Pet peeve – people who are offended by certain words

I am really annoyed by people who say that people shouldn’t use certain words (e.g. “shit” and “fuck”) – and I am really really annoyed when they say that people shouldn’t use those words because there are women present.

I strongly feel that a word is merely a collection of letters, and that unless the meaning is disparaging toward some group, it cannot be considered offensive. For example, “nigger” is definitely offensive because by definition it insults black people. However, “shit” and “fuck” are not offensive because none of their definitions are insulting. Even a word such as “bitch” is not offensive because none of the definitions insult a group of people.

Even if some words are considered offensive, why would it be not acceptable to use them if women are present, but acceptable if women are not present? Do they think these words will make womens’ brains explode but not mens’?

If you are reading this sentence, I thank you for (hopefully) reading this whole rant…

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12 Responses

  1. Words are not just words and in my mind it’s simplistic to claim they’re just a collection of letters (please understand I am not saying YOU are simplistic).

    I firmly believe words are as powerful as any weapon. I don’t think women’s brain cells are more susceptible to blowing up than men’s but there are words I would not use in front of older women in my family. I respect their dislike of certain words. I also would not swear at a work function or certain other places. Perhaps I’m a dinosaur 🙂

  2. I respectfully disagree. Let’s look at the “S” word as used as a curse. If “Fazubiti” was a synonym for the “S” word, and I used it, would that be viewed as offensive?

    Now that I think about it, some uses of the “F” word are offensive, such as “you motherf******”, but how is the use of the F word as a synonym for sex or as a curse (see above paragraph) offensive?

    Thanks for the thought provoking comment!

  3. and for yours too 🙂

  4. I think you’re missing the point. You seem to think if something is not insulting then it is not offensive. Vulgar language is offensive, maybe not because it is insulting, but because it is a sign of rudeness. If you had a dinner guest that spent the entire time yapping on a cell phone, wouldn’t you be offended? I would, even if I was not explicitly insulted, but because that behavior is rude. And your comment about women’s brains not exploding. Let’s extend that to children. A kid’s brain isn’t going to explode at hearing the f-word, but that doesn’t mean a kindergarten teacher is justified in mouthing off f-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. Believe it or not, there was a time when chivalry was alive, when opening a door for a woman did not insinuate that they are too weak to do it themselves, and when women and children did not swear and were offended by such language.

  5. I strongly disagree with you that bitch isn’t as offensive as nigger. Have you ever been called a bitch or a cunt? Do you know how unbearably degrading that is, especially when you know you aren’t doing anything wrong, you’re just a woman working at a job, offering your opinion among peers, answering a question in class? Because it’s not just the “ex-girlfriend” who is “justifiably” called that. It’s all women. It’s not racist like the n-word and I’m not arguing it’s worse either, but it sure is misogynist.

    Bitch has been used to primarily show contempt for women since the 1400s. While it’s increased use on television and in the media makes it seem more acceptable and less offensive, let me assure you that when you are on the receiving end, IT IS NOT. We use a slew of gender-oriented words to curse at women (slut, whore, skank, cunt), but we don’t really have any for men (usually to insult men, we refer back to women by calling them “pussies” or “sons of bitches”). Bitch is one of those gender-oriented words. Historically, guys were only called bitches if they were in subordinate, “woman-like” positions. Thus, it is a word intended to discredit what women have to say, to devalue them, to silence them. That is an entire group of people, that’s pretty damn offensive, and that matters.

  6. Definition of bitch (American Heritage Dictionary)

    bitch Audio Help (bĭch) Pronunciation Key
    n.
    A female canine animal, especially a dog.
    Offensive
    A woman considered to be spiteful or overbearing.
    A lewd woman.
    A man considered to be weak or contemptible.
    Slang A complaint.
    Slang Something very unpleasant or difficult

    The Merriam-Webster has a similar definition.

    Note the definition. It refers to a “lewd” woman as opposed to a woman in general. On the other hand, “nigger” refers to any black person.
    .
    Yes, the original definition of the word (1400s) does apply to all women. However, the definition of the word has changed, so it is now considered acceptable to use the word on television (and there is even a magazine called Bitch, started by women).

    You simply cannot assume that all uses of the word are using the original definition. Yes, SOME uses of the word today are used to discredit women, and many people who use the word frequently are misogynists. I have paid attention to the context of the word whenever I hear or see it, and most (not all) of the uses of the word in verbal or written form are used to refer to a particular woman, not women in general, similar to calling a man a bastard.

  7. Bitch the magazine is using bitch in a very different sense than the way people use it on television. I subsrcibe to Bitch magazine because of this. It was a magazine started by third wave feminists in an attempt to reclaim the word bitch for themselves (because it IS misogynist) just as blacks are trying to reclaim the word nigger for themselves. Which is clear evidence that bitch has a history of being used to discredit women (not “sometimes,” but nearly all the time)

    And it is not similar to calling a man a bastard. I have been called a bastard and a bitch, and bastard is easy to brush off. You yell bastard when someone does something sneaky or manipulative. Bitch is a sticky, derogative term for a woman which you are ignoring because you are so intent on making it an “okay to use” word.

