Words I Don’t Like to Use

Retard – the term is people (notice the word people) with intellectual and developmentally disabilities or “dd” for short. Saying this or that is re****ed makes you look ignorant or stupid no matter what the dictionary says because most of you aren’t using it in the dictionary sense but are thinking of people (notice the word people) with dd. And most people with dd know you are talking about them and exactly in what sense the word is being used.

Desi – whenever I hear this term I think of Desi Arnaz.

African American – I prefer to say black, never negro (unless I’m speaking in Spanish) or AA which looks like alcoholics anonymous to me. Although, I once listened to an Egyptian imam in a predominantly West African masjid say we are all African Americans and I appreciated the sentiment.

White – I prefer to say European American or better yet European American immigrant settlers.

N word – never ever. Especially not from non-blacks even if you think you’re down because you’re not. And not from blacks either. And if it comes from a racist, I don’t really care because it just makes them look like an anachronism like the Afrikaner “white tribe of Africa”

Zabihah – halal is easier

Khair – the kh is a killer. It never sounds right to my ears even when I say it correctly. And it makes me a little more self-conscious except when I’m with other converts because most of them can’t pronounce it either.


  1. Sorry, I don’t know the last two. Something to do with being Muslim, I’m guessing. (Yeah, I could google it…)

    the others –well, i don’t use retard at all — its not intentional; I just don’t seem to have occasions where that word would fit. Though to be honest, I bet at some point I editted it out of my vocabulary — I can think of using it in a completely different sense, as in ‘retard the spark’ on an engine, and feeling vaguely queasy about it. White and black — years ago, a comedy program had a black guy referring to another person as ‘white’, which a white guy questioned; the black guy said ‘no, you people are kind of a pink — THAT dude is WHITE!” (The show was WKRP in Cincinatti; Venus Flytrap referring to Doctor Johnny, if those references mean anything to you)

    I heard a funny comic the other day, can’t recall his name but he’s Indian, and he said that white people are at the point where they just cannot bring themselves to even call someone black who clearly is — said he had a friend looking for him at the club, the friend being clearly black, and the person who was telling him was saying yeah, this guy was about six two, brown hair, had a mustache, wore a yellow shirt. The comic said Oh, I know who you mean, I think – was he black? And the white guy said I didn’t notice.

    I’m not really sensitive to racial slurs. I’m not the target of them — when was the last time you heard someone being called a honky? — I imagine if I was, I’d notice. As for the classic ‘white guys can’t use this word but black guys can’ — well, it used to bother me (why do THEY get to have a their-race-only word and WE don’t?) but I grew up. I mean, there’s lots more important things to worry about.

    Hope your friend got her connection working.

  2. The word retard can sound rather derogatory, but I remember it being a word of French origin to mean late. Like, Je suis enretard. So, when not used to describe a person who really isn’t retarded, I sat nay, but it works for me to describe something that isn’t working the way it is supossed to. And African American – I found that after visiting East Africa they found this phrase rather perplexing. To them a real African American was one of them who emmigrated to the US. Some people critize this term, because most Americans of African decent have no connection to their African Heritage. Even though the term is a bit of a farse, I support it because my ancesters fought hard just not to be called a “nigger, negro or a colored.” So, I wear it proud, because of their struggles. And Black – what if you are African American, but not physically black, meaning able to pass? No one in East Africa would call me black. But I couldn’t say I was caucasion or white, because I don’t indenitfy with these races. When you see me at the masjid, I am sure black doesn’t come to mind. This is a great debate and interesting to see your oppinion.
    ma salaam

  3. Zabihah/Halal are Islamic dietary terms similiar to the term kosher.

    Khair is an Arabic word meaning good/goodness. The kh sound is one of the more difficult ones to pronounce for English speakers because we do not have anything remotely equivalent in our language.

    WKRP – I always hated that show when I was a kid. I think it was in reruns by then and I was to young to understand it so it seemed boring.

    I actually heard that h***y term for the first time a few years ago used by a person with dd. I had to ask someone what it meant and she had a hard time explaining it to me.

    My parents never used any racial slurs and would never allow anyone to use them in their presence without challenging them on it so I did not learn many of the terms used to describe others until after I graduated from high school.

