I’ve been thinking a lot about words recently. They are both insignificant and significant at the same time. They are insignificant in that they are just arrangements of letters, but significant because we ascribe meaning to them. We use words to communicate and so the meanings attached to the words become relevant. Then we go a step further and denote multiple meanings for the same word, making communication ever more complicated. These multiple meanings, used in different contexts, can involve the derogatory usage of certain words. And here lies the problem. I’m convinced that “bad words” aren’t inherently bad – it’s the context in which they are used that can communicate a negative message.
- Douche: the literal definition is a liquid concoction used to sanitize and cleanse a vagina. The term is now frequently used as an insult, to describe a person who is ridiculous, embarrassing, and an idiot in general. So the problem is not the word douche – douching is a medical procedure. But the usage of the word as an insult implies a disgust and aversion to vaginas, and a belief that they are unclean.
- Faggot: Coined in the Victorian era, this term comes from the practice in British Public Schools of making the students do menial tasks such as gathering the sticks to make Faggots, which were used instead of logs. These menial tasks became known as “Faggot-work”, and it was the lowest of the low socially that typically were made to do these tasks. These boys were often physically weak as well, and were left open to sexual advances from other boys or teachers with little or no recourse to refuse. Now, the word is used as a term to refer to homosexuals, often as a slur. I think the implications here are pretty clear.
- Cunt: essentially, a vagina. The slang term is used to insult people, and cunt has become almost unspeakable – it is seen as one of the crudest words in our language. Again we get the message that vaginas = bad. In this case they are actually offensive and crude, and cunt is used in the name-calling of people that are unlikeable for whatever reason. One definition on Urban Dictionary read that cunt is “a woman with the ethics of a man” and that “Hillary Clinton is universally regarded as a cunt.” Lovely.
- Pussy: similar to cunt in that it is another name for the vagina. Can also refer to a cat. The negative connotations come into play when pussy is used to insult someone who is perceived as weak or cowardly. Ironically, guys are told to “grow a pair” because balls are seemingly the pinnacle of strength and masculinity – but in reality balls are very sensitive and easily damaged. Vaginas, on the other hand, withstand the birth of a child. Whose genitals are weak here?
- Nappy: refers to the natural hair of people of African descent, without chemical treatments, weave, etc. Now the term is often used to refer to something that is dirty, gross, or unpresentable. Sometimes it is used to describe dreadlocks, which are perceived to be unclean and gross (although most people with locks do wash their hair). Gabby Douglas received a lot of shit during the Olympics for having “nappy” hair during her routines…because that has anything at all to do with her talent. Apparently her natural hair was not presentable enough for the Olympics. Or perhaps, not white enough?
- Ratchet: Derived from the word “wretched” (poor, inferior, and pitiful). Ratchet is now broadly used to describe people and/or things (often black girls) that are ugly, unflattering, sloppy, or obnoxious in some way. The racial and gendered implications of the usage of this word are equally disturbing.
- Pimp: this one is pretty obvious…A man who makes a profession out of reducing women to commodities and convincing them to sell their bodies to clients. A pimp embodies blatant oppression of women, and yet being referred to as a “pimp” is a compliment, an achievement. “Pimpin” implies that something is cool or fashionable. High school kids will often call their guy friends pimps if they have many female friends or hang around a lot of females, validating the idea that women are merely commodities here for the enjoyment of men.
- Slut: whore, tramp, skank, ho. All of these are terms used almost exclusively for women, women who are openly sexual and have sexual relations outside of committed relationships/marriage. Interestingly, men who do the same are not criticized for it. It is their “rite of passage” to have sex, whenever they need it. “Man-whore” is the closest thing I’ve heard to an insult directed towards “promiscuous” men. There is a large movement against slut-shaming among feminists that emphasizes the right of women to have and enjoy sexual experiences. I particularly liked this definition of slut from Urban Dictionary: “A person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.” Shaming others for their sexual experiences is essentially pointless and accomplishes nothing. It’s called mind your own business.
Okay, so I’m not going to slit your throat if you use these words around me. I’m not going to shun you for the rest of all days. But I do think it is important to be cognizant of the context in which these words are used and what the implications are. I am guilty of failing to do this, and I have unintentionally offended people that I care about as a result. Be intelligent and informed in your speech. Besides, there are so many other words in the English language to choose from. Why not spice it up a bit?