Mary had a little lamb / she also had a duck / She put them on the mantelpiece / to see if they would fall off”. If I taught that to your child, and you got upset, it would be wrong of me to go “Well, I didn’t say that!”

    And Zie, it’s downright equivocating to go “And it has other meanings…!” at us. We’re not talking about using retard to mean “slow the tempo” and you know it. Everybody knows it.

    2. With that said, it’s not political correctness. It’s good manners – you don’t use slurs about other people, in the same way that if your sister doesn’t like “the f-word”, you try not to use it around her kids. It’s just polite. Truthfully, I know which words I’d rather hear.

  24. Sylvia, I think the rules are that clothing marketed as PJs have to EITHER be flame-retardant OR fit snugly. So boxers would have to be flame-retardant because they’re “loose” and might catch a spark or a flame and then the kiddo goes up in smoke.

    Which makes sense, I guess, but I’ve never understood why the fuss about sleepwear when kids go the rest of their days in whatever they like, fire safety be damned.

  25. Sorry Lorraine, but you’re way off here. This isn’t a story about bureaucrats gone haywire, but a story about a corporate entity who tried to make an end-run around safety standards by labeling merchandise that would reasonably be expected to be worn as sleepwear as underwear and getting caught.

    The “underwear” under recall is a cami and boxer set, now I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that most little girls aren’t wearing boxers under their shorts in the summer, and I feel that it’s also a pretty easy assumption to make that most people who bought these sets have been using them as jammies, not as underwear.

    Sleepwear in Canada is NOT required to be treated with flame-retardants to pass the standard, it only needs to be able to withstand a certain amount of proximity to a standardized source of heat for a specific time period before catching fire. You can buy organic cotton jammies that fall well within the safety standards pretty much everywhere in Canada. (Well, maybe not in Nunavut, but that’s a shipping problem, it’s hard to get a lot of things that far north.)

    The safety standards for sleepwear were demanded by parents in the 70’s (like mine, for who “free-range” wasn’t a movement, it was just the way all kids were raised) because of children being horribly burnt and killed simply because they sat too near the Christmas tree lights or brushed up against a space-heater.

    Not silly, needed standards that keep all of our children safer that we’ve apparently started to take for granted.

  26. On the bright side – when I read the title of this post, I thought the recall was going to be for another reason entirely.
    At least the argument is over acceptable levels of a measurable parameter, defined differently for different items of clothing, and not imagined predator dangers to children wearing certain types of underwear…

  27. Trying to operate a business while a government agency can reclassify your product and retro-activiely subject it to strict requirements seems like a lot of hassle. I know people run around whining about Americans being litigious, but sometimes litigation is better than deferring is some retro-active rule applying agency.

    As for the awesome “Is Ms. Skenazy morally reprehensible” side thread… I find the “sensitive” substitution of “disabled” for “retarded” to be a terrible one. As folks have mentioned “retarded” basically means a person is slow in some ways. I know folks that are very well described that way. On the other hand, “disabled” means a person simply does not have at all a certain ability a hypothetical normal person would have. At the etymological level it doesn’t allow for lesser degrees of capability, just the complete absence.

    I’d rather be thought of as slow than completely lacking a normal ability, rather be retarded than disabled.

  28. This whole “retarded” debate is pretty silly in my politically incorrect opinion. Even if the term was actually used (and it wasn’t), if someone is doing something really dumb, why not call them a retard. The idea that we have to protect people from language is crazy.

  29. How is this a free-range issue? It’s about a government safety rule (agree with it or not, it is what it is) and a store that has to comply and a manufacturer who could be sued – and forget COULD, WOULD be sued because we live in a society where people DO that, for anything that seems to go wrong and could result in money. It’s not “weird,” it’s a perfect example of how the world works.

    So back to my question – how is this a free-range issue? I thought it was about parenting, about encouraging our kids to be responsible for themselves and not be afraid of the world. Not about a company following a government”s policies.

