Before I get into what I want to talk about I just want to say… I’ve started to get a tiny bit more traffic on this blog than I think I’ve ever had, which is both exciting and a little scary. So a bit later I’m going to attempt to put up a basic commenting policy. Don’t worry, I’m not going to operate this blog like a fascist… yet… 😛 . Just some basic decency and respect stuff, why I always moderate first-time posters, and so on. Just something to refer too. The policy will probably get more stringent if activity/readership goes up, but we’ll start basic and easy.
The traffic is also a small inspiration (among one or two other ones) for what I want to write about here.
I want to start with a content warning: this post discusses cussing as well as slurs, especially ableist slurs, specifically the word “stupid”. I do use a lot of these words in this post. I actually dwell on the word “stupid” for a while. I ask that before passing judgment on my writing here, you read the whole thing, because it is meant to be an illustration of how I realized I was wrong, not an excuse for why I used words like “stupid” and why I want to continue using them (I don’t, BTW). Please feel free in your comments to use the words/slurs as well, as long as they are used in the context of illustrative purposes and so people have a reference as to what slur you’re talking about. So… warning: (discussion of) strong language ahead.
Language use has actually become a bit fascinating to me. It’s largely born out of my promise not to use the word “stupid” again. I’m trying to apply that not just on my blog, but in my personal life, as well. Doing so has been a heck of a fascinating exercise for me. I’ve also, especially recently, been called out on my use of crass language on this blog and online in general, as well as in meatspace… I cuss like a sailor, to be honest. “Fuck” and “shit” are, apparently, my two favorite words (and I wouldn’t be surprised to find, if I were to do a word count, that this was actually the case 😀 ).
Indeed… “fuck” was essentially my first word. Basically, when I was still in my baby seat, we were on the highway when a truck started passing us. I was trying to say “truck”. What ended up coming out of my mouth started out as “ffff”… “kkkkk”. That repeated a bit until I, with the air of someone having a “eureka!” moment, shouted “fuck”, and then chanted it over and over again for the longest time. Mom and Dad were laughing so hard they had to pull over.
I mean… okay… my first word was something more like “mah” or something like that, but then I never understood why we count those as “words” when they’re obviously just sounds the baby’s making that we associate with “mom” and “dad” due to audio pareidolia and/or perhaps wishful thinking. A baby’s first word should be, like, an actual word, not just a sound that resembles a word. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the words “mah” & “pah” and “mama” & “dada” were basically added to the dictionary because babies make those sounds and there was audio pareidolia all over the place. In other words, “mah” and “pah” may just essentially be mondegreens born out of baby gibberish.
So it’s probably not a stretch from that to me cussing like a sailor today. Originally I tried limiting my cussing to only when I’m angry, but then it just sort of morphed and cuss words just became an everyday part of my vocabulary, largely because they’re just so good at describing things. For example… I love “bullshit” in reference to things that are clearly false because saying “clearly false” just feels like too much of an understatement in these cases. Something that’s bullshit is beyond being just “clearly false”; it’s a blatant and obvious lie. “Shit” is the perfect descriptor of something that’s just really bad, and “fuck” is great on two levels:
a) It describes a form of sex (“sometimes, people just wanna fuck”)
b) For some strange reason it’s just the perfect short-hand exclamation for “I’m pissed off!” How a word meaning “sex” became such a good exclamation of anger is probably a fascinating and revealing story… 😀
The thing is, there are people who look down on cussing. For a lot of people, cussing in everyday language is just wrong. It’s considered “lowbrow”, like, if you had any self-respect or basic knowledge, you wouldn’t need to cuss.
I disagree with this highly. I don’t like the idea that the words you use can tell others about who you are and your class and your intelligence and your maturity and so on. Indeed, to me that viewpoint is classist, ableist, racist, ageist, and even sexist… just bigoted all around, really. So that’s how I generally feel about people who complain about “too much cussing”.
But then… does cussing really get across a point?
If you‘re really angry, I really do think it can. Honestly, when I’m mad, cussing just makes me feel better. I actually feel like the words themselves just release some of that anger. Like, when I use a cuss word when mad, I can actually feel a tiny bit of that anger leaving me as the cuss word does. Cussing is useful, and I do think reasonable, when you’re angry. Because when you’re angry, tone is the last thing on your mind. When you’re angry, being “nice” or “temperate” or “not alienating people” is simply not important to you. When you’re angry, you just want the world to know why you’re angry. I think cussing when you’re angry is a basic human right, in fact. I wish more people cussed when they were angry.
But what about when you’re not angry? What about when you’re just joking around or just having a casual conversation where anger really isn’t there?
