Ann Coulter is just one of many. Her use of the word "retard" in recent diatribes against President Obama only echoes a prevalent notion that comparing someone to the mentally handicapped is a clever put-down. Ten years ago in high school, I listened as an extremely intelligent teacher explained to our class that we would be "retarded" if we misused the Bunsen burners. After making a mistake at a new job, my then boss asked if I was "a retard." Among the under 30 set, "retarded" is regularly used as a synonym for excessive intoxication. For some, "I'm a retard" is a sufficient form of an apology. The only conclusion I can draw is that Ann Coulter and every other person who misuses the word "retard" has absolutely no idea who they are talking about.
My brother David was born with Fragile X Syndrome. Fragile X is the most common form of genetically inherited mental retardation. As a result, David has no idea that two plus two equals four. He lacks the fine motor skills necessary to drive a car or use a knife. His concept of time is limited to today and tomorrow. While he recognizes many words, he does not have the capacity to sit and read a book. His misfiring synapses trigger tremendous bouts of anxiety that cause him to hit himself and pinch our parents. After each outburst he is quick to apologize: "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pinch you." He needs to be reassured as he tries to erase the incident: "I didn't pinch you, did I? I'm good, right?" He becomes desperate to verify the other person's well-being: "You happy? Comfortable? You do?" David struggles to adjust to changes in routine. His favorite meal consists of a cheeseburger, French fries, and multiple Sprites with no ice. He loves Skittles, Chinese food, cookie dough ice cream, and his birthday. At 24 years old, he can recite entire scenes from My Cousin Vinny and still watches Barney The Dinosaur. He never forgets a name, always remembers a face, and is genuinely beloved by everyone who knows him.