The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

Bad Words

As kids growing up we’re all taught about the “bad” words – words that have been deemed unacceptable. Usually we find out the hard way – by repeating something we hear a “grown up” say. Depending on your home environment, this can be something as mild as “damn” or “crap” or something as bad as the dreaded “fuck”. Maybe it was something racist or a discrimination statement. Or maybe your home just didn’t get offended by any of it.

There is an old joke that puts this into perspective from a kids point of view –

Two brothers decide that they’re going to start swearing. The next morning they go downstairs to breakfast and Mom asks them what they’d like. The older one says “I’ll have some fuckin’ Cheerios.” His Mother reaches out and slaps him across the face, then sends him back to his room. She turns to the younger one and, in an angry voice says “And what do you want?” to which he replies “Well, you can bet your ass it ain’t fuckin’ Cheerios.”

Deciding to swear, or to utter racial/discriminative words and phrases is a right of passage for most kids. They do it for a couple of reasons – one, to feel more grown up and two, because it’s “forbidden”. From the earliest times of Adam and Eve (even if you don’t believe, it’s a good analogy), the “forbidden” has always been the most desirable. And nothing is more impressionable than a young mind. So why, from an early age, do we teach our young these things?

And where did this list of “bad words” come from? I know *George Carlin listed the seven words you can’t say on TV. But why are these words forbidden? What makes them “bad”? I’ve always wondered this, since, in my experience, it’s not the words that are bad, but rather how they are used.

At the height of great arousal, the question “Do you want to fuck?” can unleash a passion unbound. Yet the question “What’s up, buttercup?” can unleash devastating hatred if you say it sarcastically to a gay man. So why is “fuck” bad, yet “buttercup” isn’t? Do you see what I’m getting at here. People who use “colorful language” (another phrase for bad words) are looked down upon – but why? Couldn’t it just be that they are exceptionally passionate about their ideas and feelings, and thus use the words simply as an emphasis to describe their strong feelings?

There are also words that people want removed from the everyday language. The most recent is the word “nigger”. Why is it all right for black people to use, but not white? I’m sorry, but that’s just the purest form of discrimination. And while the word may have originated as a derogatory remark aimed at those non-white, less fortunate individuals, for me it has a descriptive purpose.

When I hear the word “nigger”, I don’t just think black – I think abused, dumped on, pushed around, 2nd class. I think of phrases from my childhood – “riding nigger” meant sitting in back – “nigger work” meant the most demeaning of tasks. It didn’t mean black, it meant shit on. And EVERYBODY gets shit on at one time or another.

And I can’t understand why black people want this word removed. Are they trying to make history disappear? I’ll tell you right now, if I were black I’d be pissed at anyone that wanted to remove a reminder of the suffering my forefathers did. Some things need to be remembered on a daily basis, lest we fall back into that rut of disparaging other humans.

Words are just that – words. They are sounds formed by pushing air through vocal cords while moving your lips. Like a more sophisticated form of a whistle. As for the “bad” words, the best I can figure is that they’re just a product of a puritan era, where natural human function was considered a sin (since most of the “bad” words describe these functions).

My Mom used to say “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” She taught me that as a way to avoid getting physical over something as simple as words. But she was wrong in that, while the words weren’t hurtful, the inferences behind them were. And that’s what concerns me. We shouldn’t get angry over bad words – we should get angry over bad inferences. Don’t ban a word like “nigger” – ban the hurtful inference when it’s used as a derogatory remark, instead of a simple description.

By banning hateful negative inferences, we’ve restored all the words to our language. But most importantly, we’ve removed that “forbidden” factor from children’s upbringing. When there are no longer “forbidden” words, the want will be gone. Which will give everyone more time to focus on removing hate as a part of life. And don’t hate me if I use the word buttercup – or nigger – unless you can tell from my inference that it’s an insult, not just a word.

*The seven words are piss, shit, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits. Fart, turd and twat have also been added.