    And why is referring to one particular woman as a bitch better than referring to women in general? Because then you can call one woman out for being aggressive or spiteful or overbearing while leaving those quiet, nice girls out of the picture? And I stand by my point… even when you’re not a “lewd” woman, it doesn’t matter. You’re still called a bitch when you express opinions and assert your individuality.

    You are justifying a word that is hurtful. I think the real question here is are you as a person comfortable using that word towards your mother, your sister, your daughter, your female friends, etc? I certainly hope not.

  8. Something I forgot to mention was that if the origins of the word “bitch” don’t matter anymore because historical context has changed, do you also say the same for the word nigger? Frankly, as a white person, I respect that is their word to reclaim and not mine to use; that’s what allows the word to change in meaning. Which is why I don’t understand why you as a man can’t respect women who want to reclaim thew word bitch (like Bitch magazine) and are trying to justify its use.

    Just to add… it’s not my intent to troll blogs (sparking arguments in other people’s domains is just not cool, in my opinion, and I feel a little guilty of that here), and I respect that this is your space to have your opinion, so if you wish to delete my comments, I will not be offended. 🙂

  9. Responding to your last 2 entries:

    Thanks. Having never been a woman (obviously), I guess I could be wrong on this one…

    I might not be representative of guys in general, but in the rare cases when I use the word (I usually just call anyone who pisses me off an asshole or an idiot), I use it in the same way I would call another guy a bastard. I believe everybody I know uses the word the same way.

    It appears that men really are from Mars and women are from Venus…

    The magazine is trying to reclaim the word ?(the use as a noun) That makes sense.

    Out of curiosity, what do you think about the use as a verb? Everybody uses it as a synonym for complaining. Is that demeaning or not?

    Also out of curiosity, do you have an opinion on my original topic, the (occasional) use of the f-word?

    Again, thanks for writing. I really appreciate your wll-articulated thoughts on the subject.

  10. http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/feminism-friday-on-bitch-and-other-misogynist-language/

    A lot of what I think about the word bitch is expressed perfectly in this particular blog. I think you should read it. It’s got a lot of good information. 😀

    Part of the reason I’m so emphatic about it is because as a feminist blogger I get streams of troll comments calling me a bitch, cunt, etc. And, sadly, from sharing experiences with other feminists and women friends, I’m not the only one. To me, the misogynist use of the word is well and alive. Even when people say, “Oh, man, he’s just been bitching about everything lately,” there’s this image evoked of some old nagging lady. Of course, even I will admit that when Bart Simpson shouts “bitch’n!” as he flies down a waterslide, the connotations behind the word are much more positive. While I’m still against anyone (man or woman) using it as insult, for the reasons explained by the FEM101 blog, I do hope that the third-wave feminist movement is successful in “unarming” the people who use it intolerably and reclaim it.

    To address your original post [yeah, did I forget that? :)], cindybin is, in my opinion, being quite sexist in that comment thread. S/he is making the assumption that women are too “softhearted” or “innocent” to hear/use curse words. In my opinion, women (who were originally limited by this kind of chastity) are empowered by being able to use fuck and shit without hurting their “delicate” sensibilities (I know I like to). I’ve also had guys apologize to me before for swearing in my presence, and I’m kind of like, “Um, why? You think I’ve been de-virgined or something?” 😛 Specifically saying that language like shit/fuck is offensive to women and not men is making an assumption about women that is, to me, overgeneralizing and counterproductive to women’s lib.

    Frankly, this is wordpress, a huge community composed of a wide variety of bloggers. While people can moderate themselves and others in their own blog spaces, they must respect that what is unacceptable to them may appear on the features page. WordPress is largely about the freedom of speech, and as indicated in their terms of service, the bloggers themselves must take responsibility for what they say. If cindybin’s so opposed to strong language, she should criticize the person who posted the offensive article, not wordpress.

    As far as “naughty” language itself goes, though, I am inclined to agree with you. Shit isn’t directed at a specific group of people. It’s just… shit. 🙂 I saw damned on the features page today, and I was okay with that too. People are gonna stub their toe and cry, “fuck.” And if they’re really pissed at the government or something they’re going to say, “fuck that.” It’s a kind of barrier on language that’s been torn down in the past century that I think is, in a way, empowering for everyone.

    But, of course, there is always a time and a place. My mother particularly despises the word fuck, so, to respect her, I don’t use it around her. I also don’t use it at work, in schools, or most public places–because I don’t know who it will upset and who it won’t. Furthermore, I don’t want to be perceived as inarticulate or ineloquent, as many people who do use those words in public have no regard for how they use them. Casually and among friends, I don’t really censor myself (aside from the n-word, which is, as I mentioned above, my way of allowing the black community to reclaim it for themselves). As an English major, I do have respect for the bluntness and force of curse words, and so by choosing my contexts I hope to demonstrate that.

    Thanks to you too for being so open to this discussion. I am grateful for not being shot down, and I’ve appreciated being able to read and respond to your responses. 🙂

  11. Wow, didn’t realize how long that got until after it was posted. Sorry about that!

  12. @dollyann: Thanks!

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