A-M u s i n g s: Forbidden Words

We all know about the F-word, and the N-word, but I really dislike the G-word. The F-word, of course, has lost its power to shock. In my day, ‘Screw you!’ was considered slightly less offensive than the F-variant, and ‘I screwed up’ was almost acceptable in polite company, but today, it seems, any Tom, Dick or Harry can pretend he or she is a stand-up comedian in this androgynous society and spew forth F-expletives intended to add force to whatever joke ‘it’ happens to be telling.

You might, by the way, be interested to know that in her 2005 book Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language, Ruth Wajnryb pointed out that expletives are “frequently uttered without addressing anyone specifically. In this sense, they are reflexive – that is, turned in on the user.” An expression of surprise, disbelief and dismay, such as ‘Fuck me!’ is clearly not meant to be taken literally. But then again, who knows in this day and age?

The N-word, on the other hand, makes a strong racist statement, but probably not for the reasons you are thinking. White ‘folks’, to use one of President Obama’s favorite words, as in his recent acknowledgment during a press briefing concerning the United States’ use of enhanced interrogation tactics in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, bend over backwards to avoid the word.

What the President actually said was “In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did things that were contrary to our values.” Well, those ‘things’ might have been contrary to the President’s values, but a whole host of others, notably supporters of Dick Cheney and his sidekick George, just loved them.

And while I am at it, I object to the use, or misuse, of the word enhanced to describe interrogation tactics. Enhanced implies a positive, superior, improved change, a change for the better; well, okay, I suppose if you are a torturer, water-boarding a victim might be more fun than pulling out fingernails or crushing testicles. And water-boarding leaves no telltale signs of torture, I suppose.

But back to the N-word; while white folks avoid the word like the plague for fear of offending anyone, people of color (POCs), African Americans (AAs), as well as West Indians (WIs) can toss the word and its derivatives about with ‘gay abandon’.

Please forgive a minor diversion at this point. I hate the use of acronyms: POC, AA, and WI hide a host of meanings. Look them up if you don’t believe me.

Some while back, I heard one of our more pompous talk show hosts declare on the radio that he “could think of no occasion when the N-word would be acceptable”, while what he really meant was that he could not think of any occasion that the N-word would be acceptable coming from lips surrounded by white skin.

My adorably direct daughter-in-law has no problem, when feeling very lazy, languid and laid-back after a meal, in declaring that she is suffering from a bout of ‘niggeritis’; the point being that some folks are allowed to use the word in jest, among friends, or as they please, but other folks can’t.

You see, I dislike being referred to as that ‘white guy’, or even being described as ‘white’, not because I find the adjective offensive, but because I do not think the color of my skin defines me in any way, but I don’t make a fuss about it, even though, in some societies, being described as ‘white’ is just as pejorative as the N-word; they might as well add ‘that white bastard’ or perhaps less forcefully, but somewhat paradoxically, ‘that white devil’ in more religiously-minded communities.

But back to gay abandon: Nowadays, homosexuals like to be called Gays, even though the adjective homosexual simply describes a person who is attracted sexually to people of his or her own sex. Some 600 years ago, the word meant full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree, but it could also mean wanton, lewd, or lascivious. A hundred years later, the word had come to mean stately and beautiful or splendid and showily attired. By the late 17th century, gay carried a sense of promiscuity; a gay house was a brothel.

Gosh! I’ve run out of space; and I never got close to the C-word! Ah, well, you can’t have everything!

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