Throughout history, it hasn't only been physically handicapped people who have suffered from being labeled with harsh words. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was still common to use words such as "moron", "idiot," and "retarded" - all supposedly technical and scientific terms - as expressions with which to taunt others. Children with mental deficiencies were dismissed as "retarded" and spoken of as part of one undifferentiated group, as if all people with this label could be fully defined by this word and this word alone. In those days, no one would have thought to refer to a child with lowered capabilities as "a child with special needs." Thus, few people thought of such children as "special" in any way; rather, they were commonly regarded as burdens to be endured. Here, too, the Rebbe's approach was to avoid labeling people with a single word such as "retarded" that, in effect, defined and limited them. When asked to send a message to a Jewish communal conference "On Issues and Needs of Jewish Retarded", the Rebbe noted his objection to that final word: "I prefer to use some term such as 'special' people, not simply as an euphemism, but because it would more accurately reflect their situation, especially in view of the fact that in many cases the retardation is limited to the capacity to absorb and assimilate knowledge, while in other areas they may be quite normal or even above average."
For the Rebbe, the desire to choose positive words was so deeply engrained that he hesitated to use words like "evil" even when describing something that was. He did not wish to have negative words or words that had negative associations cross his lips. Instead, to refer to something bad he would use an expression such as hefech ha-tov ("the opposite of good"); to refer to something foolish, he would say hefech ha-seichel ("the opposite of intelligent"); to refer to death, he would say hefech ha-chayyim ("the opposite of life"); to refer to something unholy he would say hefech ha-kedushash ("the opposite of holiness"). In a usage that sounds almost humorous, he would often speak of a bad person, a rasha, as "one who is not a tzaddik" ("one who is not a highly righteous person").