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Friday, August 22, 2008

That's retarded.

"Do you mind if I say something crass?" he asked as he looked around to make sure nobody else was in the office.

"No". I said it with a suppressed smile, thinking about some of the particularly crass things I've said in my life.

"Well, if you're going to fuck somebody", he said without hesitation and without breaking even the slightest smile, "you fuck them as hard as they let you fuck them."

This particular conversation was not about sex as it might appear immediately, but was actually about work. His point was a simple one: You take what they let you take, you work as little as they let you work. You slack off as much as they let you slack off. As Peter Gibbons famously said in Office Space, "work just hard enough not to get fired". It's an interesting point of view for a worker at such a small company. People tend to work at startups if they are energetic and, dare I say, passionate. It doesn't surprise me that people seem to work so hard or work such long hours. It feels like there is always so much to be done. However, it does take some real discipline to realize that there is more to do then can be done in a day, and to put things down for continuance tomorrow.

Speaking of crassness, my boss is a really funny lady who says the word "retarded" when she gets's angry or frustrated. She always drops to a whisper when she says it, covers her mouth and giggles a nervous giggle. Like it's the worst thing a person could possibly say. Retarded, literally, means delayed in development. It's frequently used to describe people who are delayed in mental development, especially those with Downs Syndrome. This second use is a slang use of the word. However, there's another popular slang use of the word: A person who is inebriated with alcohol. With this third use, saying that something is "retarded" is really no worse then saying that the creators of that something were "drinking lots of alcohol", and nobody would call that particularly obscene.

I propose therefore that we divorce the use of the word "retarded" from pertaining to people with stunted mental development. It isn't nice and isn't particularly apropriate. Instead, we use the word to describe people who function as if they are loaded with alcohol, or things which are created by such people. Saying "This printer is retarded" or "Those people at company X are retarded", or "My kids can be so damn retarded sometimes" isn't bad or obscene, and it certainly isn't necessary to say it in a whisper.

That's just my two cents anyway. But who knows, I may just be retarded.

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