  30. I agree with Alison. I would never EVER call a mentally disabled person “retarded” anymore – like it or not, the meaning of that word has changed. That is the word I use for a dumb TV show or a poorly written article. In other words, yes, it is an insult. That’s why I would never use it to describe a person. For those of you who can’t grasp this concept, take the word “lame.” It used to be the correct word to describe the physically handicapped. Would you use it the same way now?

  31. Word issues aside (retardant vs. retarded) – I’m curious why it is a reason for concern (bmj2k’s post) that children sleep without underwear? WHY NOT sleep without underwear? WHY do we always have to be wearing underwear?

    And I think it’s great, that no one can withstand the disapproving glare of a saint – better keep those lustful thoughts under control and you won’t have to worry whether or not your underwear will burst into flames.

  32. Mocking a condition is not the same as mocking someone with that condition. E.g. a hostess saying to a coworker “Can you find this retard and his family a seat?” is offensive and inexcusable, and is not equal to saying “this new casual Friday policy is retarded”.

    You can get offended all you want, but language changes. “Retarded”, whether you like it or not, no longer means just a person with a mental disability.

    However, putting all that aside, I just find it arrogant and a double standard for anyone to get offended for the sake of someone else. What makes you think that anyone wants your self-righteous pity? People are perfectly capable of deciding what offends them on their own, thank you very much. You make those different from you out to be second-class citizens when you assume they need you to stand up for them, while deriding anyone who, in your opinion, is doing the same. Hypocrisy at its finest.

  33. I was in a chat room last summer, and one young man with a disability said “retarded” doesn’t offend him if it’s used for the right reasons. His idea of “right reasons to use the ‘R’ word ” is to describe outrageous celebrity behavior or ridiculous government bureaucracy. Everyone in the chat room agreed, especially when it came to anything having to do with the government regulating everything.

  34. My cousin is mentally handicapped. You know what we DON’T call her? Retarded. Seriously, how offensive would that be! “Here’s my cousin, she’s retarded.” Like someone said, you don’t call people retards anymore. The meaning has changed, just like you don’t tell people you’re feeling gay, the guy with MS isn’t a spaz, etc.

    What’s the point of getting offended over a word, anyway? If you don’t like it used, don’t use it. Teach your kids it’s not nice to use it. Don’t get all huffy and judgmental because someone has a different opinion about it.

    As for the jammie thing, I think it’s kind of funny that they have the flame retardant requirement. My sister-in-law bought my daughter some jammies that were a teeny bit baggie, and the tag inside said, “Not intended for use as sleepwear.” Then why are they shaped like jammies and covered in moons and stars and sheep?

  35. It seems to me that the free-range issue is the nanny state of legislating flame retardancy for sleepwear. And yes, I too remember the ’70s when the sleepwear was melting onto kids with, particularly, space heaters in their rooms. That polyester and nylon stuff will indeed melt right onto you. I’ve had server uniforms melt. Not fun.

    Cotton burns. It doesn’t really melt. And safety standards for heaters are so much more stringent now too. I get my grandson organic cotton jammies, and they too say “Not intended for sleepwear”, but they are marketed as, perhaps, loungewear? But clearly, they are jammies.

    Sparks under the covers? Bring on the wintergreen lifesavers!

  36. Here follows the KISS principle….
    – everybody sleep au naturel

    Problem solved…easy, wasn’t it?

  37. Uly, I’m not missing the point.

    Retardant means an impediment, a thing or entity which slows or impedes progress. It has the same word root of “retarded” but it doesn’t mean the same thing, and it’s not been used to my knowledge to describe disabled persons. Nor has the word “retard” in terms of music. THEY ARE DIFFERENT WORDS.

    Using a word that is accurate here (the bureaucracy in place here is most certainly impeding the use of recalls in a manner that benefits society, not to mention impeding common sense) makes a play on words regarding the subject matter of fire retardants, not disabled people who don’t play into the story.

    Screaming about using retardant appropriately is about the same as screaming about musicians using “retard’ on their scores. They aren’t the same word, don’t reference the disabled in any fashion, but you’re taking offense, anyway.

  38. Yep, we’re another family who sleeps nude. Our rule is that if the person you’re sharing a room with doesn’t mind, then go right ahead!

