Obviously calling someone a "retard" or "retarded" is considered offensive.

As a noun, it is considered a dated, offensive and pejorative term when used to refer to a person who has a mental disability.


However, is it offensive when used as a verb?

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Google (Oxford dictionary) labels the noun as offensive, but not the verb.

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    There's no objective measure of offensiveness. Are there people out there who will be offended if you use retard as a verb? Probably. If dictionaries and such don't describe it as offensive, that probably suggests that it's not widely considered to be offensive. – Juhasz Oct 14 '19 at 17:38
  • @Juhasz Than whats the point of the [offensive-language] tag? – JBis Oct 14 '19 at 17:40
  • Likely for these kinds of questions. I just happen to think that in this case, you're not likely to get a better answer than the one the dictionaries provide. – Juhasz Oct 14 '19 at 17:42
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    As I understand it, there are people out there who can be offended by words like blackboard and niggardly. So there's always somebody ready to take offence at anything. But your example seems to be on a par with mine - only people with limited grasp of English and/or who aren't very bright are likely to be offended. And without wishing to be too offensive, I'd say what such people "think" isn't very important (even though I do respect the fact that they might feel that way). – FumbleFingers Oct 14 '19 at 17:51
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    @FF Out where? I object to the implication. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 14 '19 at 18:16

This question is mostly boiled down to opinion or maturity level of the listener.

The word retard has many other uses where it is never considered to be offensive.

For example: fire retardant

Unfortunately, this use has been tainted by the over-usage of the noun retard to describe people who are not mentally retarded. This usage is always always meant to be offensive since it's a comparison of the subject to someone who is mentally retarded.

Mental retardation is still a commonly used medical terminology to describe a symptom of many different syndromes. Due to the negative association, most medical professionals have phased it out in favor of developmental delay and intellectual disability, or, where appropriate, descriptions of the syndrome itself (e.g. Down Syndrome).

There are other words with similar issues. As FumbleFingers points out in comments above niggardly is a prime example. Its similar sound to the offensive n-word makes it a hard word to use in conversation.

So, in direct answer to your question: Use the word judiciously. Consider your audience. If using it to describe a process, Retards the progress of .... it's fine. But, I wouldn't say: We were retarded on our journey.... It's just too fraught with issues.

Note in response to comments: this seems to be primarily an American English phenomenon.

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    Might be worth noting that even today, using 'retard' to mean 'stupid' has a distinctly American English feel. In British English, the word tends to be used as a transitive verb meaning to slow. – Michael Harvey Oct 14 '19 at 19:13
  • @MichaelHarvey Interesting, I didn't realized this feeling was localized to America. – JBis Oct 14 '19 at 19:19
  • @MichaelHarvey I speak AmE and cannot speak to the BrE sensibility about it. – David M Oct 14 '19 at 19:20
  • BrE, while aware of the US usage, doesn't use it much so it is unlikely you will offend someone by using a verb that sounds like it. It's also worth noting that the noun has the emphasis on the first syllable, but the verb (at least in BrE) has the emphasis on the second syllable. So there is a distinct difference between them and they are unlikely to be confused. – DJClayworth Oct 14 '19 at 19:40
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    @MichaelHarvey This is marginal in the US. It's gaining steam as being offensive similarly to retard. – David M Oct 14 '19 at 21:38

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