**WARNING*** There will be strong language in this post, and I assume any following discussion.

This morning on our local radio station there was an interesting discussion about the usage, intent and impact of swearing.

It was sparked by a satirical TV show, Dirty Laundry Live, using strong language to discuss Charles Saatchi, soon to be ex husband of Nigela Lawson. During the shows opening monologue the host Lawrence Mooney described him as a cunt.

To put it in context the comment was shown live to air although it was scripted. Mooney has stated they did have a strong discussion on whether to use it or not but he contends that it was both justified and effective.

The discussion it sparked was centered around the appropriateness or not of using that language on live to air television.

From a personal perspective I have no problem with the use of the word. Words are just words, some have more impact than others. Its the values you ascribe to that word, and the context they are use that matters.

In this particular instance I think calling the man a cunt was an effective and appropriate usage. Its not wording i would use around my children but again its not a show children should be watching.

The interesting part of the debate and what I was interested in discussing here was the contention that using the word contributed to violence against women. I can't say I agree with that argument.

As I said before words are just words. I'm sure that the word cunt CAN be used to denigrate women, but in the context it was used I don't think it does.

Is calling someone a prick, a cock head or a dick demeaning to men? Sure they aren't words with as much impact but they are all negative words associated with male genitalia.

If I use those words to purposefully denigrate a group then I should be condemned. But is that what has happened here?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.


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I think, that words only have the power you allow them to have. There are about two words that I refuse to use myself, but I don't get offended if others use them, I just don't like to say them. It's just letters joined together to make a sound. Like the middle finger, for some reason it is taken as offensive, yet it is made of the exact same thing all your other fingers are made of.

Personally I have no problem with profanity, and I can and do use it with the best of them. I cuss like a sailor in my daily life, unless I'm in the company of Christian friends or children. The word profanity is closely related to the word profane, which is principally defined as irreverence for God or sacred principles or things. Profane is also synonymous with the word irreligious, and I am in no way or manner a religious person, being a full fledged atheist. I do, however, believe in morality, and do not believe that God or religion or sacred scriptures are the source of morality. Just read the Old Testament or the Quran. They read like a combination horror and porno story, full of blood lust, genocide, and copious sex with captured young virginal female slaves.

Morality evolved by necessity for the good of the human species. And morality is not found only among the human species. Many so called lower animals exhibit many moral traits for the same reason that humans do...out of necessity.

Words can wound when they are used in certain situations, but the wounds are not physical, although psychological wounds can be as mentally damaging to the mind. I try to not call people derogatory names, unless I am really boiling angry at an individual. But, as far as I'm concerned, using profane or irreligious language in simple casual conversation (such as, "man, that G** D**ned sun is hotter than hell today"; or "Damn dude, did you see that f**cking crazy ass movie ?!") is harmless, except, like I said, around children or Christian friends. But as far as behavior is involved, I follow what the late great Christopher Reeve said. To paraphrase: "Even though I don't believe in the Lord, I try to live my life as if he were watching".

I've known some sailors who don't curse nearly as much as I do.....

Also some christians who cursed so much the paint curled off their cars.

OK not that much, but close.

Also some christians who cursed so much the paint curled off their cars.

A new paranormal ability, to be tested in the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge.

I think words have power. For example, tell a person he/she is bad, ugly, fat, skinny, and some individuals believe the word and fail to understand his or her value and worth, and accepts, without question whatever the word states.
Another example is the man or woman, adult, who hears put-downs, discounts, trivializations, and demonization. Some feel squashed, "hang-tail" kinds of self-loathing. The words do not cause the squashiness or hang-tail feelings, however, the effect is to feed feelings of self-worth.
Often, people use cunt, bitch, whore, prostitute when in fact the individual so named is a timid virgin who feels embarrassed and shamed. The words don't state fact, they say more about the person using the words.
Sometimes a person uses derogatory name-calling and the listener or reader has no useful information. I sometimes ask or write them to clarify their meaning. Having limited vocabulary is not a sign of intelligence, or discernment.
Using cuss words offers an emotional outlet for one's frustration and I value the practice. I so it all the time. If my intent is to be effective and efficient, cussing usually doesn't work so well. Being clear, descriptive, honest, explicit, definitive, verifiable and specific leaves no doubt as to what I am thinking. They provide a solid foundation upon which to build a conversation. If I call you a motherfucker, where does that leave you?

Well said, Joan, as always.!

In some cultures calling someone a motherfucker is a term of endearment. I don't think this is an American thing but certainly British and my own Australian culture you can say the most awful things about a person in a sort of ironic tone when you are certainly not intending to insult them.