    So, in case of fire, we will be the streakers outside. 😉

  39. (Charlie) and (Zie) absolutely nailed it.

    As for the original issue, I think this is a free-range issue insomuch that it is a by-product of over-worry about children’s safety. Obviously no one wants a child to be at risk for being seriously turned in a fire, but the moves here do smack of the “safety freaks” taking themselves a little too seriously.

  40. PS–pardon me, that would be “burned” in a fire, not “turned” in a fire. Darn typos.

  41. I agree completely, Scott. I would much rather run the risk of my daughters’ undies catching on fire than exposing them to flame retardant chemicals. I never asked for these chemicals to be added to my childrens’ clothes, to my couch, our mattresses, etc. It enrages me to think that I have no choice in our exposure to chemicals that lead to cancer and can cause harm to my children’s developing brains. Frankly, it pisses me off.

  42. @ Scott: ” Even if the term was actually used (and it wasn’t), if someone is doing something really dumb, why not call them a retard.”

    Because you are insulting an entire group of people who are not dumb.

    There is nothing dumb about living to the best of your limited abilities. There is nothing dumb about not being born with the physical or mental abilities that you take for granted.

    Dumb would be not using your intelligence, or not learning from your errors, things retarded people are not capable of.

    Scott, I would not even call your post dumb, simply ignorant. (Which, BTW, is not an unsult, but a proveable fact.)

    “The idea that we have to protect people from language is crazy”

    I agree. But that isn’t the case here.

  43. Of course, that should be “insult,” not “unsult.” Not checking my spelling was a dumb error. (But certainly not retarded! 😉

  44. J – you nailed it! There are standards for a reason. While it can sometimes be a little hard to clarify which standard to use, you gotta have the standards and they have to be applied… standardly.

    As for the example of adult t shirts being worn as jammies, my daughter does that all of the time. But that’s because I let her. They are my shirts, bought as men’s underwear in the mens department. As the adult in the room, I have decided that I don’t mind her wearing a product as sleepwear that was not designed as such, but that’s my call because I know that there are very few heat sources in our home. If I went to the girls pj department and saw a nightgown shaped like a men’s t – shirt, I would think that it was cute, AND that it met the standards of kids sleep wear. I would expect it to cost more than my t-shirts because I am fully aware that there are standards that sleepwear manufacturers must adhere to.

    I Hanes got busted for selling men’s tshirts as kids sleep wear, I’d think that they deserved a slap on the wrist if no one got hurt and a big lawsuit verdict if someone did.

    Looks like Joe Boxer lucked out on this one.

    On the other hand, perhaps we should revisit the standard. That would also be good use of gov’t time and resources. Stupid standards should be changed to address current and foreseeable dangers, but necessarily abandoned entirely.

  45. There needs to be an understanding here. Guess what? No matter what you label a condition, someone will end up using it as a derogatory term down the road because it’s describing something people see as bad. Sorry, there’s the truth.

    Back when, “retarded” meant “slow.” Retarded growth for one. Retarded began to mean someone who was “slow” mentally as well – in a very honest way. As people wanted to insult someone with less-than mental capabilities, they called them retarded. We deemed that bad. So we labeled people with mental disorders “mentally handicapped.” We decided that when people started flinging around “handicapped” we needed to label them “handicapable.” When that didn’t stick and it was an insult, we have “physically challenged.” Well, I have absolutely heard it used as an insult – skateboarding kids who can’t grind a rail without falling? Their friends, lovingly, tell them, “What are you? Physically challenged?” Guess what? They aren’t meaning it in a simple way, friends. (Even if it sounds stupid.) Substitute any of the previous definitions of someone with physical or mental deficiencies and you get what they were getting at.

    You can keep changing the word all you want to – but when it applies to the same thing, people will use the new word to insult because some people are just that way. In Lenore’s case, good grief, she made a play on words. It was funny, I had a snicker at it, and moved on… until I saw the plethora of PC people snapping about it.

