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POSTED
2020-04-30
07-081940
08-47148
09-081966
10-31

Whether "curse words" or hurtful words, whether rooted in sexism, racism, sex-negativity, or anything else, there's a lot to say about how we use language and so-called "bad words".

This page is a stub, created on 2020-04-30 (last updated on 2020-10-15). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.


There are a lot of dimensions here I'd like to explore...and I might have to split some of this off into different posts altogether:

  • "curse words" (eg, "fuck") versus hurtful words (eg, "retarded")
  • relevance of a word's etymology and usage; eg,
    • "pussy" to mean weak
    • "retarded" to mean slow
    • "ballsy" to mean courageous
    • "man up" to mean "get it together"
    • "hysteria" originating in being a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus, now used to mean exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement (also "hysterical" to mean funny)
  • cultural power differentials and using words with disparaging intent (eg, "pussy" versus "dick")
  • whether members of a group are (more) entitled to uses a particular term (eg, Black people using "nigger", gay people using "fag")
  • "Black" versus "African-American", "Oriental" versus "Chinese", etc
  • the LGBT.* acronym
  • "the n-word" and related hypocrisy (no, not "nigger"; literally the phrase "the n-word")
  • non-collectivist issues, such as the insidious influence of sex-negativity (eg, referring to one's genitalia as "my junk", using words like "pussy", "cunt", or "dick" as disparaging terms at all)
  • non-binary gender considerations for pronouns
  • using "technically" gendered terms for gender-agnostic purposes (eg, "Man", "he", "dude", "guys")
  • the relevance of intent
    • saying unkind things in a nice way
    • using technically "wholesome" words to convey unkindness
    • the speaker's meaning attached to words
    • the speaker's concern for the listener's sensitivities (rational and irrational)
      • analogy to someone's fear of dog (also recent bite versus long-standing fear) at a party versus allergy to dogs
      • scenario of someone recently having been the victim of bigotry and therefore very sensitive
  • the listener's responsibility
    • in self-regulation and reaction
    • in judging the speaker
    • in asking for what they want politely, rather than with an attitude of entitlement or condescension
  • corporate policies on terminology to use versus private / interpersonal contexts
    • when to speak up
      • motives
      • ineffective techniques
  • the perils of "word police", particularly that when it seems that certain prohibitions/fixations are uncalibrated to a rational level of sensitivity and tact, thereby resulting in rejection of any sensitivity of word use by exactly the people who most need to adjust their approach (throwing the baby out with the bathwater)
  • cultural appropriation
    • interest versus respect versus derision
    • whether that even makes sense as a concept for a global / multicultural company
  • "Lighten up; it's just a joke."
    • untangling whether the joke is reinforcing racism/sexism/etc or actually making fun of how ridiculous it is
  • connections to parenting and use of words around/with children
  • perhaps subject for a different post, but connection to stereotypes generally and the role of "positive" stereotypes
  • my own journey
    • allergy to "retarded" in particular