Bad Words

Bad words don’t exist. There are derogatory words, slurs, insults, exclamations, and all manner of profanity, but there is no bad language. All language has a distinct and meaningful purpose. Whether it be used as filler or as the key point of a sentence, every word has its place, in both speech and writing.

Language is something of a curiosity, as it is omnipresent in the world, but to most, it is a subconscious function. Everyone (to some extent) puts words together without thinking, even those who carefully plan what they will say before they open their mouths. Along with this all-important, unavoidable aspect of life, comes profanity. It has been around for thousands of years, and the attitude toward it has not changed much. Foul language is seen as inappropriate to use it in a formal setting, but few will bat an eye at it in a casual one.

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I say foul because there aren’t many alternatives. It is ingrained in people’s minds from a very young age that these words are “dirty,” which I think is ****. There’s the censorship I’m referencing! This piece is trying to describe and emphasize the role that these words should play in people’s vernacular, but it is being written for school, and would probably not be accepted with a curse word in it. Society’s attitudes towards profanity are almost as bizarre and unhealthy as those towards sex. A great example of this is the rating system for movies. A movie can contain a certain extent of extreme violence, surely setting a bad example for the youth of America, and still receive a rating of PG-13.

In fact, this is the rating that most films strive for these days, as it typically sells the most tickets. However, if a writer were to include two or more F-bombs in the script (or one, if it is used sexually), the movie would be branded as an “R-rated” picture, and tickets could not be purchased by those under 18. Impressionable youngsters can watch a murder on the silver screen, but hearing a particular word twice, one that most of them use somewhat frequently, is unacceptable. It seems a bit ridiculous that we treat vocabulary the way that most nations treat alcohol. As Amy Tan argued in Mother Tongue, there are many different Englishes in life. Though Tan talked about the effects of different languages on speech, different word choices can have the same effect.

People generally won’t curse in school, at work, or around their parents, but people often do around friends or online. Tan described a formal speech feeling “wrong” when she remembered that her mother was in the audience, with whom she often used “broken” English. In the same vein, one would probably not be comfortable swearing in that same speech, because the audience is not right for it. It may even undermine one’s credibility as a speaker. However, most feel perfectly comfortable calling their coffee table those names when they stub their toe on it. This division is a complex and strange one, and where a person draws the line is almost entirely up to them.

Society, on the other hand, draws a distinct line between ages, using little to no vulgarity with children, and using it liberally around adults. One’s maturity has even become associated with their use of these words, which has an adverse effect on those who curse more freely. I personally do not like to use profanity, and try to not make it a habit. This should be entirely by personal preference, but it isn’t. The prevailing view seems to be that “bad words” cheapen speech, and it is better to exclude them. Denying these words their place does not do any good.

George Carlin made the point that the life and color was being taken out of language over time. This same blandness results from censorship of curse words. In Carlin’s standup, he describes the evolution of “shell shock” into “post-traumatic stress disorder,” severing the humanity and emotion from the condition. This humanity can be achieved in a crude manner through profanity. The most common dirty words are some of the most versatile in the English language, and can evoke dozens of meanings or emotions through context alone. They can be used for anything from punctuating thoughts to making a speaker seem more personable.

Of course, they still have a distinct role and certain boundaries they should not cross, but as it stands, profane words do not reach their full potential. This is a great crime in the modern world, and could be resolved fairly easily. The censorship of these words is really the only “bad” thing about them.