The New York Times reminded me just last week that the days of calling other human beings “feebleminded” have ended. Just because an obnoxious driver doesn’t use the directional signal until midway through a quick right turn doesn’t mean you can scream “moron” at him, even if he almost puts a quick and painful end to your bicycle commute.
Alas, not everyone is aware of the changing norms. Not so long ago I went to buy a used car and mused aloud about the financing, wondering how much I might put down and other such questions, and the business manager of that particular dealership called my mental calculations “retahded.” For those of you reading this from your manse somewhere outside of New England, I was being called “retarded” by someone with a thick Boston accent.
One needn’t travel all the way back to the Middle Ages to find even more ungentle name-calling. Back in the 20th century, my hometown of Syracuse, NY contained a facility for kids with cognitive disabilities that was called “The Syracuse State School for Mental Defectives,” which was meant to be an improvement upon its 19th-century moniker, “The New York State Asylum for Idiots.”
It’s nice that kids these days don’t end up with such harsh labels. On the other hand, I’ve met several idiots in my day who I wouldn’t mind seeing housed in an asylum.