Monday, June 25, 2007

The power of words

Karl asked me to guest blog over at his place, so I did. (And I did feel special for being asked.) This is the post I wrote. I thought I would share.

We all know words have power. They invoke feelings, memories, images, thoughts. It can be everything from:

I love you. I like you. You disgust me. I hate you. A New York City taxi cab. Fenway Park. Hello. Ugh! I hate math! Strawberry Fields. Greece. Spaghetti sauce. Jelly Beans. Vagina. Penis. Fun parts. Condom.

Every single one of those can be connected to something and invoke a reaction from someone, somewhere. But what I have been finding more and more interesting is the power of words and how, we as a society are changing them and how we are making words more powerful or less powerful by the way we are changing them. I've thought about this for a long time and I've had numerous conversations with people about the topic, but when I really noticed a change within society was during the whole Imus hub-bub. (And no. This isn't going to be about him or what he said.) After he made his comment, and we know all to well what it was, society suddenly started referring to words such as "bitch" as "the b-word." Faggot became "the f-word." Slut became "the s-word." And of course the n-word has been around for sometime. But, by changing something and referring to a word by a letter and then adding "word" to it, are we making it more or less powerful? Are we adding to it or taking the power away from it? Most importantly, do we just look like idiots when we say it?

Words change and evolve over time. Fact of language. Faggot used to refer to fire kindling and later referred to the butt of a cigarette, it has evolved to mean homosexual. How a word goes from one to other, who knows. Slang, maybe? Bitch referred to a female dog, now it means an aggressive or bad-ass female, and it has a typically negative connotation. (Interesting.) I also can't help but wonder what other societies and countries must think of us, but that's a side note. Personally I have a very difficult time saying, nigger. Even during my African-American classes when it was appropriate to say during a discussion I had difficulty. Why? It's just one word. One simple word. What is the big deal? Well, society and my upbringing has taught me it is wrong and hurtful to use that word, therefore I don't. I don't say, bitch around those who I know would find it offensive and the same for the word, fuck. I don't call my gay friends, faggot. I refer to them as "my gays." But even gay has taken on a new meaning. Gay now refers to things that are queer. Queer now means: stupid, lame, dumb, idiotic. Remember when gay used to just mean, happy? And is the "f-word" now going to mean faggot and no longer mean, fuck? And is faggot going to be more offensive to say than the word fuck? Will "fuck" be all over TV and radio, but faggot will go back in the closet?

So, if I have a problem saying, "nigger" and I find saying "the n-word" to be ridiculous I guess I simply have to say, African-American, which perhaps is the point. But, to say "b-word," "s-word," and "f-word?" It just seems idiotic, stupid, and lame. In other words, it just seems queer.


limpy99 said...

No, it seems really fucking queer.

Bre said...

The thing of it is, words have an awful lot of power. Personally, there are words I don't let my students use in my presence because I won't support them and I don't like hearing them.

appletini said...

Wow, I never really thought so much about how words evolve before :)

GirlGoyle said...

What irks me is that these words change in sense and depth of 'insult' depending on who utters the word. So why is it ok for another black man to say nigger but when I do it, with no intention of insulting, everyone gets all bent out of shape over it? After And the same goes for faggot. Why is there no maliciousness attached to those words when it is their own kind slandering them? Double standards piss me off.

ptg said...

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me...

Yea, that's a load of crap.

Party Girl said...

limpy: Great minds. I tell ya.

Bre: Just curious, such as? I realize by asking and you telling that sort of defeats the purpose of you saying words you don't like, but again, curious.

Apple: It's amazing how words change and evolve over the centuries, and decades. Also how words are created and then become part of our lexicon. I.E.: Google. I Google'd you. I'll Google it.
Even your name: Appletini.

GG: I guess it is the same as when a good friend calls me a bitch or a whore in conversation and it is meant for a laugh and not as an insult, vs. a man, or someone I don't know calling me those same words.
If I called my gays, "fag" it doesn't have the same impact as a stranger who is saying it as an insult. It's the difference between the familiar and the insult.

ptg: As someone who came from a family where verbal and emotional abuse was rampant, yeah, bullshit.
Words have so much more impact, power, and lasting results than a slap across the face.

I try very hard not say, stupid, dumb, idiot; any word that can cause damage in any way. The problem is that there are words that have an impact and we don't even know it.