What’s So Bad About Bad Words? or A Philosophical Rant About Abstract Representations

I’ve been told all of my life that there is a list of words that are “bad”.  You know; the “bad words”- the ones we don’t say in polite company.  The more I think about it, the more I think that these words are only bad because someone told us they were bad and we believed them.  Prior to that, someone told the people that told us they were bad words and they believed them- ad infinitum.  I can only guess as to how these words came to be wrong to say.  Somewhere, the church (or some subset of the church) decided that if they were bad, they must be sinful words.  So now, we don’t use those words, because they are bad words.  But what makes them bad?

I think they are bad because of the same reason a lot of stuff is “bad”: tradition- someone told us they were bad because they were told they were bad, and we all believed it.

But are they really “bad” words?  I don’t think so.  I mean, they function perfectly well as words, so that can’t be what makes them bad.  We all recognize these words and agree on their meanings.  When someone says one of these words, most everyone understands what they mean.  And last time I checked, that’s what makes something a word, right; we all recognize it and agree on the meaning.  For instance, “plugh”-  No one knows what that is; no one recognizes it as a word, and no one knows what it means.  That is a bad word.  But the word “shit”- We all understand that one.  We all agree on its meaning.  Shit is a perfectly good word.

Maybe they are bad words because someone, or lots of someones, don’t like what the words mean.  That sounds plausible.  That’s what it is.  Yeah.  … No that can’t be it.  I know people who won’t say shit, but they will say crap, or poop, or excrement.  So it can’t be the meaning of the word that they don’t like.

So it has to be that they just don’t like those specific words because they are those words.

Here’s what I think.  Someone, somewhere along the way decided that the concepts these words depicted were bad concepts.  For instance, fuck means to have sex.  That someone, whoever he, she, or they were, didn’t like sex, so fuck became a bad word.  Shit means … well it means shit, and that someone didn’t like shit, so shit became a bad word.  I think it is ironic that it’s OK to have other words that mean the EXACT same thing, and it’s OK to use those words.  It’s just that particular combination of letters that people don’t like.  I can say ship, but if I change one little letter, it’s suddenly not acceptable.  Sounds suspect to me.  The logic doesn’t make sense.

Many people are offended if you use the words piss, hell, ass, or damn.  They are probably the same people that revere the King James version of the Bible.  Ironically, pisshellass, and damn are all used in the KJV.

If we were in the UK, I might get in trouble for saying bollocks.  I can say that all day long here in the US, and no one will ever bat an eye.  Why?  It’s the meaning and value that we assign to words.  Except not all of us have agreed to those values!  Americans obviously have no issue with the word bollocks because we haven’t agreed that it’s bad.

Back to this idea of substituting other words for bad words… Why is it OK to say friggin’ or freakin’, but not OK to say fuckin’?  Why is it Ok to say oh my gosh, but not oh my God?  Why is it Ok to say crap, poo and shiznit, but not shit?  Why is it OK to say bum, butt, rear end, or back side, but not ass?

I do think it is interesting that all of the “bad words” represent concepts that the church is not OK with on some level or another.  The church doesn’t like to acknowledge that people like, want, and need sex- fuck is a bad word.  The church doesn’t like to talk about bodily functions in general- piss and shit are bad words.  The church doesn’t like to acknowledge that we have body parts with “undesirable” functions- dick, pussy, and asshole are bad words.

And why is it OK to use some of these words in one sense, but not another?  For example, it’s OK to have a pussy cat, but not a pussy.  It’s OK for Jesus to ride an ass into Jerusalem, but not for me to sit on my ass.  It’s OK to be named Dick, but not to be one.  It’s OK to discuss the souls in hell, but not to use hell as an interjection.  It’s OK to say damned to describe the fate of those in hell, but not to use that word to describe something you don’t like.  Sounds to me like a lot of double standards.

Here’s my final word: words are only abstract representations of concepts and objects.  There is nothing inherently bad about an abstract representation.  The value, quality, and morality of a word is something that people have made up, agreed upon, and passed down through the generations.  Those values, and meanings change over time, but that does nothing to the inherent goodness or badness of the abstract representation known as a word.  Words aren’t (and can’t be) bad.  If you are scared of the concept represented by a word; fine.  But don’t call me a sinner for using an abstract representation that is equal in all respects to your abstract representation except for the made-up goodness or badness that we have assigned to it.

Besides, the shock value of these words make them even more useful than most other words that convey the same concepts.  So, if you’re offended by this so-called foul language, get the fuck over it.


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