Save the Word

This morning I was running late because I slept in. Not like in the old days, before we had children. Back then sleeping in meant into the afternoon. Those days are long gone. These days “sleeping in” means anything past 7:00 a.m. My oldest son, Ellis, is six. He likes staying up late and waking up early, the perfect recipe for ruining your day. He also wakes up ready for whatever, shot out of a cannon. He usually shouts “Come smell my ass” first thing in the morning until you go to his room and greet him or he’ll run into our room, pull his pants down, bend over, spread his butt cheeks, and say, “I had a nightmare.”

Yeah, I think I’m looking at it.

His younger brother, Julian, is three. He’ll change his sleep cycle every week and you just have to adapt. One week he’ll sleep twelve hours and take no naps, the next week he’ll sleep ten hours a night and take an hour nap after pre-K at home; oh, and he’ll nap in the car, and if you disturb that nap you’ll pay the price with your sanity as he will cry and fight you for disturbing him. The next week he’s sleeping eight hours a night with no naps. It’s a ride.

So today I got up late because these two maniacs woke me up separately at different hours when I should have been sleeping. The older one, Ellis, came in at one-thirty a.m. to say he had peed in bed. I changed his pajamas and then he said, “Come change my sheets.” I tried to get him to sleep on a bath towel.

“I don’t like towels.”

Fine. I changed his sheets and basically woke all the way up to do so. Eventually, I went back to sleep. Next, the younger one, Julian, woke up crying. I pretended not to hear it so my wife would take care of him, and she did. That was at 3:30 a.m. Then at 5:30 a.m. he did it again, and since we take turns with them, she violently shook me and said the dreaded words, “Your turn.”

I rocked him, but it was too late or too early, however you want to see it. He was up. I felt like my eyes were bleeding. I got back in bed and then overslept. It felt like no time had passed, but it was almost 8:00 a.m. and I needed to take Ellis to school. I had everything ready to go—his backpack, lunch, water bottle, keys, wallet, phone—but I was forgetting my most important accessory for leaving the house: sunglasses. I mean it. I’d rather not eat for a week than not have sunglasses. You see, Jesus loves me. I know this because he gave me blue eyes. Blue like the heavens above. And yes, you might get lost staring into my dreamy, water-hued eyeballs, but you should know that they only despise one thing: bright lights. You, reading this, probably don’t have blue eyes, right? You probably have turd eyes. Brown, diarrhea-colored eyes are very common. I frown all day whenever I see them. “Caca eyes,” as they are referred to in the medical community, might look like shit when you see them, but the one and only upside of having those poop balls in your head is that they process light much more effectively. If I don’t have sunglasses, my eyes actually hurt and so does my head. I just want to lie down without them. So now I’m panicking. I’m running around, trying to leave, but I have to have my sunglasses or else the bright morning sun will blind me. I stop at the door, exasperated. I know I’m leaving without them when I see my wife, who is late for work herself.


“Whatever it is, the answer is ‘No.’”



“I need your help.”

“The kids are in the car. I’m not going to fuck you.”

“No, not that!”

“What, what is it?!”

“Have you seen my sunglasses?”

She stops. Looks dead into my perfect eyes, and then I note a telling smirk on her face. She knows something.

She reached up and grabbed them off the top of my head and handed them to me.

“I’m retarded.”

She agreed, “You are the most retarded. But I love you.”

Here you were thinking you were reading a warm, relatable story about parenting. You’re not. It’s me complaining that I want to say words that some people have deemed unacceptable. Now, maybe you’re saying, “Seriously, Tom, get with the times. The world evolves and you need to evolve with it, you dinosaur.”

I agree. I really think we should all move forward as there is no point in fighting change and progress, so I should make it clear that there aren’t a series of words and phrases that I’m holding on to. It’s really just one.


Every year the world changes in numerous ways. We’ve never seen change like we saw in 2020. Not in my lifetime, and from what I gather, the wave of protests and unrest are even more significant than what happened in 1968, when a devastating war and civil rights demonstrations dominated the psyche of the American public. One change that we’re not always ready for is language. Words that once were the norm become antiquated and sometimes offensive. We as a society weigh the suggested substitute and act… or we don’t. It used to be okay to say “Oriental” to describe a person from Asia. Some time in recent years that changed. Although the word is still used to describe objects such as rugs and businesses such as hotels, it is unacceptable to use it when describing a person. Most have accepted that standard. You can tell it’s not really an issue because you rarely hear the term “Oriental” in conversation when describing a person, unless the person talking is over eighty, and in that case, the person you are speaking with is about to die.

