Saturday, May 23, 2009

Epithets and Profanity

I'm trying to learn Twitter. As a result, I got into a conversation with a young grad student in computer science who uses the word cop to mean police officer.  The word may have lost its epithet value over time.  When I was his age, only police officers and their families could use that word with impunity. I challenged him on it.  He insisted on his constitutional right to be offensive and he's not going to change how he talks to avoid upsetting crybabies.  His words.
I told him -- I'm all for breaking rules, but there needs to be an advantage to breaking them, or why bother? 
He said every one has the right to ignore or avoid him.
I asked him -- if the purpose is communication, what's the value in using words that will end that communication.  He responded that he doesn't use the N-word, but not to avoid upsetting people.
Why, then doesn't he use it?  He says that he personally finds the N-word offensive and he also avoids the F-word in polite conversation. 
Interesting.
I told him I don't personally find any of the societally agreed taboo words upsetting. They are just sounds that society has agreed to be upset by. There is nothing naturally upsetting about those sounds, and I do not agree to play that game. But I don't use them because I want to communicate.
I should have added -- I want to communicate in a public forum.  In private conversations, there are times when profanity seems to have a bonding effect. From what I've read, it's an important moment when father and son can swear together at the same sports team, and the father does not tell the son that swearing is wrong. Epithets about race, religion, gender, profession, physical attributes and national origin can also have a bonding effect, but it's not one I want to be part of.
Any use of language that increases a sense of Other and Separate has no possible redeeming value in human relations or communication. In my opinion, any use of profanity or epithets is using societally agreed sounds to avoid true communication. These words (if they deserve the name _words_) are just sounds that serve as shorthand for reasons to hate. We'd all be better off if those reasons were stated plainly so they could be looked at, examined, and rejected as unworthy.

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