From the Blog

The Story of Re-Stupid

I, like other semi-literate mouth breathers, have occasionally used the word “retarded” when I actually mean something is “ill advised” or “not well planned.” I know this is horribly insensitive of me. Since I am no longer 13 years old, I make an effort not to use this word except for its actual meaning. It slips out every once in a while, usually in familiar company. I’m not proud that I still have a struggle with this word, and I mentally flog myself when I use it out of context.

While a mature person would just KNOW that it’s not a polite thing to say, I actually have an incident in my past that should have taught me this lesson. And as a result, I have a whole lot of karma to work off.

For a time, my parents lived in Florida. I was still living in Boston as I finished school. I only got to see my parents a few times a year, usually at the holidays and occasional vacations.

Florida really was like a vacation because the terrain was so different. Having grown up in Massachusetts, it was remarkable to visit a place where giant birds could chase you from your own lawn (I saw my dad go running once) or where you’d have to worry about alligators in any stagnant old creek or swale, or where people boiled peanuts and called them edible. Bleck.

During one of my visits, my mom and I went on a guided nature walk in the woods. I think it was at Turkey Creek. It was a path with an elevated boardwalk. It was tropical and sun dappled and effusively green. There were a few other people on the path with us. As we followed the boardwalk, there were sign posts with various tree and plant species, with their botanic names.  Livistonia chinensis, Wodyetia bifurcata, Quercus michauxii, etc.

And one of the signs was posted next to an innocuous depression in the ground with the sign “Sinkus holus.” I pointed it out to my mom. Are they really calling a sinkhole “sinkus holus”? In Latinish? I was delighted. And I expressed myself as such by loudly exclaiming, “That’s RETARDED!”

As the words came out of my mouth, I immediately felt my mom’s silent grip of steel on my arm. I suddenly became aware that we were not the only people on this path. I spun around to see a woman right behind me, who obviously had Down Syndrome. My heart stopped. She gazed at me for a moment, unjudging, and shuffled past me. However, as she passed by us, my mother gave me the most withering stink eye imaginable.

I have never wanted to crawl under a rock so badly. I wondered for years who that woman was and if I could ever make it known to her how sorry I was.

It was a horrible and embarrassing incident for me, so naturally, it was a story told and retold in my family. And despite the tragedy of it, it was a source of much merriment for everyone except me. And since, if there was ever a hint, an inkling, of that word coming out of my mouth, I was duly reprimanded with much hellfire and righteousness.

As it happened once long ago, in the course of a conversation with my sister, (who has always been the fiercest enforcer of the “no retard” rule) I was disparaging something, and I was about to say that word, that awful, forbidden word, but I caught myself and changed phrase before it completely manifested. Whew! But the word that came out instead was “re-stupid.”

And my eagle-eared sister, who is still endlessly tickled by my shame, would never politely forgive my slip. Not for something as something as wonderful and useful as “re-stupid.” And especially knowing exactly where it came from and why I said it. So “re-stupid” has entered our regular lexicon, even amongst those not privy to its origin.

And it comes in handy. I was recently talking with a constantly, neurotically chilled friend who was shivering after three seconds of being outdoors. Naturally, I made fun of him. He said, “Maybe I have Raynaud’s Disease!

To which I responded, “Maybe you have Re-Stupid Disease.”

See how useful that is?


  1. Remember when I went to say, “My bad” or “I’m sorry” and it came out, “My Sorry?”

  2. I think you were also the creator of the classic road rage phrase “Ass Bastard!”

  3. I think I might have said them in the same session, and burned my eyebrows.

  4. I think people from Massachusetts get a longer grace period for eliminating that word from their lexicon. It’s a deeply ingrained word that is only meant to offend the recipient. Of course, it also means those folks can’t travel.

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