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Why are bad words bad?


Kotro
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"Why are bad words bad" is the most recent vlog posted in the Vsauce YouTube channel, featuring  neuropsychologist and English Literature bachelor Michael Stevens. If you don't know it yet I highly recommend you subscribe it, as I find it the best channel for anyone who considers himself curious about the world we live in.

Anyway, the video in question gives an overview of what makes a "bad word", how the concept and the words have evolved, and what that says about the human race. As always with is videos, it's great food for thought, so I think you will enjoy it as well.

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Interesting video.

I think bad words are bad words for the same reason bad actions are bad actions. It's mostly just a social thing, and if society decides that a certain word or action is bad, they decide to make a rule and prohibit the use of the word.

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I always subscribed to the theory that bad words are defined by the person saying the word AND the person hearing it. Sometimes these definitions are not the same. Sometimes the person saying the word intended something the person hearing it was not privy to.

I feel like this really complicates things like, say, a family of Christians who do not swear but use 'a$$' (as in donkey) while reading the Bible aloud. The definition and intent of the word not being bad in this instance because it means donkey. For the person not privy to the animal definition they may just take something different from:

And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass...
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Because some words are just meant to insult or curse the person the same way that there are words that praise or make the person feel good, so l think that that's their purpose, to convey the negative message across to the other person. It's like the negative equivalent of "good job" or "thank you."

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I would think the reason some people use bad words are trying to be cool or when they are mad, whom they would want to show their anger in front of people. I think as long as you don't use them too much and too often because people use bad words all the time, which I have gotten over it a long time ago.

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What may seem right to one person, may directly hurt someone else. For that reason therefore, society defines boundaries which shouldn't be crossed [although this doesn't work most of the time] because doing so could infringe on the rights of someone, humiliate or offend them. Such words therefore, which may be "dirty," insulting or refer to something disgusting [like body waste] have to be classified as "bad."

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I'm reminded of a great monologue by comedian Lenny Bruce, which I would like to reproduce here, but I'm afraid some people might take offence (which was his point), so I blanked the lettering. It contains a lot of racial slur. Highlight if you want to read.

"Are there any niggers here tonight? Could you turn on the house lights, please, and could the waiters and waitresses just stop serving, just for a second? And turn off this spot. Now what did he say? "Are there any niggers here tonight?" I know there's one nigger, because I see him back there working. Let's see, there's two niggers. And between those two niggers sits a kyke. And there's another kyke— that's two kykes and three niggers. And there's a spic. Right? Hmm? There's another spic. Ooh, there's a wop; there's a polack; and, oh, a couple of greaseballs. And there's three lace-curtain Irish micks. And there's one, hip, thick, hunky, funky, boogie. Boogie boogie. Mm-hmm. I got three kykes here, do I hear five kykes? I got five kykes, do I hear six spics, I got six spics, do I hear seven niggers? I got seven niggers. Sold American. I pass with seven niggers, six spics, five micks, four kykes, three guineas, and one wop. Well, I was just trying to make a point, and that is that it's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. Dig: if President Kennedy would just go on television, and say, "I would like to introduce you to all the niggers in my cabinet," and if he'd just say "nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger" to every nigger he saw, "boogie boogie boogie boogie boogie," "nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger" 'til nigger didn't mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school."

- Lenny Bruce

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I don't have a problem with bad words as much as I have a problem with the intentions behind them. If they are used for fun, I would let it slide. It would only be when used to dehumanize someone would I have a problem with it, and even then I know that the word only has as much power as the "victim" gives it.

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I'm reminded of a great monologue by comedian Lenny Bruce. . .

I totally agree with that appraisal. Suppression of a word gives power to the one who intends to use it against another in derogatory terms. Heck, a word [especially racial slurs] are just freaking words! I remember reading a Samuel L Jackson interview just before Django Unchained was released and the interviewer asked him about Tarantino's usage of the "N" word. Probably they expected him to sugar-coat it. This was the response he got:

"If you're going to deal with the language of the time, you deal with the language of the time. And that was the language of the time. I grew up in the South. I heard 'nigger' all my life. I'm not disturbed by it."

Hmmm? Would you, in such a situation say a bad word had been used?

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I don't have a problem with bad words as much as I have a problem with the intentions behind them. If they are used for fun, I would let it slide. It would only be when used to dehumanize someone would I have a problem with it, and even then I know that the word only has as much power as the "victim" gives it.

This is precisely why it's perceived as bad. Swearing at someone usually means you're angry with them, want to hurt them, or want them to feel bad. Same goes for slurs and derogatory speech. Dehumanizing is indeed a serious offence, especially when the victim is already part of a marginalized group. People within a marginalized group often reclaim slurs for themselves, such as "nigger/nigga" reclaimed by the Black community in America, "queer" reclaimed by the LGBT+/GSRM communities. But that doesn't stop it from hurting when people outside the groups still use the words with antagonistic intentions. :(

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Some words have merely been suppressed to the extent that their meaning and usage has gained negative connotations. Using words like gay, retard etc as insults are examples of that.

On the other hand, some bad words are just bad words because they aim to insult the person hearing them. Simple.

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They are only bad because people made them out to be. You can say bad things to people but as long as they are not the perceived "bad" words, they are more tolerable but in reality these words mean the same only in a different word. It's not really "bad", it's just another way of expressing dissatisfaction.

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That channel looks interesting, thanks!

Bad words often have a very long and complex history, they have a sort of dark cloud above them, negative connotations. It's a matter of culture, displayed by the fact that a word to some may be completely fine, while to others it can be the worst(as also shown in some borrowed words in European languages)

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