The Uses and Implications of the Term “Retarded” on YouTube

Main Article Content

Brandy Johanson-Sebera
Julia Wilkins


retarded, disability terminology, YouTube


In this article, we provide a historical glimpse into the changing use of terminology for people with intellectual disabilities. In order to determine how the word retarded is currently used in popular culture in the United States, we analyzed one hundred randomly selected YouTube videos with the word retarded in the title. Five themes emerged: (a) the traditional use of the term retarded, (b) the use of retarded in humorous context, (c) the use of retarded to insult or criticize, (d) the term retarded as a substitute for other words, and (e) the slang use of retarded in a hip hop context. The coexistence of these multiple definitions is an unprecedented situation in the history of disability terminology. While advocates in the US are pushing for abandonment of the “R” word, establishing rules about language use is clearly a simplistic solution to a complex problem. 

Abstract 6609 | PDF Downloads 442 Word Downloads 114 Text Downloads 159


About Being Considered “Retarded” [Video post]. (2006, October 31). Retrieved from

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). (2006). Retrieved from

The Arc (2004). Introduction to mental retardation. Retrieved from

The Arc. (2008). About us. Retrieved from

Beirne-Smith, M., Ittenbach, R., & Patton, J. R. (2002). Mental retardation (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

BEP Let’s Get Retarded [Video post]. (2006). Retrieved from

Berkson, G. (2006). Mental disabilities in western civilization from ancient Rome to the Prerogativa Regis. Mental Retardation: A Journal of Practices, Policy and Perspectives, 44(1), 28-40.

Bucholtz, M. (2000). Language and youth culture. Retrieved from International (2006). Irate HK man unlikely web hero. Retrieved from
Cute and Retarded Animals [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Driving Medical Research via YouTube. (2008). Retrieved from

Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (1975)

Elks, M. A. (2004). Believing is seeing: Visual conventions in Barr’s classification of the “feeble-minded.” Mental Retardation: A Journal of Practices, Policy and Perspectives, 42(5), 371-382.

Evolution of Dance [Video post]. (2006). Retrieved from

Felty, R. & Felty, W. (2007). The “r” word campaign. Retrieved from

Gladwell, M. (2007). None of the above. Retrieved from

Goode, D. (2002). Mental retardation is dead: Long live mental retardation! Mental Retardation, 40(1), 57- 59.

Greenspan, S. (2006). Functional concepts in mental retardation: Finding the natural essence of an artificial category. Exceptionality, 14(4), 205-224.

Grossman, H. J. (Ed.). (1973). Manual on terminology in mental retardation (Rev.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Deficiency.

Grossman, H. J. (Ed.). (1977). Manual on terminology in mental retardation (Rev.). Washington, DC: American Association on Mental Deficiency.

Hallahan, D. P., & Kauffman, J. M. (2006). Exceptional learners: An introduction to special
education (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Heber, R. A. (1961). A manual on terminology and classification in mental retardation (2nd
ed.). Monograph Supplement to the American Journal of Mental Deficiency.

Hoad, S. (2006). Not retarded: One part of the community expresses language hurts. Retrieved from

How Retarded Can You Get to The 90s? [Video post]. (2006). Retrieved from

J Retarded Version [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Johnson, B. (2004). ’Tard and feathered: How did “Let's Get Retarded” turn into “Let's Get It Started”? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Kutz, E. (2008, March 26). IRS uses YouTube to clue viewers in on tax rebates. USA Today. Retrieved from

Lebron James - Let’s Get Retarded [Video post]. (2006). Retrieved from

Los Kippos - Let's Get Retarded (Fatal Bazooka Remix) [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Minnesota Department of Education. (2004). Promising practices in the identification of individuals with developmental disabilities. Retrieved from

Moore, R. L. (2004). We’re cool, mom and dad are swell: Basic slang and generational shifts in values. American Speech, 79(1), 59-86.

The Most Retarded Fergie Video You Will Ever See [Video post]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Müller, E., Markowitz, J., & Srivastava S. (2005). Disability categories: Relation of state terms & eligibility criteria to the proportion of children receiving special education services. Retrieved DisabilityCategories _two.pdf

Noll, S., & Trent, J. W., Jr. (2004). Mental retardation in America: A historical reader. NY: New York University Press.

Oprah after the Show with Mr. Evolution of Dance. (2007). Retrieved from

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital. NY: Basic Books.

Patton, J. R., Beirne-Smith, M., & Payne, J. S. (1990). Mental retardation (3rd ed.). Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing Company.
Peabody Awards (2008). Complete list of 2008 Peabody Award winners. Retrieved from

Perry (2007). YouTube. Retrieved from

Pork and Beans [Video post]. (2008). Retrieved from

Prabhala, A. (2007). Mental retardation is no more-New name is intellectual and developmental disabilities. Retrieved from

Retarded Comedy Time [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Retarded Kids Show [Video post]. (2006). Retrieved from

Retarded Moshpit [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Retarded Policeman Response [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Retarded White Kid Dancing [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Retarded YouTube Users [Video post]. (2006). Retrieved from

Reynolds, D. (2006). The organization formerly known as AAMR. Retrieved from

Sandoval, G. (2006). YouTube offers mobile upload service. Retrieved from

Sarno, D. (2008, March 2). On YouTube, more and more of everything. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Smith, J. D., & Smallwood, G. (2007). From whence came mental retardation? Asking why while saying goodbye. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 45(2), 132-135.

Smith, P. (2007). Have we made any progress? Including students with intellectual disabilities in regular education classrooms. Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 45(5), 297-309.

Smith, S. (2007, January). YouTube celebrity caught in the web. Computer Power User. Retrieved from

Snider, M. (2008, May 29). YouTube stars dine out on ‘Pork & Beans’. USA Today. Retrieved from

Steve Meade - Retarded Knock [Video post]. (2007). Retrieved from

Taylor, S. (1996). Disability studies and mental retardation. Disability Studies Quarterly, 14(2), 4-13.

Triano, S. (2003). Self definition. Retrieved from

Tucker Carlson Calls Canadians Retarded. (2006). Retrieved from

Urban Dictionary. (2003a). Retrieved from

Urban Dictionary. (2003b). Retrieved from

Verstraete, P. (2005, March). The taming of disability: Phrenology and bio-power on the road to the destruction of otherness in France (1800-60). History of Education, 34(2), 119-134.

Walsh, K. K. (2002). Thoughts on changing the term mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 40(1), 70-75.

Warhol, A. (1979). Andy Warhol’s exposures. NY: Grosset and Dunlap.

Yahoo! Answers (July, 2009). What’s something retarded/fun to do? Retrieved from

Young, J. R. (2008, January 25). YouTube professors: Scholars as online video stars. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

YouTube (2008). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from

YouTube (2010a). All categories. Retrieved from

YouTube (2010b). Broadcasting ourselves: The official YouTube blog. Retrieved from

YouTube (2010c). YouTube fact sheet: Overview and features. Retrieved from

Zonday, T. (2008). Tay Zonday’s official website. Retrieved from