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

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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. 

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