Each year on the first Wednesday of March, a group of organizations rallies behind a campaign called Spread the Word to End the Word. And the r-word in question? It's a derogatory term for a person with an intellectual disability.
This PSA produced for the campaign a couple of years ago makes a powerful argument for why you should drop the word from your speech if you haven't already (warning: the video contains offensive language in an attempt to condemn that language):
"The r-word hurts because it is exclusive. It's offensive. It's derogatory," says a statement from the website of the campaign, which is supported by over 200 organizations, including Best Buddies and Special Olympics.
"Our campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people. Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions. Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language."
So far, hundreds of thousands of people have already taken the pledge to "support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."
Actor John C. McGinley, whose son Max was born with Down Syndrome, is a prominent supporter of the campaign. When he was in the red chair last year, he talked about how there's often no consequence for using the r-word, unlike many slurs for other groups:
This year, he wrote a moving column for the Huffington Post about the insidious ways the r-word and the suffix "-tard" get used in our culture:
Even those of us with the very thickest of skin, the stiffest of upper lips and the strongest of will, have been hurt deeply by malicious language spoken in caustic and barbed tongue. Words hurt. They do. They always have. And they always will.
Even for those of us who are perfectly capable of defending ourselves and self-advocating, when we have suffered a verbal assault? The wounds that some words inflict on us are sometimes almost impossible to reconcile. Now try to imagine a world where you could not use any kind of reciprocal language to object to an absorbed verbal offense, because you simply did not have the tools to form the syllables required to defend yourself?
A few years back, George talked to another guest about the campaign, and what it feels like to be called the r-word: Evan Sneider, the first actor with Down Syndrome to play the lead in a feature film. Here's what he had to say: