Damning diction: Why curse words shouldn’t be offensive
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 07:10
It was the first time I brought a boyfriend home to meet my parents. At first, he was doing great – he said please and thank you, talked about his accomplishments, and he took my father’s jokes with ease. Being a generally decent and likable guy, the first meeting seemed to go well – that is, until he dropped the H-bomb at the dinner table.
Profanity is typically frowned upon. Although we all use it in certain scenarios like anger or pain, the general consensus is that certain words should not be used in polite company. But in reality, profanity has been around for centuries.
The ancient Greeks’ no-no words included uttering their gods’ names in vain, and by Jupiter would you be in trouble if you did so in front of the VIPs of the time. Even Shakespeare pushed the limits by using words like "zounds", a contraction of "God’s wounds", and "blood," which refers to the blood spilled by Christ on the cross.
The British catchphrase "bloody hell" was once considered the height of impropriety and only the most indecent individual would ever be caught exclaiming "gadzooks!" in the streets of London. Variations of the word "sl--" have been around since the fifteenth century, and the "s-word" was first used in a derogatory way five hundred years ago.
These days, curse words have been used in music, television, movies and books galore, though their shock value still hasn’t diminished.
But bad words, at their basis, are just that – words. They are structures of letters and syllables, just like every other word you read in this article. No matter the background, how it is used, or whom they are used against, profanity is just a part of our language and culture. And if that’s the case, it’s not the words themselves that are the issue – it’s the people.
The power these words have is entirely dependent on the person who takes affront to their usage.
For instance, if someone was never offended by the word bitch, it would still mean a female dog. And if someone had just brushed off a racial slur instead of becoming angry or upset, the popularity and vulgarity of certain terms wouldn’t be so prevalent today. When we exaggerate the influence profanity has over us, it becomes more powerful and more hateful.
But if we ignore the venom behind these expressions and see them for what they are, suddenly these words don’t seem so audacious. And if these words don’t have such an influence over us, they suddenly stop having much of an influence at all – much like "gadzooks," "zounds" and "by Jupiter," these terms simply fall by the wayside and are forgotten.
While I don’t expect the "f-word" to have a place in polite conversation anytime soon, understanding the manipulative aspect of certain words is imperative to decreasing their significance. So the next time someone calls you this or that or uses a curse word, don’t get offended; they’re just words, and they are only offensive if you take offense from them. Lucky for me, my parents share my view – and my boyfriend and I are still together today.