Over the years, the maybe-future-host-of-his-own-HBO-show has been a fan of using the word “retarded” to describe negatively things he disapproves of, both in print and on the podcast version of his column (which I listen to almost every week).
A Savage Lovecast listener who was irritated by Dan’s liberal use of the r-word sent him a letter back in May 2009. It ended up in his column:
Please stop using the word “retarded” as an insult, Dan. I know it can be hard to break a verbal habit, but please make an effort. Try to remember that you have lots of listeners and readers who have loved ones with mental disabilities, and we don’t want to hear you misuse the word “retarded.”
-The Real Other Sister
To which Dan (who likes to invent words – most famously he unleashed santorum on the masses) replied:
I’m going to turn over a new leaf, TROS, and make a conscious, conscientious effort to break myself of the bad habit of using the word “retard.” But I don’t think the “retard jar” is for me. Instead, I’m going to use a substitution for the word. From now on, instead of saying “retard” or “that’s so retarded,” I’m going to say “leotard” and “that’s so leotarded.” I won’t be mocking the mentally challenged, just the physically gifted. I will pick on the strong—and the limber—and not the weak.
The last part being kind-of-not-really an admittance that he’s wrong to use the word. Even though he’d never use other, just as offensive words, such as the n-word.
To be fair, people with developmental disabilities aren’t the exclusive victims of his verbal diarrhea. Dan’s constantly going after someone, from down-low conservative Christians (like George Rekers) to African American voters (after Prop 8 passed in California). He loves using the word “faggot” to refer to gays gone stupid. I’m guessing a lot of his readers/listeners would agree: a lot of the time it seems like a simple case of he’s just not thinking before he speaks/writes. And like I mentioned, I listen to his podcast regularly, and he’s done a solid job of cutting back his use of the r-word in the past year. But in his latest, he’s back to his retarded ways – this time attributing the term to inflammatory gays who made a girl think her boyfriend was into guys.
There are plenty of people who use the r-word and are more annoying than Dan Savage. The only reason I’m bothering to write about this is because I tend toward thinking he has more of a conscience than many of those other people, and selfishly my Tuesday night ritual of going to sleep while listening to his podcast is nicer when it isn’t interrupted by slip-ups like this one. It’s embarrassing when even the Senate Health Panel (which last week nixed the use of the words “retarded” and “retardation” in national health, education and labor laws) has a more progressive vocabulary than you.
You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know you’re watching (and listening and reading).