I pretty much stepped in it, as it were, with yesterday’s entry; what began as an exercise in exorcising demons dealt us by a shitty Jesuit school in Omaha turned into a donnybrook over the kind of language we can use as insults. As I said in the comments, the responsibility rests with me, as I was the one who pasted GFWD’s email into the entry without his explicit permission. He has his own vernacular on his private email list, and I have mine, and I opened him up to criticism for words literally cut and pasted out of its original context.
And yes, I used the word “literally” correctly. I checked my archives and I literally stopped using that word around 2005, when it became so abused that it no longer scanned normally.
But the bigger point here remains elusively compelling. As I told the essential Tammy O., I’m forever caught in the battle between “words mean things!” and “I wanna say what I fucking well want!” Further, it always seems to split down gender lines, as dudes hate being told what not to say, and women fundamentally understand the need for some words to go away.
It’s pretty easy to see the gender difference: straight guys have always loved words that denigrate women and gays. And let me be clear, I try not to be one of them. I work very hard at being a decent fellow. I strive to be sensitive, gender-neutral, and equal-minded, and then I see this on the internet:
…and I laugh so hard I spurt tea out of my nose. I think because it looks like our old dog Kije. Or because I’ve got traces of homophobia lodged in my spine like old viruses. Or maybe because it’s completely nonsensically awesome.
But part of it is the limitation of the English language. Let’s look at one word that is problematic: GAY. As I was growing up, the word morphed from “socially-awkward twit who acts effeminate” to “socially-awkward twit” to “an idea or thing that is enough off-the-mark to induce slight cringing.”
To wit: “Do you think this T-shirt is, I dunno, kinda gay?”
To date, no word has approached synonym to erase “gay” from the lexicon. The word “twee” is close, but even the word “twee” can be kind of gay. And yet you really can’t use the word “gay” for all the obvious reasons. “Fag” has its own history (as any perusal of the Louis CK oeuvre will demonstrate) but even “South Park” can’t fully exonerate it.
The words for women are a bit more problematic, because they fly out of our mouths so quickly. Most of the time, we have no idea we’ve even said them. All women who we consider pushy, dominant, domineering, sly, untrustworthy, mean, or manipulative get the immediate treatment: cunt whore slut nag cooze harpy bitch.
Not to mention that we diminutize them by calling them “girls” long past childhood, usually until the men chasing them no longer find them hot. Tell me you can’t read this Tina Fey quote and not find it 97% true:
“I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy.’ I have a suspicion — and hear me out, because this is a rough one — that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.”
And yet. AND YET…
Why can’t we call an asshole on a rival basketball team a “little punk bitch”? What if everyone knew what we meant? We’re not the bad guys. What if… in our parlance, “bitches” doesn’t mean “women” or “women-like” or “homosexual” or “deserving of scorn the way women are”… it just means “asshole”, devoid of any larger conspiracy.
What if we truly don’t believe that words like that contribute to how people treat women? What if we believe the word “fag” no longer applies to homosexuals, regardless of origin?
As for me, personally, I don’t know. I used to fight for the words I wanted to use, but time (and an allergy to cliché) has mellowed that end of my lexicon. I believe that all things being equal, the ruling always goes to the more aggrieved party. And being a straight white dude, that sure as hell isn’t me. But I have to admit, I occasionally yearn for the old words. I really miss telling my sister Michele than her “Bread, Not Bombs” T-shirt was totally fucking gay.