    If we want to make the world clean of “bad words” why not make the world clean of “bad things” too? I mean, where’s the line? Why gripe about helicopter parents trying to overprotect their kids when we’re trying to overprotect everyone from words and hurting someone else’s feelings? Shall we bring the friendship coaches on board for this one too? After all – we don’t want to hurt **anyone’s** feelings. Ever. Never ever. We also don’t want to have any child fall off a slide or skin their knees – cause that hurts too. The world is just so evil.

    /rant off

  46. @Nicola. You nailed it. I’m glad I sat back & gave this time, rather than monopolizing this. Your /rant was outstanding.

    This thread was not even about stupid retarded political correctness, but flame retardant PJs and governmental bureaucracy.

    Instead it’s become about people & their spastic sensitivities totally hijacking a thread which had absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with the proper usage of certain words.

    I don’t know Lenore personally, only in the context of this blog like the rest of you. But she certainly doesn’t strike me as any sort of person that is bigoted, a throwback to a wow-be-gone era of bigots, or needs a lesson from anyone here about how to write. The fact that Lenore’s been employed as a writer, and is still commissioned to write for ParentDish, and is college-educated etc, and my general impressions about her in these manners–they all tell me she doesn’t need anyone coming in here chastizing her for her word usage. I don’t recall her asking any of you what you thought of her use of the word “retard” in the context of the design of children’s PJs.

    Maybe you don’t like it. Guess what–Lenore strikes me as a very considerate & polite person, but she isn’t running a word-usage poll here. She’s sharing free range parenting topics here, in HER site, in HER way, and her education, experience & credentials give her the benefit of the doubt in how to communicate it. She surely isn’t asking me what I think, or anyone else either, where it regards her word usage.

    She deserves–and is entitled to–the benefit of the doubt here.

    To wit, I don’t think she posted this article here to have anyone here dissect her like she’s a frog in high school chemistry. Maybe some of you here need to start a site called and let loose there, because–to me–this dissecting of Lenore’s supposedly non-PC word usage surely isn’t welcome here.

  47. BrianJ., I agree, if the standards aren’t serving their purpose anymore, it is a far better use of resources to update them.

    I think a big part of the problem in this debate is the differences in standards between Canada and the U.S.

    Our standards for childrens sleepwear seem from the comments here to be far less stringent and yet more strictly imposed. Most of the jammies mentioned in these comments would easily pass the Canadian standards which were put in place to weed out those nasty, melty, easily combustible nylons, polyesters, and poly-cottons which were the original problem. Like I stated in my earlier comment, organic cotton sleepwear, hell, normal cotton, passes them easily.

    However, the comments about what are obviously pajamas being labeled “not intended for sleepwear” blows my mind. That never happens here. (Well, it does, but it results in the kind of recall we’re discussing when the retailer gets busted.) In our standard system, if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, and subject to the standards applied to ducks. And they don’t care how many labels you put on it calling it an elephant. If Health Canada decides there is a reasonable case that the quacking waterfowl in question is in fact a duck, not an elephant, they’re going to tell you to get it the heck off of the shelves, and give people their money back.

    Which is what happened to Sears Canada, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t really surprised. Putting cami and boxer sets labeled as underwear that didn’t meet standards on racks in the same department as cami and boxer sets labeled as sleepwear that did meet standard? They gambled they wouldn’t get caught, and they lost.

  48. I’ve used retard and retarded my whole life, along with idiot, fool, and a whole bunch of other things.

    I also have friends and (somewhat distant) family members who are developmentally disabled or have downs syndrome and I treat them all with respect and consider them fully human in a way that the patronizing people considering them permanent children and looking to “protect” them simply do not.

    Those who patronize them are the real troublemakers here. They have a fundamental lack of respect.

    I have never called a disabled person retarded as an insult. Sometimes I’ve referred to them as a retarded friend or relative. In this use, there is no insult, it’s simply a descriptive fact.

    Retard also has another meaning, as a disparaging term against someone who is intentionally being stupid through their own free will. This means not because of either their natural limited mental capacity due to genetics, or due to injury or environmental condition, but because they are just plain being stupid. I plan to continue using this term when appropriate and those who don’t like it can stuff it and crawl back in their holes.

