Word are symbols and symbols only have the power given them. In studying literature, I learned all about symbolism and how it’s used and, what stuck with me most, that a really good symbol is one the author doesn’t realize they’re writing. If you write a symbol on purpose then it’s probably going to feel forced and unauthentic. The best symbols are often unintended. Which explains why English is as crazy as it is.
Language is crazy. It’s all about symbols. The old, if I write D-O-G on a board, that’s not a dog. It’s a symbol that means an often furry, four-footed mammal of the canine variety. Or maybe you thought of a male human being that tends to commit adultery. Or maybe you thought of the verb form of the word which means to chase.
Of course, if I had given you this context, “He’d been disappearing at night again, the dog.” Then you would have immediately known what I meant by D-O-G.
But symbols only have power, only have meaning, because we give it to them. A flag only means America because we say it does. The fabric, dye, and stitching has no consciousness and no real meaning beyond what we say it is. A curse word is only offensive because someone decided it was offensive. The word itself has no meaning beyond what is assigned. I lived a fairly sheltered life and when I started at the public high school I heard plenty of words I had never encountered before. The funny thing is that the majority of what I heard was benign and didn’t mean anything bad. But because I didn’t know the meaning I just assumed the worst.
Obviously I eventually learned the meanings behind those symbols. But when I did, they didn’t mean anything to me. The offensive words and scenarios were no more shocking to me than the completely safe words and scenarios that I just hadn’t understood because I hadn’t learned them in a context that would have taught me how offensive they were.
There are a lot of words that offend people and I both get it and don’t. I’m personally offended when people use God’s name disrespectfully. I take it VERY personally. I don’t often tell people to stop unless they are either close friends or someone I will have to be around often who uses His name a lot. What I’m saying is that while I’m deeply offended (and dare I say a little hurt), I don’t show it unless it becomes unbearable. So people think I’m not offended by it when I am. Sometimes that means they use God’s name indiscriminately, sometimes that means they use it rarely.
For me, it’s enough. If I think the person cares, I ask them to not. If I don’t think they care, then I don’t because I don’t think it’ll make any difference. For others though, words need to be banned. Don’t say it! Don’t even think it! Think of the children!
Here’s the thing, the sensitive little angels that we call children are already working on coming up with the next most offensive word. Because that’s how language evolves. So maybe just chill out about the F-bomb and the newer-ish C-word. It’ll pass. When I was little the word damn was still offensive but on it’s way to regular, unoffensive use. By now I’m not sure there are many people who find it horribly offensive.
Part of me wants to say that if you just ignore a word you find offensive then it’ll eventually go away. It’s true of many but not all words through history. Racial slurs seem to run along no matter what but maybe part of that is because they’re still taken seriously. If you don’t give a symbol power, it has no power and people will have to find something else. And the cycle continues. Eventually society is so used to the word that it doesn’t matter to anyone.
When you hear of that shiny new swear word. The word that means eighty five horrible things, take a breath. Let it pass. If you want it to go away, don’t take it seriously. Maybe it’s apathetic of me. Maybe it’s not the ideal way to get past these words. Or maybe I’m an undiscovered genius and I’ve found the way to get rid of all the bad things in the world.