My understanding of the language I use is constantly evolving, and the same holds true in this case. I think that, maybe, I do cuss too much. I think I overdo it, and that it dilutes my message too much sometimes. So I think maybe it’s time I started practicing self-censorship.
I’ve already started, in a way. I don’t use racial slurs. Indeed… using them is really out of sight, out of mind for me. I cringe, even get mad, when I hear them, and using them myself is almost alien. Using them is like a chore. I found excising gendered slurs almost as easy. I used words like “bitch” and “cunt” and “dick” and “prick” and “slut” and so on, but when I decided to temper and then stop my use of them, I never missed them…
This one has proven to be a struggle for me, because “stupid” is a word I used all the time. I honestly probably used it more than I use any cuss word. And it’s largely because I honestly can’t think of any better word to describe willful or otherwise inexcusable (that is, with no excuse) ignorance. How else would you describe walking into a Kentucky Fried Chicken, staring at the menu for five minutes, then asking for a hamburger and getting angry when you’re told that they don’t have hamburgers (working for a KFC-wannabe chain called Mrs. Winner’s, I got this a lot)… or… really… any of these…?
I had already, long before, excised words like “retarded” from my vocabulary because that was always obviously ableist. But it had never been obvious to me that “stupid” was ableist simply because I didn’t associate the word with “disabled”. To me, “stupid” was synonymous with “ignorant”. I didn’t consider someone who I thought of as “stupid” to be in any sort of way disabled, mentally or otherwise. I didn’t associate it that way. To me, a “stupid person” was someone who just didn’t think a lot. They would ask questions with answers so blatantly obvious you’d find yourself incapable of answering because your jaw’s hit the floor and you can’t pick it back up (like “why doesn’t KFC sell hamburgers?”… because it’s not called Kentucky Fried Hamburgers). Stupid people, in my mind, did and said and asked the kinds of things where the only response you could muster is “duh!”
Like Creationists. I had always considered Creationists, for example, to be stupid, because the idea itself was, in my mind, stupid. Same went for conspiracy theorists (Truthers, Birthers, etc.), like Alex Jones, and flat-earthers, and so on.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is that “stupid” was such an integral part of my vocabulary that giving it up is honestly hard. There’s a hole where the word used to be. I still find it near impossible to think of Creationists and flat-earthers and conspiracy theorists and people who go to KFC for a hamburger and so on as anything other than “stupid”.
But the thing is, I was wrong. Stupid is an ableist slur. So excising it is something I must do. And honestly, my quest for non-ableist replacement words has been fun, because it’s actually helped to expand my vocabulary. Thanks to people at Atheism+, I’ve started replacing “stupid” with words like careless, thoughtless, hasty, rash, impulsive, foolish, ill-considered, asinine, absent-minded, irrational, credulous, fatuous, inane, inappropriate, ill advised, poorly conceived, silly… and also phrases like “well that was clever”… actually, I’ve decided to steal one from one of my educators on this topic that I like a lot: “shining beacons of cluefulness”, and also “shining beacons of rationality”… really, the whole “shining beacon(s) of…” is just rife with snarky sarcasticness, which I do so adore. 😀
Indeed, there’s a very good list, and a rather amazing discussion about this kind of thing, here. I know! It’s frickin’ Reddit! Reddit! But it’s actually the “Shit Reddit Says” discussion group, which is described as “a progressive-oriented forum for discussing issues of social justice. Our goal is to foster a welcoming space for the perspectives of minorities and marginalized people.” So it’s one of the good places on Reddit.
Actually, searching for new, better, less inherently bigoted words can be fun if you’re willing to put in the work.
Here’s a challenge to my readers: Try excising from your vocabulary a word you use a lot for about a week. I’d recommend a bigoted slur, myself, but you can use whatever. Try to find synonyms that mean exactly the same thing, and use those instead. Growing your vocabulary in this way is actually kind of fun! Who knows… if you do use traditionally bigoted slurs (bitch, cunt, slut, whore, dick, prick, stupid, retarded, moronic, dumb, gay, fag, etc.), maybe you’ll discover how much fun it is to get rid of them and find non-bigoted replacements. I’m finding it fun, anyways…
As to the general cussing… so I’m going to start tempering my use of them. I’m not getting rid of them completely. I do think there are times when they are useful (especially with anger). But I also use them way too much. So I’m going to cut back. I’m also seriously considering going through all my old posts here and excising the cuss words I feel are simply out-of-place.
Language can be a fascinating thing, and expanding your vocabulary can be so much fun.
I’m doing it! And it’s rewarding!
Will you join me?