    Lenore pointed out separately, the brilliant observation that dumb policies actually HOLD BACK or RETARD the progress of humans and society. Such policies are retardant because they retard progress. This is freaking brilliant and any foo foo doo doo who doesn’t see that because they have their judgmental haughty nose so high in the air or stick so high up their, um, tree fortress, is a humorless drone!


  49. My aunt is retarded and we DO occasionally call her retarded. It is not offensive to her and it’s an accurate way to describe her condition. Mentally handicapped can mean many things from retarded to schizophrenic. She isn’t learning disabled or mentally challenged as those terms indicate an ability to learn if given concessions. She doesn’t have any syndrome to which we can refer.

    We certainly don’t say “Here’s my aunt; she’s retarded” as an earlier poster mentioned. Not because there is anything wrong with the term retarded but because there is no need to define her as a disabled person to 99% of the people she interacts with. I would find it offensive if someone REGULARLY introduced anyone as “Here’s my cousin; he’s autistic” or “Here’s my son; he has Downs.” However, if someone is newly meeting my aunt and NEEDS to know that she has a disability, we refer to it as retarded.

    I, however, would take offense to someone calling her, or anyone else, a retard. Retarded is a description; retard is meant to be a derogatory term.

  50. Donna, I agree with you there and share that distinction, I was even meaning to post it but then went off in another direction.

    There is a very very important distinction here. Retard, applied to a person, is a noun, it represents or stands in for their actual whole identity. Retarded on the other hand is an adjective, a description of someone’s mental capacity, which is just one part of the whole person. So when I seriously say my cousin is mentally retarded, I am describing her mental condition.

    Regarding the separate context of a word used for insults. When I say that a certain politician is a total retard, I am insulting his intelligence in a way intended to be as personal as possible, by framing it in the context of his own basic identity, and not as a result of a single decision. If I felt that the politician was normally smart but made a flawed decision I would say he is being retarded or made a pretty retarded decision. People understand these distinctions on some level, they are not ones that I made up arbitrarily.

    Regarding noun versus adjective I like to use the example of poverty. Do you say “I saw a homeless man today” or “I saw a homeless”. One is an adjective, the other a noun. The noun case actually REMOVES the person’s very HUMANITY from the equation. No longer man, he is a creature, “a homeless”. Likewise discussions about “the poor” versus “poor people” or “poverty”. Those who talk about “the homeless” and “the poor” are always being patronizing and denying even humanity to those who they are pretending to represent.

  51. I couldn’t disagree more. These kinds of “aren’t the bureaucrats stupid” news articles gloss over the nuances and details of consumer safety and are just a glib poke at everybody’s favorite target, the dumb rules and the dumb rulemakers behind them. (Highly) flammable sleepwear was a serious problem, at least in the US, for a long time that was ameliorated in part by better sleepwear standards. (Do I let my kids sleep in non-approved sleepwear from time to time? Yes. But it’s with some understanding of the relative risks). Perhaps we could learn from the Canadians here, if there was any actual detailed reporting here, which there isn’t.

    I just don’t see this as being in the same range of issues as the normal fodder for this blog, which is overregulation of our children, not the stuff they have. If anything, we’ve erred too far on the side of letting companies get away with anything (witness tainted toys, etc.) and our environment’s full of toxins.

    In the meantime, it does us no service to conflate the issue of keeping a safe environment, literally, for our kids, based on science and empirical experience, and fear-based overreaction to bogeyman made up largely out of our imaginations and hyperbolic media accounts and so forth which are conspiring to ruin not just childhood but life in general.

  52. Kathy, thank you for your sensitivity. Being the mother of a special needs son, I appreciate it. Yes, using the r-word to insult is not the way to go, even if no hurt is intended. And those who are going out of their way to stick it to you, they are nothing like my son. They are just idiots.

  53. “There needs to be an understanding here. Guess what? No matter what you label a condition, someone will end up using it as a derogatory term down the road because it’s describing something people see as bad. Sorry, there’s the truth.”


    I personally avoid using terms that are on the “naughty list” because 1) I genuinely don’t want to offend people 2) I don’t want the hassle and 3) you can never win this argument with people determined to be offended. But Nicola is exactly right — any term that is used today in a sensitive fashion to describe some person’s particular differences today, will become a slang term tomorrow. It’s not the word that’s the problem.

