Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Problem with Proxy Pejoritives

Conversation bubble with curse word symbols
I've been thinking about this for awhile, and I just came across this article, so I'm just going to go ahead and tackle the idea, head-on.
I'm not a fan of curse words. Cusses, foul language, potty mouth... whatever you want to call it, it just bothers me.
A few years ago, a co-worker asked me if I would let my (imaginary) kids say "Dang" as a substitute curse word. My reply: "No, but not for the reason you'd think."
1. My kids won't be saying "Dang" because that's just not how you speak when you're from New Jersey.
2. In my opinion, 'substitute curse words' are just as bad as the actual word.
Now I have some really mixed feelings/strange ideas about this, so bear with me. I don't completely understand why some words are deemed as bad words in our language. We are giving strange power to words, but that's just the way it is. Words hold power. Some are negative and some are positive. Some are bad and some are good. I don't get it, but it is what it is.
My first problem with offensive language is that it just makes the user seem uneducated (to me). If some find the words offensive, there must be another way to express the statement. If the user can't think of another way, that's ... their problem (and all the people who find the words offensive).
My problem with substitutes for a specific word, like saying "Darn!" "Dang!" "Freaking!", is that the substitute has now gained the exact power of the original word. So, when a person stubs their toe, I would say it's just as bad to say "Frack!" as it is to use the other word. I know, I know. A lot of people would disagree. But, in my opinion the user's meaning behind the word remains the same. By the way, I am totally a hypocrite - I say "Darn!" "Shoot!" "Freaking!" and "Jeez!" all the time. I'm actually trying to cut down on "Freaking!" because I heard my nephew say it, and it is not cute. Which leads me to my next point...
Little kids, toddlers, etc. using offensive language is gross. That's probably what bothers me most of all. And when my nephew said "Freaking" it was not cool.
So I'm working on it. But I'm really curious - what do you think? I'm still working through how I feel about it, and I really want to hear others' thoughts on the topic. Tell me what you think about bad words, substitutes for bad words, and how freedom of speech fits into all of this.
On a side note: We are dumber than ever. According to this article the average North American adult knows only 30,000 to 60,000 words, out of a potential "working vocabulary" of 700,000. Oh, and bling has been added to the dictionary. Hoorah. How this all fits together is still a muddled mess in my mind, but there's a connection.


  1. I basically feel the same way. I think people make a big deal about "bad words" when they say hateful things all the time--just using different words. Words are powerful. It is very easy to hurt someone using words that are not termed "bad." I think everyone needs to evaluate the attitude in which their words are said. Attitude is the important thing. We have to change our hearts and our mouths will follow.

  2. That's a good point, and was way more eloquent than I said it. I agree that the attitude and meaning behind the words is what gives the words their power. So.. interesting. Do you think that "cuss words" could be used in a way that's not bad, then? Something to consider.

  3. Since you have mentioned this to me a couple of weeks ago, I've given some thought to your point of view. You said that the intent of the euphemism (sp.?) is as bad as the intent behind the raw term. So if I were to think before reacting, I would try not to blurt out anything--although I did love the cartoon and may adopt asterisk, lightning bolt, etc.