“That Oriental lady sure is pretty.”

“Grandpa, that’s your doctor and you have Alzheimer’s.”

If people really wanted to say “Oriental” when describing an Asian person, you’d hear arguments for it all the time. Your friends would constantly bring it up.

“I just don’t get why she’s upset. She was Oriental and a lot of them do that for tips. What’s the problem?”

But you never hear that. No one complains because no one is married to saying that. The adjustment period is over, if there ever was one.

“Retarded” is different. Not only is the history of the word different. The current-day hypocrisy around it is astounding. People say “retarded” online and in conversation because we reject the notion that the term is outdated. What is true is that proclaiming that the word is not acceptable is en vogue. People will rant and rave, as they have to me, that we cannot say it as it hurts those with developmental disabilities, even though it is widely accepted to have a second and much more popular definition.

Do you believe the Sandy Hook shooting was fake and that the US didn’t really land on the moon in 1969? Have you responded to an email asking you to verify your personal information or password without questioning who sent it? Do you expel infinite energy and time engaging strangers online in tweets or posts about sports/politics/culture when you could be hugging your kids/eating a croissant/making love to your partner? Do you freak out and curse when you can’t find your sunglasses only to discover they’re on your head? Well, in each of those cases you were being retarded.

I don’t like the word “retarded.” I love it. I think it’s my absolute favorite word in the English language. It’s perfect. I understand that a lot of people don’t like it, but I also understand that those people are the worst. Let’s be honest, most of them are retarded. Not literally, of course, and that seems to be where at least part of the issue lies. You say “retarded” and people think that you mean mentally retarded. “Mentally retarded” is a medical term from the early twentieth century. At the time it was used to describe those with developmental disabilities. Naturally, the term could be used to insult someone who had said or done something foolish. But over the next 100 years it evolved to have a second, more widely used definition. That definition is essentially silly, preposterous, or thoughtless. It’s said without malice or venom and it’s said by millions, even those who lecture you not to say it. I know this from firsthand experience. I’ve had very well-meaning friends and associates sit me down and explain how hurtful it is to use a word that is so damaging when they can think of so many other words that summarize what I want to say without saying it. These lectures would give me pause as I wondered what I should start saying to replace the perfect word and then, as if the lord had sent the message himself, days and sometimes weeks later the person and I will be having a conversation about life, in one case about a party this person had been to, and then boom, they dropped it without thinking.

“Todd went on a run and brought back bottles of beer in a paper bag, and when he got back he leaned over the balcony to drop them down to me. He dropped sixty bottles of beer from a balcony.”

“Why would he do that?”

“He’s retarded.”

I didn’t get mad. I didn’t even call him out. He was right. That’s exactly how I would describe Todd too.

It should be noted that this is different than calling someone a retard. That has a lot more sting to it, and when you say that to someone, you’re just being mean. I’m not telling you when not to be mean, but if you thought you could grab a piping-hot cast iron skillet with a paper towel, well, you know what you are.

The word is perfect. Not just for me; for you too. If you’re someone who only thinks that the word is pejorative, cruel, and meant to attack those who cannot defend themselves I would urge you to reconsider. Might you familiarize yourself with my good friend, Bert Kreischer. He cohosts the podcast 2 Bears, 1 Cave with me. It’s a weekly podcast where we sit around, talk shit, and laugh. But if you really want to break it down, it’s basically Bert regurgitating an endless stream of words that are tethered together only by the fact that he’s saying them. He switches topics faster than he finishes beers. He typically will run through half a dozen brews in an hour. My role is trying to make sense of it, any of it. Bert is one-of-a-kind. He bathes in his swimming pool. This is a grown man who brings shampoo into his pool when it’s time to “shower.” He runs three to five miles a day, five days a week, on a treadmill. But he doesn’t just run them, he drinks a box of wine while he runs. He cuts his toenails and tapes them to the underside of his living room coffee table. Do I need to go on? He’s a great guy and one of the best friends you could ask for. He’s loyal, genuine, and absolutely hilarious. If you asked me to describe him, I’d tell you all those things I listed and more. I love him with all my heart, but truthfully, and I mean this from the heart, if I were to describe him I’d have to include another word. Retarded.

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