The making of the R-word. Caution, language may offend

Good intention gone bad at the Bay State capital yesterday. Here is the amazing birth of the R-word.
Background: Several years ago I had the pleasure of listening to a radio program that brooched the topic of powerful words. The linguist, a riotously funny and incredibly resourceful gentleman who’s name escapes me, gave an insightful explanation of what gives words power and why. Our brains are wired to elevate words that are powerfully forbidden. If it’s bad, it’s powerful. The interviewer asked the linguist to name the most powerful word at the time. Fuck was and possibly still be the mother of all words. It actually came from an anacronym that went over a pillory in medieval times: “For Unnatural Carnal Knowledge” or “F.U.C.K. which identified the sins of an adulterer to those booing, hissing and throwing rotten vegetable (they liked to know what sin they were chucking at–particularly distateful actions resulted in really rotten veggies). The acronym became a word the word describing it it’s meaning then took off in the 20th century as a verb, noun, adverb, adjective, person, place and thing and most powerful of all, a resoundingly, shocking, satisfying expletive.
It’s not a word I hate. I admit I do use it and there are times it feels so good to just fire it off. I become annoyed to hear it used often, repeatedly and as part of someone’s everyday patois. It annoys me to see it posted on social network sites because it loses the impact, it’s bite. I find it rude and stupid as it demonstrates a real poverty much better words.
Here are some more forbidden words with powerful stings: the c-word. It’s really taboo in America but it’s vernacular in Great Britain, practically a term for a bosom buddy these days.
Words with God or Jesus attached to a swear, like God damn used to be pretty powerful but that is wearing off, it just doesn’t pack the punch it used to.
Many derogatory words are much more powerful today than they used to be. Words that were common and considered inoffensive: the n-word is waaaay off limits for white people–just ask John Meyer who has apologized a million times to no avail for a little slip in a narcissisticly ill-thought rant. In fact, his mea culpas are gasoline on the flame of what he has wrought with his lack of insight. My take is he’s getting what he deserves. Watch your mouth, you idiot!
Faggot, homo, dyke are insults but queer moved out of the shame barn and is widely used by the homosexual population although they admit to finding it offensive to be termed queer by the heteros. Heteros hate to be called queer by other heteros too, so it’s half-way out of the barn.
Words can move into the offensive categories by region unbeknownst to other parts of the country. Case and point: about two years ago during a conversation with my sister, a San Francisco PC thug, I was pointedly informed, “Oriental is a rug, people are Asian.” I didn’t know I meant Asian until I offended with Oriental.
The interviewer asked this gentleman if it would be possible to create a new word as powerful as the word fuck? He ruminated that it might but that would be highly unlikely. Fuck evolved and became weighted with a forbidden aura over a period of time. As a society, we decided to make it a bad thing. Which is evidently quite a good thing for preteens, angry people, angry drivers, comedians and people who like to fill in gaps in their everyday conversation with the f-word.
Words aren’t like articles of clothing or pieces of art that can be created. If you or I tried to make up a word and tell as many people as we could it was worse than the word fuck, we would be ridiculed. Words don’t work that way which I found fascinating. Are we all set with our George Carlin list of things we shouldn’t say? forever?
I’ve thought of this off and on since listening to the program and now I wish I had his name so I could let him know it is possible to create a taboo word! I witnessed the formula yesterday:
Gather a bunch of earnest do-gooders and make sure they bring a vulnerable group of victims to the State House in Boston, MA. Parade the victims as innocents who are deeply offended by a certain word. Set up four to five card tables with cheap, decorated posters. Lay out ten black markers on each table. Call in the media and announce you are going to petition to banish a word from use forever because it’s offensive.
Today’s evil, taboo word is Retarded. Make sure all the thirteen to fifteen year olds know it’s off limits wait about 2 minutes. You will not be able to not hear the word retarded.
Language is incredible. It is like the tide, words go in and out and they build up, tear down, teach, praise, destroy. They can be the most beautiful things and the most awful things because of what we attach to them. The show at the State House yesterday elevated a word that was actually beginning to phase out. “Retarded” did not wield any of the power it has now until the rally to get rid of it.
Words have very little meaning unless the receiver understands the intent behind them. Unfortunate the rally loaded up a tremendous give for those looking to be insulting, shocking, rude and harmful.
The honorable intentions of the State House rally widely missed the mark. The true bullseye is our growing lack of etiquette, our incredible insensitivity, our alarming lack of empathy. This demonstration to banish the R-word actually made a monster. Sorry you’re dead Mr. Carlin, I wonder how bad you would have made the the R-word sound at the end of your string of expletives?

About EF Sweetman

bees, baseball, beverly, ma, culture, manners, society, writing
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