Bad words

Bethany K. Dumas dumasb at UTKUX.UTCC.UTK.EDU
Thu Jul 11 02:19:38 UTC 2002

Thanks for the comments re bad words. I finally got a look at _The F word_
(which I cited and recommended) (hi, Jesse!). On the basis of it, list
comments, and some HEL stuff, I suggested that the 15-tear-old be told
something like this:

"Bad words" exist in a limited number of categories. Some categories are
religious terms, sexual terms, racial epithets. Which ones are "bad" vary
over time. For instance, several hundred years ago religious profanity was
probably most highly stigmatized. In more recent years sexual terms
(including body parts) have been highly stigmatized. In the US
today, racial epithets are so stigmatized that, for instance, someone in
Washington was initially fired a few years ago for using the word
"niggardly" (which has no etymological connection to the n-word).

Words become "bad" not because the words themselves are bad - they are not
- but because they refer explicitly to something we are not as a society
comfortable referring to explicitly or because they come to embody a
particular attitude. This the two most highly stigmatized words in
English today are the f-word and the n-word - one for its explicit
reference, one for an attitude, I think.

There are now books on both of them. _The F Word_, by Jesse Sheidlower
(Random House, 1995) is a fairly scholarly glossary with introductory
material. If you have not seen it, you may want to get a copy.

I have not yet read _Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word_
(Randall Kennedy, 2001 or so), but of course I have lived through a period
of history when we have had to replace several approximate synonyms as
each became taboo - Negro, colored person, black, African-American, etc.

The study of "bad words" is really the study of changing perceptions, I


More information about the Ads-l mailing list