Lately, I've been thinking a lot about cuss words and the role they play in our lives--how they came to be, the morality of them, their role in humanity. From my thoughts, I've come to a few conclusions.
- They are almost always monosyllabic. Other than combinations, the only two cuss words I can think of with more than one syllable are "nigger" and "bastard". The simple harshness and tendency to focus around "ih" (as in: "bitch", "shit", "tits", "piss") and "uh" (as in: "fuck", "cunt") with fricative, non-voiced consonants are most likely the causes for certain words being labeled as cuss words, as opposed to their alternatives. Take for example, "cunt". It just sounds more cut-throat than "vagina". Similarly, "shit" is more harsh than "feces" or "poop", and "tits" is much more derogatory than "breasts". Which leads me to conclude that:
- The value of a cuss word is not in its meaning, but its phonetics. "Shit" means the exact same thing as "dung". So why is one taboo? Why is one more derogatory than the other? Why do we have a double-standard for language? Honestly, I'm not an expert on etymology--I can't explain to you how denotation and connotation formed around certain forms of human expression. However, I can tell you:
- It is connotation that is taboo, not denotation. "Shit" is fricative. "Shit" is insulting. "Shit" is bleeped out on radio and television. "Shit" does not have the same connotation as "poop", in spite of their mutual definition. Don't get me wrong, an underlying taboo definition needs to exist in order for something to be labeled as a cuss word. Although phonetically, "pick" would be a wonderful insult, it is not and never will be because it does not mean anything with the potential to insult. Similarly, "shunt", although it sounds like a cuss word, will never be anything other than a mechanism for turning or thrusting aside. Because cuss words are inherently based on connotation, and not all cuss words have a denotation that is "bad", I analyzed my personal moral code and system of ethics and concluded that:
- Not all cuss words are "bad". I've been doing a lot of analysis on my moral code--where I derive my system of ethics. After an immense amount of thought, I realize that my morality is contingent on survival, justice, and the pursuit of things that make me happy. As long as it is not an infringement on those three tenants, I see no reason why I should exclude a word from my language. The point of using a cuss word in diction is to make a point, to draw attention to an idea, and to offend. There are points that I need to make, ideas that need to be attended to, and very rarely, people that are so offensive to my happiness and justice that they need to receive offense. However, it should be noted that:
- Some cuss words are "bad". Some cuss words do infringe on justice. Namely, cuss words that discriminate on a group of people based on things outside their control. "Fag" and "nigger" are absolutely unacceptable. Under no circumstances, except perhaps in quotation as I use them in this blog post would I ever use either of those words because race, gender, and sexuality are not causes for insult. It. Is. Not. Just. That said,
- Censorship creates cuss words. Censorship gives a connotation to the denotation and separates humanity from animals. Language, and the exclusion of it, represents each individual's ethical complex, whether it be based in aspects of society, religion, survival, or in some place the individual cannot identify.
- Human expression is humanity. In depriving people of their media of expression, people are deprived of the very thing that makes them human. If you deprive a cuss word of its denotation, you deprive words of their expression. They only convey a small part of the entire idea. In 1984, how were the masses controlled? Through control of language in Newspeak's simplification. Yes, cuss words are harsh. They are insulting. They are absolutely offensive. But without the potential to be harsh, insulting, or offensive, we would not have the potential to be human.
- Language is incredibly beautiful and diverse. There are many more ways to dish out an insult or make a point than using conventional cuss words. "Impudent stumpet". "Where will thou find a cavern dark enough to mask thy monstrous visage?" Biting your thumb. Cuss words, for the most part, are beautiful and defining. But as far as insults go, your options aren't limited. Take a cue from Shakespeare if you're stumped.
I really appreciate you taking the time to read this, and I'm interested in your thoughts on profanity, so leave them in the comments. Also, I fucking love you.
**Sorry if you just read that, Mom and Dad... I haven't gone off the deep end, I'm just making a moral statement. And I promise that outside this blog post, I'm much more likely to use a Shakespearean insult than a modern cuss word.