Human language developed to help us understand one another, to share information and to give us an outlet to explain the world around us.
But language is a two-way street: An individual language evolves to reflect the world of its speakers, but it also helps shape the perceptions of that world.
Words have meanings that go beyond a simple definition to add context and colour and even stereotypes when we hear them: consider the words terrorist, rebel, insurgent and freedom fighter. The same individual might be labelled with each term, depending on one's own position relative to that individual. The words provide a context to the speaker's beliefs and motivation.
It's for this reason that the old "they're just words" excuse is such an invalid one. There's no such thing as "just" when it comes to the words we use. Words have power - and far too often, that power is the ability to hurt, demean or control others.
We give kudos to the students in our front-page story who are working with the Down Syndrome Research Foundation to get people to think about the way the word "retarded" is used.
"That's so retarded" (just like its sisterphrase "That's so gay") seems to easily slip off the tongues of kids and adults alike. It's simply not OK - at any age - for such phrases to be used as negative, derogatory expressions.
When we use these words in this way, we're allowing our perception of the world to be framed by them. Use your words carefully, consider their meaning and power, and see the world without prejudice.