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2-01-2012 @ 3:15PM
i disagree, for the most part. bad words do exist. they exist because they have meaning. they exist because of historical precedent. their use and associations drive their meaning; their meaning derives from their use. their meaning and society's beliefs are intertwined. the entire thing is circular and inter-related. that's like saying, "this duck is only a duck because people say it's a duck". ok...but the reality is that it's still a duck, just as words are still offensive. just as you readily admit in your analogy...the words are still bad. they exist..there is such thing as a bad word. they're bad because they draw negative associations and inferences, carry hurtful implications, the whole nine yards.let me be clear from the outset: i curse as colloquially as the next guy, but i also objectively recognize and respect the power of words and language, and adjust my behavior with respect to my surroundings and company. it's not always so much as what's said as what they mean. of course people have a right to not be offended! by your line of reasoning, it's ok if you call an african american a n**g*r...whether or not they are offended is their problem, regardless of the centuries of hate, bigotry, violence, and ignorance behind that word that you threw at them in half an instant. the only reason you would use a word like that in modern usage would be to cause someone harm; to imply they are beneath you; to imply they are less of a person. as anne said in the article above: to make a power play. a cruel and hateful power play to show your self-created superiority. but all that's ok...because being offended is their choice. you, as the speaker, should be absolved of responsibility for your actions. likewise, when you call a woman a bitch, or a whore, or a slut. whether or not you mean it literally, the intent is to harm. even if they take it and own it, even if you're using it colloquially, the intent is to associate the person you are speaking to with an image of a man or woman that historically is an object of shame and ridicule because they sell their bodies for money or drugs. this person, you are saying, has so little worth or value that they are like those that take the most sacred thing, "the self", and debase it to the extreme; make it worth whatever the next john is willing to pay or give, degrading themselves and humiliating themselves voluntarily. but that's ok...because being offended is in the hands of the abused, not the abuser. same goes for fa*g*t, k*ke, or any other bad word.whether you purposefully intend such an implication is immaterial: the word still means what it means regardless of your choice to "assign [it] power", and your line of reasoning absolutely ignores reality. of course a lot can be said for context, but i'm going to ignore colloquial use as an anomaly for the purposes of this discussion. my beef is with people who justify deliberate, non-colloquial use of bad language.this is my problem with people that try to justify cruel, ignorant, and careless speech: they simply shift the burden to the listener and cover themselves with the, "i can say what i want and if you don't like it it's your problem" shield. but in doing so they fail to recognize that communication is a two way street: blathering idiots that try to justify their slurs and slander think that they're talking to robots who have no right to react...it's unrealistic, short-sighted, ignorant, and small-minded. it's a way to psychologically distance themselves from the hurt they cause other people via an implied dehumanization.i don't care if you identify yourself as a bitchy, cocky, smart mouthed New Yorker who curses like a sailor and are proud of it; nor do i care if you ID yourself as a down home redneck who also curses like a sailor; nor do i care that George Carlin did it, may he rest in hilarious peace; nor do i care for any other shallow justifications anyone hopes to offer, like any argument along the lines of, "well you could call someone a pumpkin and it would be hurtful because he has a rare genetic disorder that makes his skin orange and his head round! is pumpkin a bad word, then?" reductio ad absurdum arguments such as those try to side step the point: bad words are bad because of intent and history, and you cannot ignore either under the umbrella of, "i can say what i want and it's your fault if you're offended".sorry for the wall of text...but this self-centered attitude really riles me up.TL; DR: words have power, and like anything with power it should be respected and taken seriously, especially in light of its potential for abuse. be realistic about language's complexity and its effect on others, and give the people standing in your midst the courtesy and respect they deserve.
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