“Bad Words”, Context & People

Do As I Say…

I felt like writing on this particular subject, based off interactions I’ve had with my mom in the past & through my observations of other people interactions/relationships with one another. While the topic has been on my mind for quite some time, what sparked me to finally write about it was my cousin Lauren. Lauren is 3 years old & as you can imagine, her vocabulary is quickly growing. Amongst those words is the word “butt”. Lauren has taken a liking to this word, partially due to her older brother Samuel laughing every time she says it, since she’s not supposed to say it. This word has been deemed a “bad word” by my grandmother who lives with Lauren, Samuel & my aunt. As you read the word, you may of thought to yourself, but “butt” is not a bad word, my sentiments exactly. Or maybe you didn’t & instead thought, my grandmother is the adult & that’s what goes. Don’t worry, I wrote this for all who fall somewhere on either end and between the spectrum. However, as some of you may know, there were a list of words that when growing up we weren’t supposed to say either. Some of you may do this with your own children, or those you reside over. Aside from the “curse/cuss/swear words” which we weren’t allowed to use growing up (which we will definitely get to), another word I was not supposed to say was “lie”. If I wanted to say someone fibbed or didn’t tell the truth when I was a child growing up, I had to say someone “told a story” instead of saying LIE. Lol, seriously, instead of using a word that literally means “an intentionally false statement” I was instructed to say someone told a story. It wasn’t until my mouth got washed out with soap that I realized I was really not suppose to say this around anyone who might punish me for saying it. I’ll never forget. My grandmother literally got some dial hand squeezed soap, put some in her hands, ran some water to get them soapy, then placed one in my mouth to scrub my tongue…. WHO DOES THIS!!!! Lol, I should have bit her hand, but that would have probably resulted in a whooping, which would of been way more damaging than just the after taste of soap, but she probably would have thought twice before doing that again, not that it ever happened again anyway. It wasn’t until around the 5th grade, that I started hearing more colorful words & realizing that these were the “bad words”, “curse words”, “cuss words”, “swear words”. As I entered into middle school, the words kept coming & the blank spaces began filling in for all these words:  a _ _ , b_ _ _ _ , c _ _ _ , d _ _ _ , f _ _ _ , h _ _ _ , p _ _ _ _ , s _ _ _ _, & any other words you could possibly think of, along with an assortment of other colorful ways to dress them up, such as the word jackass. (Forewarning, spaces will be filled in later on as we unravel some of this)

“Church Folks” 

Growing up in the bible belt, older folks are quick to throw the bible at you for things you do, or say things such as “thou shall not curse” or “don’t be swearing” in reference to hearing a “bad word” & attempt to crucify you. It wasn’t until a recent conversation with my mom, that I decided to ask her this question, which was, “What is a curse?”. I asked for a few reasons. One of them was because people go through such a fuss to tell you how bad a word is, yet you can hear those same words in movies & tv shows they watch, as well as music, but they still tune in or listen, yet some extremist can avoid particular music & tv shows if they really care that much(that’s a tad too much to me). Another reason I asked this was because the mere definition of a curse is – “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something“, as defined in the dictionary. So say I say something like “I hope you fall” or “I wish you were dead” or “You’ll end up broke soon”. Those could all be classified as curses, according to the definition. People curse everyday & don’t even realize it, every time they speak negative in regards to someone, hoping something goes wrong in other people lives, or that some misfortune falls upon them. However, I don’t think most people think of it like that, or maybe they do. Anyway, there’s this aunt of mine, not Lauren’s mom, but another aunt. Lol, I won’t say her name, but she is 1 of my many aunts (because I could have this debate with quite a few of them), whom told me that “no, those words I used earlier with the space marks” that have been defined by society (because we base everything off popular opinion) are in fact bad words/ curse words. Ironically, she uses them too. I asked her jokingly, because I knew her opinion could not be changed, but hopefully her perspective broadened, “does the context in which something is said not mean anything?”. Her response was”no, because you don’t have to use those words”. She gave an answer that supported her stance & allowed her to maintain not agreeing with mine.  Being the person I am though & feeling the way I do in regards to this topic, I did some snooping. I searched the bible, as well as other religious documents, in attempt to find something that clearly states & outline which words specifically, are “bad words”. My results were- There is NO GOLDEN LIST. Also, for my biblical crusaders, such as my aunt, I’ve done the liberty of performing a quick google search for you, in regards to “what does the bible say about cursing” (https://www.openbible.info/topics/using_profanity . It list quite a few bible scriptures, outling specifics in regards to cursing & using profanity. Remember the question I posed to my aunt about context? Well context goes hand in hand with what the scriptures say, at least that was the correlation I was able to arrive at, after interpreting & seeking to understand just what was meant by that.

Can I Get a Side of Context With That?

