Defining words is a more complicated process than most people realize. The now late Professor Colin Yallop, a previous Director of the Macquarie Dictionary, wrote:
“It is unwise to assume that meaning is captured in dictionary entries … Dictionary definitions can and should be informative and helpful, and, when well written, they provide a paraphrase of explanation of meaning. But the meaning is not necessarily fully contained or exhaustively captured within such a definition”.
Here’s an example of the problem. Over dinner one night this week, my son recounted that one of his classmates had been given an “orange card” by the teacher for what seemed to him a trivial matter. The student in question had called another kid a “retard”. My son asked what was so bad about that. “Isn’t that just like calling someone an idiot?” he asked.
Grown ups know that “retard/ed” is pejorative. While the word was first used simply to describe someone with what today we call an intellectual disability, over time it built up negative connotations. This has happened through people using the word. Its evolution, both to become a term of abuse, and now to be something which can get you an “orange card”, tells us important things about our ideologies about disability. Some would like to see it drop out of popular usage altogether. The arguments are pretty compelling: check out http://www.facebook.com/EndtheWord: