A Defence of the Offensive


The following write-up consists of a one-sided discussion on language, in general, and what may be termed as bad,or offensive language,in particular. Those of the weak heart or conviction or totally disinterested in approaching a line of reasoning with an open mind are not required to grace this page with their views.

So, bottom line, if swear words hurt your eyes, you may want to stop reading sometime around…now.

Still here?
Well you asked for it…

“The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.”

Well,that was Sigmund Freud for you.

Offensive langauge?

The term, of course, is highly subjective. As a culture and/or a community we are all in general agreement as to which words are ‘swear’ words and which ones aren’t. But as to whether a word or a phrase is derogatory or not is a matter of personal judgement because, at face value, only the individual can be offended by it.

Human beings,as Timothy Jay notes in an article of the Association of Psychological Science’s Perspectives on Psychological Science (2009), swear-and they do so quite consistently throughout their lifetimes.It is almost a universal constant in their lives.As studies have shown(2009), we swear, at an average, for 0.3% to 0.7%  of the total time of our overall speech- which may seem tiny but  is quite significant(in contrast with the fact that major pronouns occur at about the rate of 1.0%).

Then, in spite of all this, why are  profanities still considered a major stigma and, essentially, a taboo?
It is arguable that my question itself offers its answer that they are not taken into consideration because they are ‘profane’ and hence, offensive and not fit to be dabbled in.

But the fact is that their ‘obscene’ facet is overshadowing the genuinely positive effects of, to be blunt, swearing.

Yes, you read it right- positive,like beneficial?

That is exactly what it is,even with us not realising it. In the form of jokes and humor, sex talk, storytelling, self-deprecation or even social commentary it provides a platform like no other. Imagine when you want to highlight how great you feel something is, a swear word emphasizes the positive feelings you have for that object, situation, person or event (“This concert is fucking awesome!”). Sure, we could just say “This concert is awesome,” but the addition of the swear word underscores the emotional reaction we have toward it — and easily conveys that to others.

In fact if you think it over,is it possible for a word to be obscene in itself? No word has any meaning except what is given to it by the speaker or hearer. It is the very act of declaring a word to be offensive which makes it offensive. Some may say that the obscenity lies in the thing named. Surely,no sensible person would dare say that sex in itself is obscene, for it is a liberating and wholesome experience; nor are our excretory functions any more obscene- they are an integral and important part and parcel of us living healthier and hence, essentially, happier lives.

Popular culture, fortunately, has helped in desensitizing quite a few of these terms. One now uses them with people in varying situations without either even managing to register it as an ‘offensive’ word/phrase.Others, however, haven’t been so lucky. Films haven’t adopted them, we don’t hear much of them on TV, so they still retain much of their special ‘power’. *wink*

The print and the internet media too are slowly beginning to see how the use of euphemisms or coy acrobatics to refer to words that are essential to their stories make them read as if they were time capsules written decades ago, forcing us all into wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory and inherently cheat the reader of proper and precise news coverage.

So going back to where I started, if the decision of whether something is offensive or not is ours entirely I wonder what would happen if we decided one day that no words were offensive.. If no-one minded being called an arsehole, then the word would lose its impact, and would no longer be an insult.

One could argue that the best way to eradicate all offensive language is to stop being offended by it.

And that’s what I’ll leave to you to think about.



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