It's the r-word.
Except when quoting someone else, I'm only going to say its full name once.
The word is "retard" -- and it is a hurtful word which we can do without.
Everyone from kids to radio talk show hosts use the r-word to describe something they think is uncool.
At least two famous actresses have used it as an insult to describe people without special needs.
What they really are doing is insulting people who have special needs.
Jennifer Aniston used the r-word on "Live with Regis and Kelly" last month to describe herself while discussing dressing up as Barbra Streisand for the September issue of Harper's Bazaar.
"You're playing dress-up!" co-host Regis Philbin told her.
"Yes, I play dress-up!" Aniston responded. "I do it for a living, like a retard!"
Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc -- a nonprofit advocate for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, told USMagazine.com it was "extraordinarily offensive and inappropriate."
"Frankly, someone in her position ought to know better," Berns said. "She is using language that is offensive to a large segment of the population in this country. We estimate that there are probably in excess of 5 million people in the country with intellectual disabilities, and when you think about all of them, their family members and friends, you're talking about tens of millions of people who find the use of that term to be really offensive.
"Every time folks hear that word, it kind of reminds them of all the discrimination and oppression they've experienced in their lives. Even if it wasn't intended to insult them, that is the effect of it."
You might be thinking, what's the big deal?
When Aniston said the r-word, the studio audience laughed.
People with special needs should not be a punch line.
Aniston is not the only celebrity who has the r-word in her vocabulary.
In an interview with MSN two years ago, actress Kristen Stewart used the r-word when asked about obsessed "Twilight" fans near the set while filming in Portland, Oregon.
"I was like, 'You guys are celebrating something that has not come true yet,' " Stewart recalled. " 'So, you are really retarded and have nothing to do with this creative process.' "
Why use the r-word? Life for individuals and families with special needs is tough enough as is.
Yet there are more and more obstacles put in the way.
"Little Fockers", the third installment in the "Meet the Parents" movie series, will premiere in December. Before it went into production, a casting call for children's roles for the film included this line:
"The kids can not have speech or developmental delays as this is a huge project."
How inconceivably discriminatory! So kids with delays are not even allowed to have a chance -- or are only allowed to have a chance when it isn't a huge project? Aren't they up against it enough already? Now, not only are they going to -- for the most part -- be left behind in the race, they aren't even allowed to line up with everyone at the starting line?
This reminds me of the genetics specialist who, when we were greeted with the surprise that one of my sons was born with Down syndrome, "comforted" my wife and me by saying, "Don't worry, he can grow up to be a grocery bagger." That's the great expectation for his life? That's the most he is allowed?
I am not looking for special treatment for people with special needs. I am demanding equal treatment.
If someone with delays can't do the job, they can't do the job. But they will never be able to show you they can do the job if you don't even give them a chance.
Equal opportunity is not limited to gender and race.
Equal opportunity is, however, limited by the continued use of the r-word.