Looking at this from the perspective of my little cousin, who used the word “butt” in reference to her bottom (the word my grandma told me she’s allowed to say) & me using the word “lie” in reference to saying something someone had said at the time that was untrue, I realized both me & my cousin didn’t mean anything harmful by our usage of words. However, given how words make us feel, due to society’s mixed opinions about words, backed by years & years of reinforcement, through child rearing or some other form of punishment for misappropriate usage & brainwashing us to believe what is appropriate & what is not, based off how we feel from hearing certain words, I could see how some people are the way they are. As we continue, I want to clarify that I’m not writing about this  because I believe adults shouldn’t have authority over children or that children should disobey their parents & elders. I’m writing about this because when I questioned some of the defenders (my mother, aunt & even grandmother) of this system about “bad words”, their answers didn’t provide factual evidence to support their point of view. From what is a curse, to what is this list of bad words, to my aunt’s viewpoint on context being irrelevant since we could use other words. Their responses were based off how they were raised & what they were taught to believe & more than anything, “because I said so”. However, I believe it is our responsibility to question things sometimes, not to defy authority or be disrespectful, but to seek a deeper understanding especially when you disagree with something & want to understand someone’s else point of view, as well as explain ours (although, we should all know how hard it is to get people to listen to view points other than theirs). So by adding context & seeing the full picture, we’re able to have a better understanding, eliminating what we want to assume by singling out & attacking specific pieces. I mean, I don’t just go around talking to people like “Fuck you bitch, die muthafucka die”. I told you they were coming without the spaces lol. Now that we’ve crossed that threshold… I want to share a few scenarios that I shared with some friends & family, as a sort of exercise to help give them another perspective & show how, in my opinion, context is more important than the word itself.

Scenario – Someone has an upcoming birthday & you’ve been charged with a very important task. It could be getting the birthday cake & bringing it, hiring a performer, reserving a venue, whatever you choose to use, but regardless, it is something crucial that is needed to make the party a success. The day of the event comes & for some reason (too busy, wrong address given, wrong cake ordered, whatever reason you choose) you forgot or something doesn’t turn out how it was supposed to turn out. However, you’re not the only person who notices this. Someone else who knew you were tasked with this important task notices & scolds you. They say-

“How could you be so forgetful, like are you stupid or something? You had 1 task & you couldn’t even do that. I swear, life would be so much better without you”

Ouch… that’s pretty tough for someone to say & even tougher to intake. However, there is an alternative ending to our scenario in which case you do come through & that same person says-

“You’re the fucking man/woman, like I don’t know what the hell we would do without you! You always come through”

Now between the 2 responses, 1 of them has a negative psychological effect & the other has a positive effect. Why is that though? Context is why. The manner in which these words were constructed & used illustrates clearly that 1 sentence was meant to put down someone, while the other was used to uplift. Yet, there are still those who would argue that those words are still bad. Why though, we’ve already proved there isn’t a golden cheat sheet of words written in stone that say “THESE WORDS SHALL NOT BE SAID”. So unless it’s in your head, which it probably is, there really isn’t such a thing. Another example is in sports.

Scenario- It’s basketball practice & guys or ladies are supposed to be running sprints, in which case the coach might say “Damn, let’s move it y’all, today”. Is the use of the word “damn” a bad thing in this scenario? You be the judge since we know the context in which it’s being used.

The last example comes from a group text message that I’m in with some of my friends.

Scenario- I was out with my uncle & aunt at a French restaurant. My uncle decided to order some Escargot (a French delicacy, also known as cooked snail) & I decided to share the picture with them to which I got a response of “Hell naw” lol.

unnamed -I only had 1 of these too, just to say I tried it.

That doesn’t sound bad either does it? However, if you heard a little kid using the word hell, you might look at them funny or if it were your own child, you might tell them not to say that, but why? Is it just because you said so, or were they using the word out of context, in which case no, they probably shouldn’t be using it. I ask these things, because if grammar classes can stress the importance of sentence structure, subject & verb/noun agreements, compound sentences, metaphors, similes, etc, they should be able to explain context as well. Although, I don’t believe it rest solely on just schools to teach them that, but also parents & family to explain subtle differences during times when words may come up. That way there is a clear understanding, instead of just saying it’s a bad word. The truth is, any word can be a bad word, if intended & used frequently enough to cause psychological impact on a person or group of people. Hence the N* word. It has been used for centuries as a mechanism to degrade people & cause psychological damage upon them hearing this. That’s why people are so triggered whenever it is said. I mentioned to my mom & others that words such as “gangster”, “thug”, “hoodlum”, “terrorist”, could all be classified as “bad words”, depending on who’s on the receiving end of them. What about calling someone “ugly” or “fatty”? People call other people these words to the extent that it begins to have a negative influence on them. Are those words I just used “bad words” though? Depends on who you ask. I could go on & on with scenarios, but the point I wanted to stress was the context in which something was said & how it could be interpreted vs. what was actually meant.

The 1 Behind The Madness, People

As I conclude, I want to say that people will continue to classify certain words as “bad words” & act just as my grandmother, mother & aunt have in dealing with certain situations. Do I agree? No, but I also understand their point of view. My mother actually acknowledged after 1 of our conversations that what we were having, that it actually made sense, but yet it still made her cringe somewhat if I said 1 of the “bad words” she was accustomed to (ironically a Samuel L Jackson movie was on at the same time LMAO). I can also mention the word lie around my grandmother now & it’s no problem smh. I know that me now being an adult, more so a teenager at the time, caused this shift in behavior, but it’s still mind-boggling, because the word itself has not changed nor has the meaning, only my age. I still use it the same way, as I intended & used it many years ago. Moving forward though, I think people should take time to explain to children, as well as fellow adult peers, the proper usage of words & how context plays an important role. Does that mean that once context is understood we can just use them to our disposal, I don’t think so. If that was the case, people would use the N* word freely without fear of repercussion, but given the centuries of usage & the psychological effect it has plagued so many people minds with, it would take just as long I feel to render that word powerless too. The same can be said for the F* word in the LGBT communities & how it might make them feel, but those are topics for another day. Today was merely about context & 1 man’s opinion about “bad words” & how we play an important part in helping break down false narratives of words, simply from hearing them, but not acknowledging their usage. I would like to thank you for taking time to read this & I hope you have a fucking awesome day!


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