  54. @Alison

    “And putting all political correctness aside, like it or not, the word “retarded” seems to be mostly used these days to describe things, not people. Again, like it or not. However, I do think we’ve reached a point where the differently-abled are no longer called “retarded.” At least I hope so. ”

    If someone has an IQ of 60 (as an example) then they are retarded. Not differently-abled, they are retarded. It is an insult to their disability to try to pretend that they are somehow not disabled.

    See, anybody can get offended at anything. I think it’s silly to dance around words when anybody can be offended by anything.

  55. 10 aid workers killed in Afghanistan…

    Interesting post. I’ve added a Trackback to it :)…

  56. Edie, are you aware that the word “idiot” was once a medical term for people with low I.Q.’s, much like the word “retarded”? So was moron and imbecile.

  57. Several comments to make: Always hated the “flame retardant” clothing. People would use that and not teach a child to “stop, drop, and roll” if their clothing caught on fire, and then wonder why the kid got burned – ‘isn’t the clothing supposed to prevent that’ (yes, one parent actually said that!). My kids sleep in cotton or whatever they choose, or nothing.

    Re: retarded/retardant/retardation (and, idiot): in medical terms, 3 of these words have meaning. I don’t recall the exact IQs attached, but an idiot person and a retarded person had different IQ levels. We used to call a condition of pregnancy IUGR (intrauterine growth retardation) but that has now been renamed because people over-react to the word retardation. No, we are NOT calling your fetus stupid. We are saying the growth is retarded/delayed/inadequate. I strongly resent those who took those useful words away from the medical world and made them into insults. (Yes, I used the words as a kid, no, I never would call person by those terms now, although I may still, as someone pointed out above, call a policy or an act stupid or idiotic). For me, retarded/retardation/retardant have specific meanings and I will continue to use them in those contexts.

    Oh, and I thought that Lenore’s use of retardant was actually a play on words. I guess my offense meter isn’t set high enough.

  58. Larry Harrison is a jeenuis. Well said. (yes I know.. I spelled it incorrectly).

  59. Using a word that is accurate here (the bureaucracy in place here is most certainly impeding the use of recalls in a manner that benefits society, not to mention impeding common sense) makes a play on words regarding the subject matter of fire retardants, not disabled people who don’t play into the story.

    Zie, nobody – and I mean nobody – really calls people “retarded” if they just “slow things down”. You know that, I know that, the kid down the block knows that and so does his dog. The play on words is obviously not on that sense of the word. To sit around and try to claim that somehow several different people are wrong because you can weasel out another meaning of the word is absurd at best.

  60. Uly, are you aware that she used the word “retardANT”? The actual quote was “I’ll tell you what is retardant”. There’s no controversy over retardant.

    There’s really two issues being discussed here. One is whether retarded and retard should be used, and a completely different issue regarding the word retardant.

    One can see how the people offended by the term “retarded” being used in various senses can be well meaning, but there’s simply no reasonable case at all for being offended by the term retardant, that’s comes either from a misreading of her statement, or from simple ignorance about the word. It’s about as silly as the cases where people were offended by the archaic term niggardly, which means miserly and has nothing to do with anything else.

  61. Now that I know Canada has standards for the fireproofness of undapants, I’m thinking of moving there so that will stop happening to me…

  62. It’s nice a cool place to relax in the hot summer months. The reason why my husband wants no basement is flooded because of the potential risks

  63. Uly,

    I think you made my point for me. You’re right, nobody calls someone “retarded” if they slow things down. This is precisely why Lenore didn’t use it, but instead chose the word “retardant” which is, indeed, a word used to describe people, actions and objects that slow things down. You don’t have to “weasel” out this definition of retardant, it’s actually the honest to goodness meaning of the word! You can actually use a dictionary to look it up!

    I think you are being rather obtuse yourself in insisting that “retarded” and “retardant” are one and the same word. Are you going to start petitioning the chemical companies now for insulting people by terming their clothing additives meant to slow the progress of fire

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