Curious: “Bad” Words

I’ve realized that what this blog is missing are features and columns, so I’m gonna start one.   It’s called “Curious:” and they’ll be little blurbs about things I find interesting or confusing about our culture or humanity as a whole.

So in today’s installment of Curious:

Well, I was watching a very special Clone High yesterday and they bleeped “fuck”.  (I mean, yes, pretty much every show bleeps “fuck”) But it got me to thinking.  Language is just groupings of sounds that we attach meaning to, and a large enough group of people agree on what the meaning of those sounds are.  So, we’re all offended by the word “fuck” for some reason. BUT if you put a bleep there, we understand that the word is STILL “fuck!”  So isn’t that bleep just a synonym for “fuck”?  That bleep is also a sound.

Words do not have an innate power.  It’s the people who project meaning on arbitrary sounds that give the words power.

And cause I have crazy ADD I’m gonna go off on a tangent! I’m also curious about why almost all the swear words have to do with sexual intercourse or bodily functions.

Fuck, Shit, Piss, Asshole, Cunt…


EDIT: My friend Nina showed me a Louis CK bit I hadn’t seen before about how when a news-person says “N-word” on television it automatically makes you think …. the N-word!. LANGUAGE IS THE COMMUNICATION OF MEANING THROUGH SOUND!!! so if we understand that N-word means N-word!  Then aren’t they just getting away with saying the N-word on TV?


3 thoughts on “Curious: “Bad” Words

  1. I am always relieved when I see at least one other person who has this realisation—which despite its obviousness is tragically rare. To make matters worse the very same combination of sounds or letters can have an entirely different meaning in a different context or language. I recall, in particular, a famous newspaper blopper where athlete Tyson Gay was referred to as Tyson Homosexual. Or consider one of Terry Pratchett’s early books, where the number “eight” must not be mentioned, lest the wrath of a demon is invoked—but is is perfectly safe to say “ate” (e.g. “You must not say the number between seven and nine or you might be ate.”), leaving some interesting questions about demon behaviour.

  2. What I find even more curious is the lack of actual meaning and linguistic purpose for exclamatory words. The meaning of a sentence is not impacted by adding “fuck” to it… except that it conveys some distaste. Questions of truth-conditional contributions, semantic meaning, and implications reflected on the user have yet to be adequately answered by previous theories made by philosophers of language. I suggest you read Frege’s “On Sense and Nominatum” or at least Google “Frege’s Puzzle”. It proposes and ANSWERS the question you have above. Not to ruin it for you… but Frege suggests that the difference between the word “fuck” and a bleep are the disconnect in senses that each convey. I’d have to agree. I do not believe they are synonymous in the traditional meaning of the concept.

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