  4. i’m with muslim apple on retard/retarded. i don’t like it referred to anything, even if it’s not working right. i also can’t stand ‘that’s so gay.’ i can’t say i’ve heard muslims saying this, it was more of a high school thing, but please. inanimate objects are neither homosexual nor happy, so say what you mean already.

    apple, i don’t understand the logic of preferring black over african american and european american over white. i’m all about parallelism.

    personally, i tend to use black and white. they’re shorter. really though, all these terms are misnomers. i’m white, hubby is black, but neither of us match the crayons. but neither do we have major connections to the continents of our heritage. our cultures are different, having grown up in different places and communities (i’d never eaten collard greens, grits, or even fried chicken before marrying him!), but this isn’t directly related africa or europe. husband prefers the term african american for the reasons umm binat mentioned, and i agree they’re important.

    i wonder how my kids will identify as they grow up. african american or black because of the one drop rule? because white america will view them as non-white? or as something else– mixed, maybe? as a niqaabi sister, i find i hardly identify as white anymore, except among muslims who can actually see past my clothes. in the world outside my door, white folks don’t view me as one of them. i think i lost my membership to the club, lol. i’m the Other, even if my name is german and my skin is pink.

    while it seems there are no perfect words to describe color and ethnicity, it gets so complex when accounting for identity. i guess that’s what this is really all about.

  5. I agree 100 % with the analogy you draw for whites in the United States. I came with a similar conclusion when I realized why the term “Afro-American”. If that is so, why not call whites “Euro-Americans”, because that would be correct. I am neither an Afro-American or a Euro-American but that thing sprang up inside my head. My solution to this is to refer to blacks as Americans and not Afro-Americans if we’re not making that distinction for whites. “Retard” seems to be abusive to an individual and “desi” I hate the sound of it.

  6. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I first started hearing the word “desi” a few years ago and I think it is a reaction to the tendency of young Asians to “reclaim” the word Paki. Although whites consider it a racial derogatory term, and often use it as such, it’s simply short for Pakistani and a lot of younger people use it just as a slang term. Of course, it leaves out Indians and Bangladeshis, so perhaps they start using the word desi to describe all south Asians.

    As for the word “retard”, that is itself derogatory but I don’t like the tendency to insist on “developmentally delayed” being used instead of “retarded”, because the former is an over-long polite word for a meaning everyone associates with the latter. Retarded and delayed, after all, mean the same thing. I once saw a blog comment that said that any time a new polite word for mental retardation is coined, it quickly becomes a term of derision. After all, idiot, moron and imbecile originated as terms for people suffering different types of developmental delay, as does cretin (refers to what happens to someone with an underactive thyroid, like myself, if it is not treated).

  7. Salaam Alakium,

    Interesting post. I agree with you on many of them including “r” and “n” word. They sound bad, and they should never be used. I think African American is fine though, and I prefer it over black.

    Wa Salaam

  8. I definately know what you mean. I’ve been battling my little sister over her constant use of the R word for weeks. Until she can show me an IQ test showing that my shampoo bottle has scored significantly lower than the average shampoo bottle, I think she needs to find a different word to describe it. I have the same objection to “That’s so gay” and to the brief phase my brother went through when he finally stopped using gay as an insult but replaced it with Amish. Catagories of people should never be insults.

    My family is about as Euro-American as it’s possible to get, but my grandfather was in the foreign service, and my aunt was born in Moracco. When my brother was little, and heard the story for the first time, he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t black ^_^

    One of my all time favorite quotes (because it’s humorously outdated, not because I agree with it) on race is actually from Ben Franklin, who said that when it came to immigration to the new US, “Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, Germans, and Swedes are generally of a swarthy complexion,” and should be excluded from the new country. It really highlights how far we’ve come as a society that the _Swedes_ weren’t considered white enough ^_^

  9. Assalaam alaykum,

    I grew up hearing all the words for African Americans. When I was small my mother said that we were colored people, then somewhere along the way it became Negroes, and then I was a young girl when James Brown said: Say It loud, I’m black and I’m proud. That’s the term that I got used to, but then Jesse Jackson came along and said we should be called African Americans.

    Now the way I see it is that I’m a human being and a Muslim, but for ethnic identity purposes why can’t I just be an American. I love Africa, but I have never been there, nor has anyone in my family for I don’t know how many generations. So we’ve been in America for a long time, and that is all that I know.

  10. Umm Binat: There are many words to describe things that do not work and so I think we could all find better terms especially since there is such a negative connotation with the word. Niggardly has a benign meaning but I still don’t think people should use it because it resembles another more infamous word.

    My sister spent a summer in East Africa in 2005 and she was surprised that some of the locals were calling her the n word because they thought I guess from listening to and watching hip hop music that that is how blacks in American referred to themselves.

    I think the terms African American and black American are a misnomer and divisive. Only minorities are given the hyphenated-American label. Some African Americans have no connection to Africa while others have very strong connections. Those from the Carribean have a very different culture from immigrant Africans who are very different from the descendants of slaves in America. And black Latinos are not considered to be African-Americans.

