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Saturday, August 17, 2013

What Makes A Word Offensive?

What Makes A Word Offensive?
A cranky opinion for

Cranky Opinion Saturday

The following is the opinion of a cranky old man.  Opposing positions are welcome (wrong, but welcome) but please, no name calling.  And that means you…you big stupid-head

Boy do I miss George Carlin.  He was a word master.  I did not particularly like his politics, but I admired the way he could put any politician in his place.  (OR HER place…jeez do I have to say “his or her” for the rest of my life?  When you speak Spanish do you have to say “la or las” in front of every noun?...sorry to get off track.)


Carlin knew the power of words, and he knew how to take the power away from them.  His “Seven words you can’t say on TV” masterfully put the silliness of “dirty words” in perspective.

What makes a word bad?

George pointed out that is perfectly alright to “prick your finger," but it is taboo to "finger your prick!”

Why can you say caca, poop, turd, or doody but the world recoils when you say shit? What makes referring to your penis as your ding-a-ling, member, pee pee, willy, pecker or trouser snake acceptable, but the world gasps at the word cock?

Most people hate the word nigger.  It is not a nice word, especially when it is directed at someone, but are we really so sensitive that we need to refer to it as the “n-word?” 

What is more meaningful, “I hate the n-word”, or “I hate the word nigger?”  If you walked up to a Shaquille O’Neil and said, “Hey Shaq, I think you are a lazy n-word” do you think he would sink his size 21 boot less far up your ass than if you said “nigger?”

If you tap dance around a word, you give it power, confront it and it weakens.

A crucial scene in “Brian’s Song,” the story of the relationship between Gale Sayers a Hall-of-Fame black football player and Brian Piccolo his white back-up involves the word nigger.  In an effort to spur Gale onto a tough rehabilitative workout, Brian calls Gale a nigger.  Given the relationship the two had it was so out of character for Brian Piccolo to use this word that Gale Sayers broke into uncontrollable laughter.  The last time I saw this movie on TV, they replaced nigger with BEEP.  If you had not seen the movie you might have thought Brian called Gale a shit, or a fuck, or an asshole, or worse. 

Thank you TV people from protecting me from that awful word, allowing everyone to decide what Gale Sayers was really called and pretty much ruining a crucial and poignant scene.

Maybe TV is right.  Maybe politically correct elimination of a word is the right thing to do.  Maybe we cannot handle certain words regardless of the context.  Maybe we should rewrite “Mark Twain” and "Huckleberry Finn.”

Or maybe.

We could all just grow up.  There is nothing wrong with the word nigger, or kike, or wop, or honkey, or spic, or gook.  They are just words. The words are fine; it is the context of their usage that makes them ugly.  If you don’t like these words, they are no less ugly when we call them the n-word, or the c-word, or the g-word, or if we just use “beep” to keep everyone guessing.

I try to use words responsibly in my posts.  I often substitute friggin for fucking, shoot for shit, and dipstick for dickhead. But there are times when I deem it appropriate to use the real word.

I assume my readers can handle it or they would not be my readers, and please, don’t refer to me as the C-word Old Man.

The preceding was the opinion of a cranky old man, and not necessarily that of management…Mrs. Cranky.  


  1. Great points Joe. The word itself isn't necessarily bad. It's the context in which it is used. And I also hate it when the censors bleep a word, leaving me to try and figure out what was said.

    And for the record, I think it was very brave of you to come out and admit that you like to *____* farm animals. :)


  2. HAhaaaaa... I've written about this too. amazes me what pisses some folk off. The asterisks for a letter in a word we all know what it is... I mean. sh*t makes it less offensive?

    George Carlin was m'man. Some words like goddamn kinda offend me. I am not religious but I believe in a God that she/he/it wouldn't damn anyone and to call on a god to damn someone is mean ~ and arrogant.

    I don't like motherfucker because that's incestuous and silly and dirty, however, I posted a carton thing not too long ago where one guy picked up a guy and was slinging him at another guy ... the caption read... I'll beat one motherfucker with another motherfucker!

    hahaaa... cracked me up... not trying to promote my blog... I don't work on commission... but here's my take on senses of humor...

    You hit the nail on the head when you said … it's context ~ how you use the word... my holier than thou Mother could make you run for the hills with her cuss word.. CHRIS to pher Colum BUS

    there wasn't a dirtier scarier couple of words on the planet.

    all relative... everything's relative as we 60's younguns used to say...

  3. posting a carton would be really fun but cartoon would be easier

  4. Interestingly, Joe, it was far easier to stop using many of the words you list than it was to stop smoking. Having done both, I find I can function even better than when I induged.

  5. My opinion of today's post: #%*$#*@&$!! 'Nuff said.

  6. Hmmm, what makes a word offensive? I think intention. A word spoken for comic effect or in casual conversation has little sting, but the same word when yelled in anger can cut to the quick.

  7. I remember my beloved grandmother using the N-word. She challenged me, explaining that everyone she knew used the word and I was wrong to think it offensive. Nothing I could say or do would change her mind. I guess some people just have to die off and take their hateful language and prejudices with them.

  8. This post reminds me of the very first season of SNL, when Chevy Chase interviewed Richard Pryor for a job. They did a word-association test. I can't imagine it being shown on TV these days. There would be no dialogue, only BLEEPS.

    It's on YouTube:

  9. Most of these words do not cut to the heart of who your are. White guys get out of the situation easily enough...keep your shitty words to yourself.

  10. Ha! This post is spot on. I just read some of it aloud to Boyfriend and he agrees because he HATES magic words. Ok, I still say "n-word" but I WILL say cunt, especially cunt punting and decuntification.

  11. Context and usage is everything. Well said, Cranky.

  12. Times change, offensive words change. My daughter is 7 and has, in my opinion, an excellent teacher. The school bans the use of words "stupid" and "fat" (and my kids call these the s-word and the f-word), and my daughter's teacher doesn't bat an eye when kids say "damn" (so my daughter tells me, in a shocked voice). Interesting.

    But I think we "need" offensive words. We must, or we wouldn't keep being offended by new ones when the d ones become acceptable.

  13. You forgot monkey and cracker. :)

    Seriously... I wrote a post on "profanity" a while back and two of the commenters thought it necessary, saying, "a carefully chosen swear imparts all the emotion that language can't express." (The guy who said it had experienced the death of his niece and some other very difficult situations.) Anyway, I got what they were saying.

    When I hear "nigger," it seems to be used to be funny, intellectual, to express pain, or to be hateful. I don't think it should be taken off the radar, nor should the other words you mentioned; because words and the way they're delivered, lets the listener know who you "truly" are. We can make a choice to stick around or flee.

    And to people who write books, scripts, songs, blogs... let them write, because again, the content usually reveals the intent and the choice to engage or flee is there.

    Conundrum: What about our children? Do we teach them not to say certain words and then when they turn, say... 16, we say, go for it? Hmmm...