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offensive words
Posted: 25 May 2007 10:54 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Are people really, seriously offended by any single word they either hear or read these days?  If eg cunt, or any other word, offends you, please say so and why.  This isn’t a test to see how tolerant we’ve become or to expose illogicality.  A recent post by languagehat set me to thinking about which word really offends me personally, and I couldn’t think of any.

Note: I’m not referring to a phrase or sentence directed at an individual or at a group of people (eg you ***** ****ing **** of a ***** ******, you *********), but any single word.  Do individual words have this much power?  If so, which ones?

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Posted: 25 May 2007 11:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I know Barney Google’s Snuffy Smith was offended by the term “revenuer” just as I am by “debt collector”.  Even “creditor” causes momentary anguish.

revenuer: 1. Informal A government agent in charge of collecting revenue, especially one responsible for halting the unlawful distilling or bootlegging of alcohol.

Some words are so offensive I’ve expunged them from my mind, like Internal Revenue Service Tax Audit. Ouch, that hurts just saying it. My Ex used to use certain words that I found offensive. In part, her inability to keep a civil tongue was why we broke up. “Little man” seemed to come up in her vocabulary once in a while. After that, asshole, fucker, idiot, shit-head, and loser didn’t bother me so much. Sorry, I left out bastard. She had a colorful yet crude panoply of expressionism.

[ Edited: 26 May 2007 12:07 AM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 26 May 2007 03:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Eliza, am I correct in thinking you mean “are there words that offend you when you hear them spoken, rather than when they are addressed to you”?
There are a few words that I would be shocked to be called (even if the person speaking to me had no malicious intent), but none I can think of that would cause a sharp intake of breath if heard in passing.  Perhaps that’s just from years of working on building sites.

On the subject of the former, I remember a Nepalese friend being shocked on hearing a certain word used in the street.  I asked what the matter was and was puzzled on being told that someone had called someone else a “tortoise”.  It was then explained to me that to call someone a tortoise was to say that their wife or husband was being unfaithful to them.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’m not offended by the standard “curse words,” but ethnic slurs do offend me.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Eliza, am I correct in thinking you mean “are there words that offend you when you hear them spoken, rather than when they are addressed to you”?

What I said was:

Note: I’m not referring to a phrase or sentence directed at an individual or at a group of people ... but any single word.  Do individual words have this much power?  If so, which ones?

Spoken or written, which words - if any - are offensive to you?  And, if you care to elaborate, why?

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Posted: 26 May 2007 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I was going to say that no word, in and of itself, offended me, but then I thought of cunt. Use of the word makes me distinctly uneasy. It’s purely an emotional reaction. There is no logical reason why this word should offend while similar ones do not. (Perhaps “shock” is a more apt word than “offend.")

I think I have this reaction because the word is relatively rare. One doesn’t encounter it all that often. (How many films can you think of that used the word cunt? There are a few, but compare it to fuck.) As a result, it has retained its power to shock. As an insult, it retains its power--compare calling someone a cunt to calling someone a dick; both mean essentially the same thing and both refer to genitalia, yet cunt is far more odious. One might jokingly call your best friend a dick; one would never use cunt in that manner. And I can’t think of situation where the literal use could not be substituted with vagina or one of the countless euphemisms unless one’s intent was to be hard-edged and shocking.

But, as you can see, the word doesn’t shock me to the point where I can’t conduct an intelligent conversation about it.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I was working in London the first time I heard a man call another man a “stupid cunt” and it made me laugh. I hate to be so clichéd, but words don’t offend me. People offend me.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Ethnic slurs offend me—in most contexts. I thought Dave Chappell was quite good at using them affectively in his performances.

I have never understood why anyone is offended by the occasional meaningless expletive. I have never quite got a grip on this.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dave Wilton - 26 May 2007 06:33 AM

(How many films can you think of that used the word cunt? There are a few, but compare it to fuck.)

Yes, I’ll always remember how shocked I was on seeing The Exorcist and hearing the young girl (well, the demon speaking through her) saying, “Do you know what she did to me, your cunting daughter?”.

Notable as well for the comparatively rare usage, cunting.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’m never offended by a particular word (neither Dutch nor English or any other language) used in speach or writing. That doesn’t mean I can’t be offended.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Notable as well for the comparatively rare usage, cunting.

Obviously you’ve never worked on a building site, aldi. I did, long ago, on Merseyside. “cunt” and “fuck” together, in all their variations, accounted for about one-half of all the spoken words. They served as roots for nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, interjections, gerunds, just about anything. I’ll never forget the occasion when I prematurely let fall my side of a rather heavy concrete slab, while my mate’s fingertips were still under it. The slab fell about half an inch. There was a silence of about two seconds, while he drew his fingers from under, looking me in the eye the while: then I heard the single word, almost whispered: “cunt”. Not even an exclamation mark. Winston Churchill couldn’t have said it more eloquently.

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Posted: 26 May 2007 04:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I have always been offended by the word “motherfucker” (Or is it considered to still be two words? I see it spelled as one more than two, I think.). I feel it to be the most vile word in the English language. It still makes me cringe when I hear it, even as old as I am.

I can’t think of another word that bothers me very much.

[ Edited: 26 May 2007 04:12 PM by Eyehawk ]
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Posted: 27 May 2007 06:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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There’s a wonderful scene in the first season of The Wire (an HBO* series that is my pick for best television show ever, bar none). In it, two detectives are combing an old murder scene looking for the fatal bullet which was never found. For several minutes they are seen going over every inch of the room, a kitchen, silent except every few seconds one or the other mutters “fuck” under his breath. After about forty or fifty “fucks,” they realize the bullet has ricocheted and is lodged inside the door of the refrigerator. One of the detectives then says in a loud voice, “motherfucker!”

It’s a brilliant crescendo of obscenity.

*ObForFurriners: HBO is an American premium cable TV network.

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Posted: 27 May 2007 09:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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None, really, but excessive use of ‘fucking’ depresses me because it devalues its power as an intensifier. “The fucking fucker’s fucking fucked.” I heard someone say this of a lawnmower.
In a Donald E Westlake novel I forget the name of there is a black character who calls himself Rastus because he knows absolutely everyone will be uncomfortable using it.

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Posted: 27 May 2007 01:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Bastard hurts my feelings.

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Posted: 29 May 2007 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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venomousbede - 27 May 2007 09:46 AM

In a Donald E Westlake novel I forget the name of there is a black character who calls himself Rastus because he knows absolutely everyone will be uncomfortable using it.

Sorry, cultural difference or I’ve just missed it - why would that make anyone feel uncomfortable? (Unless its because its like rasta - which I’ve never considered offensive)

As for the rest - nothing offends me as just a word but the application of racial slurs like ‘paki’ do. (We’ve been here before but I find ‘wog’ applied to a person highly offensive too, though I know there are people on this board whose experience of it is as a mild word)

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