What’s in a word?

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The Commentator
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History has shown the word is a powerful weapon

When it is coupled with FUCKING (or the ‘F’ word) it becomes doubly shocking.

There is an argument that certain words are beyond the pale and that using them demeans that person.
Yet there is also an argument that they are, at the end of the day, just words, with their meanings changing over time, and that you lose their true shock value by censoring them out of reports.

 

On June 24 police officers in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, were sacked because of conversations that had been accidentally recorded in a patrol car.

They used the worst word in the English language – but was their offence being recorded doing it?

In the most egregious of the taped exchanges, one of the cops, boasting about plans to buy an assault rifle, said: “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them”.

This at least was how certain news outlets reported the incident.
What the policeman actually said was: “We are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them FUCKING NIGGERS.
The ‘N’ word originated in the 18th century as an adaptation of the Spanish negro, a descendant of the Latin adjective niger, which means black.
Other media services, including the Washington Post, censored themselves in a different way, by replacing the slur at the end with “f…… n……”.
Readers have the vocabulary clearly in their minds (which is the intention), yet they have also been treated as too delicate to handle it – in many ways it is the worst of all options.
Philosophers of language distinguish between ‘mention’ and ‘use’ of words.
In this case, the American police officers USED the words, but those discussing the story were MENTIONING them.

 

It is the same with ‘FUCKING’.

As I’ve already said (or should that be ‘mentioned’!) listening to the conversation of teens that walk past my house the word is used in almost every sentence, as in:

“Fucking slow down!”.“Fucking speed up!”. “I fucking can’t walk that fast!”. “You fucking did last weekend!”. Oh, fuck off!”

Its most common usage now appears to be as a noun or verb in various phrases to express annoyance, contempt, or impatience.

In the 19th century being ‘gay’ meant something rather different

But is its use really so bad?

Many other words have changed their common usage over time, such as the word ‘gay’ for instance, which is now most commonly used as both a noun and adjective for homosexual people.

Yet in the 19th century ‘having a gay life’ was applicable to a woman engaged in prostitution, becoming an insult in the mid 20th century, with it transforming into a life that was happy and care free after that.

Being ‘gay’ is not something to hide from polite society now

By the late 20th century the word had reached its modern day meaning.

Four different people living at different times over the last 150 years will assign four different meanings to the same word!

Has the ‘F’ word also moved away from its vulgar slang expression, therefore making it wrong to classify its use as such, and is the ‘N’ word heading in that direction?

In places like the Welsh Parliament you cannot say the ‘F’ word

This is important for a number of reasons.

In schools, colleges, many workplaces, council chambers as well as the Welsh Parliament/Senedd Cymru, the ‘F’ word is still classified as swearing in whatever context it is used.

Saying it can result in disciplinary action.

‘WHY DID THEY USE THAT WORD?!’

It can make people uncomfortable too, when they hear people using the word liberally because it is associated more with vulgar slang than modern meanings.

It can even lead to hostile comments, such as: “stop swearing in front of xxx or else!”.

This whole debate is made even more complicated because it is so emotive – let me say now that I neither favour nor oppose re-classification, and personally I am in broad sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement because the evidence shows that the developed world especially (and America in particular) is inherently racist.

Book posterBut we need to talk about this – using WORDS…

 

The memories of our Editor Phil Parry’s astonishing 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the rare neurological disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!