    Immigrant Africans tend to label African Americans as “black Americans” to distinguish themselves. And African Americans are fond of disassociating themselves with what they think of as backward, Zulu or Tarzan-like Africans. I grew up navigating those two worlds with some success (or at least I think) as my parents are immigrants from Nigeria and although we lived in a mostly white suburban college town, blacks from the nearby city were bussed into our schools.

    I generally do not refer to people who are multi-ethnic or can pass as “white” as black unless they do so first. Like I knew a girl who could pass that was always saying “my people” this and that. And everyone looked at and ridiculed her by saying “what people”. She meant “my black people”. If Tiger Woods or Jennifer Beals do not want to be called black, I’m not going to. If they have a brown complexion, society will see them as black no matter what.

    Zabihah/Halal: yes I know the difference but was trying to keep it simple. Ideally, I would not even make the connection to kosher but that would take another post.

  11. Zaynab: I should have added that usage of “gay” to list because they also annoys especially when I hear it from Muslims.

    I prefer black and white because they are broad terms as I was explaining a bit in my response to Umm Binat. Although, Michael Jackson is an exception and I no longer put him in either the white or black category.

    I remember when I was a kid, I asked my mom what color I was, because to me then and still now I think of my skin tone as closer to one of the browns in the crayon box then to black. And some blacks are actually black and some are lighter than brown.

    My rule for people of multi-ethnic backgrounds is to identify them as they see themselves. I was always surprised growing up that people labeled as “mixed” always seemed more offended by the racial slurs directed at us then I was.

  12. Islamophobia Watcher: I think of the term of Afro-American as outdated it’s now African-American. But definitely, if all blacks are going to be labeled as African, then whites should be labeled as European which one hopes should help shake-up the anti-immigration lobby by reminding them that they are descendants of immigrants.

    Yusuf: I work in the IDD field and we are always redefining the terms with feedback from individuals and families affected the most by dd. It seems to me that most of the people who ridicule the terms as political correctness gone overboard are outside of the community who themselves are uncomfortable and do not know how to react when they encounter people with dd. Terms reflect the changing nature of society and are an important way to move away from the stereotypes.

    M.Shahin: I appreciate your sentiments and considering some of the terms that were popular in the past, African American is not so bad.

    Middlewestern: I love that quote from Ben Franklin, my dad often mentions that one to us and to his students.

    Shaharazed: I’m with you on the just American thing. But this is a luxury only afforded to the descendants of Europeans. Even Native American who are as indigenous as it gets can’t just be American. But if you were to ask me I would say I am Nigerian American because those are two distinct parts of my cultural identity. But when I’m around immigrant Africans or in Nigeria they call me American. And when I’m here in the U.S. I’m African American.

  13. Slmz

    I agree on retard!

    Only recently found out what “desi” refers to- someone like me! But here in South Africa, the official (coz yes, to undo the effects of Apartheid we need to use these words) term would be indian. Even though I have never been to India or even know anyone from there, because my forefathers came from there many generations ago, we are known as Indian.

    Pakistan was not in existance then- should Muslim Indians be called Pakistani:) That will just further confuse us:P

    Whites are classified as White.
    Blacks are classified as Blacks.
    People of mixed race are classified as Coloureds.

    All non-whites are classified as PDI- previously disadvantaged individuals! For purposes of employment equity and statistics.

    Thats South African Race Classifications 101:)
    [sorry to clog your blog:P]

  14. Asalamu alaykum,

    No need for apologies, you’ve added another wonderful dimension to the discussion.

    When I mentioned in the post about anachronisms like apartheid I was also thinking about the “Jewish state” of Israel but I left that out because that opens up another can of worms.

  15. As salaamu alaikum

    How about the word muzzie to describe muslims. I hear that alot.

    Dont forget honky, and cracker I heard those alot from my black friends growing up.

  16. Bill, it took me a long time to get what you were saying, I was thinking that perhaps you hit the submit button before you finished but then I re-read my comments about anachronisms and I got it.

    Z, I dislike that Mozlem and Mooslim thing too.

  17. I hate the word FOB. I don’t know why. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be offensive but I am extremely offended by it and cringe whenever anyone uses it.

  18. agree wiv every word said by the person who started off this discusion
    i also dont like ppl saying da word Paki, even if they are or not
    cos if u are a Pakistani, and say Paki, then what is the point of you getting so worked up if a white or non Pakistani says da word
    its jus plain stupid

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