Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bad Words

The subject of slur language was in the news again this week, and I heard two different NPR programs discussing the use of words like N****r and F****t. Ann Coulter, a conservative columnist and professing Christian, said this week, "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I -- so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards." Coulter claims that the F word has nothing to do with homosexuality, but is a "school yard taunt." Lovely.

Now for teenagers and young adults, the word "gay" has been generalized to cover anything that is annoying, weird, stupid, bad, etc. To most who use it, this is not a slur and usually has nothing to do with homosexuality. The underlying problem is that for the words "gay" and "faggot" to be reduced to blanket insults, we have to have some underlying agreement that the words had negative meanings to begin with. No one ever says, "You're so gay! Why don't you come sit with us." Rather, they say, "You're so gay, stop annoying me."

The word "retarded" is used in a similar way, and in middle school I tried to remove it from my vocabulary, realizing that many people who have mentally challenged family members might be hurt by its use. When I became a counselor at camp, and started spending a week each summer with campers who have special needs, I realized that my love for those amazing people was incompatible with my use of that word. Describing people with special needs as "retarded" is inaccurate and offensive, and using it as a blanket term to mean stupid is an insult to everyone.

There is a belief in the Ancient world that to name something was to define it, and make it real. To this day, many Orthodox Jews do not tell anyone the name of a baby until the baby has gone through the naming ceremony, because to know the name is to have power over it. Obviously, words have some kind of significance.

In Japan, the green traffic lights are called aoii (which means blue/green) as opposed to midori (green, like the liquor); color is defined by language. Our attitudes are also defined by the words we chose. Words are forged into slurs when the fire of hate is placed on them. When we use words like nigger, faggot, slut, retard, and Jap, we are placing that hate onto another person. Ann Coulter claims that the Liberal definition of Christianity is that "everyone has to be nice to each other," but she seems to be forgetting that, those who say "I love God" and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. (1 John 4:20)

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