Bad words

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Jul 9 18:47:25 UTC 2002

In a message dated 7/9/02 1:01:09 PM Eastern Daylight Time, dave at WILTON.NET

> > 5.  Ethnic slurs---the infamous N-word is the most obvious.
>  I would also expand this one to include slurs against any group.

I agree, but there isn't any convenient two-word term.  Even your phrase
"slur against a group" is ambiguous.  Words like "fag" and "queer" are, to
coin a term, "direct slurs".  But there are also indirect slurs, such as
addressing a Native American with the word "How".  Another indirect slur,
which I have seen on this very list, is to use the term "sci-fi" to a science
fiction fan.  Them's fighting words.

I could have used "fighting words", but that term is so broad that I would
have had to do as much description using that term as if I hadn't used it.

There are also non-verbal group slurs.  At one time there was a deprecating
stereotype of African-Americans eating watermelons.  (If memory serves, this
stereotype was fairly frequent in Betty Boop-era animated cartoons.)    It
got so that many African-Americans were offended by being offered watermelon.
 (This is documented in the McDavid edition, and maybe earlier editions, of
Mencken's American Language.)   However, I asked one African-American if he
minded that watermelon would be served at a picnic he was invited to, and he
didn't know what I was talking about, so maybe this slur is ancient history.



Now to the important question: using slurs and other bad words to ferret out
(or is ferret a slur?) the taboos and other social patterns that make them

"How" and watermelons are well-known and it is easy to see how they became
offensive.  "Sci-fi" would provide an interesting case study, since the group
involved is small (numbered in the thousands) and well-defined.  The
offensiveness of the term is due to the way in which the outside world
confuses Hollywood science-fiction
movies (which until Star Trek were almost uniformly bad) with written science
fiction (the object of the fan's devotion, and arguably of much better
quality than the Hollywood junk.)

     - Jim Landau (who gets hot under the choler whenever he hears "sci-fi")

         - Jim Landau

More information about the Ads-l mailing list