This is my point about context. It cannot be ignored when discussing profanity. What to one person is always denigrating to a race, group or gender is just language to another.

I agree that words have power, but its the individual hearing the words that give them the power, not the person saying them.

Your point about someone who is continually put down can lead to feelings of self loathing is true to a point. But imagine that same individual who is brought up to disregard those external opinions, to become immune to them. For me that is the ideal situation we should be aiming for rather than allowing the language of others to define our self worth.

We will probably never be able to achieve a society of individuals like that, but if we keep telling people that certain words denigrate others and have power over them, regardless of the context they are delivered in then we will never get there.

That is why I wrote my original post. The description of that man was an effective and succinct description entirely appropriate at the time. The complaints of misogyny leveled at the presenter ignore the context and turn every woman into a victim.


"Certain words denigrate others" -- this can and should affect our decisions about whether to use them and whether they're acceptable in civilized discourse. The fact that context can matter a great deal, that the most demeaning putdowns can sometimes be used as endearments or "in-group" assertions instead, doesn't change that.

"...and have power over them" -- the people we're addressing didn't get to choose how they were brought up. They didn't get to choose to grow up in an environment where "you're such a cunt" is as innocuously silly as "you're such a knee."

Further, I'm one of many who'd like to see civilized people, by their choice of language, disavow those hurtful and misogynistic ideas that women are "less than" men, and that sex and genitals are somehow nasty, or linked to domination rather than egalitarian pleasure.

Grinning Cat I'd like to draw a comparison to the reaction to a local KFC ad here is Australia few years ago. I'm sure I've seen it referred to here before but I'll set the scene anyway.

KFC were a major sponsor of a series of Cricket matched between Australia and the West Indies (composite team of West Indian island nations). The ad showed a Australian supporter (white guy) sitting in the midst of a group of West Indian supporters (black people). The West Indians where being loud, having brought drums etc to the game (which they do), but the Aussie guy was having difficult watching the game because of it. He then goes and buys KFC and gives it to the West Indian supporters who are immediately quiet.

The reaction when this ad was put on YouTube and shown to US audiences was an uproar. How dare a major corporation be so racist to play on the well known trope of Black people and Fried Chicken. Australia should be ashamed.

The problem is that in Australia that whole Black and Fried Chicken trope was virtually unknown. In our cultural context there was no such message and as an Aussie who is/was active on many US and international forums it was frustrating to see US specific cultural references applied where they shouldn't have.

The point of that story is to highlights that again the importance of the context something is said. I'd  say "Certain words denigrate others" only applies if they are used in a context where they are meant to denigrate.

You say using a word like Cunt denigrates women. I say that while it can be used I would argue that in the overwhelmingly majority cases where it is used that is not the intent. 

Its not a word I would use often but if I did it would be more because of its linguistic properties rather than its meaning. Short sharp words with hard consonants like cunt, fuck etc are satisfying as an invective and to my mind at least are divorced from any literal meanings.

The crux of why I raised this originally and why I have put more than my two cents into this discussion is not because I am defending those who want to denigrate using language its to defend those whose by their language are being accused of racism and misogyny unfairly.

Related also is a desire to stop groups being told they are victims of language when they should be being given the tools to ignore the language, never mind the intent.


Thanks, Grinning Cat, you made my point, and stated it better.  To simply say that those we hurt should be less sensitive when we insult them, seems rather callous.

That is why I wrote my original post. The description of that man was an effective and succinct description entirely appropriate at the time.

Yeah, MB, but if you bed down with women (rather than with men) and your wife or girlfriend hears you, where will you be sleeping for at least one night?

Joan, I've said this before at length:

Words only have power to the degree that We Let Them Have Power.  If we choose to react to the insults aimed at us, we empower both the words and the one delivering them.  If on the other hand we are sufficiently at home with ourselves that insults and epithets and derisive comments are met with a shrug or a "who do you think YOU'RE kidding?" kind of attitude, the words have exactly NO POWER, any more than the speaker does, and the effect and associated attempt to dominate fall flat on its face.

Granted that this requires a certain degree of strength on the part of the person to whom such words are aimed, and without that strength and sense of self-possession, yes, words CAN hurt.  Again, I have to emphasize, the hurt comes not from the words, but the capitulation on the part of the one hearing them.

Anyone who cares to call me anything from a motherfucker to a cocksucker to who-knows-what won't get my time of day.  Anyone who, frustrated with my lack of response, decides to escalate matters will discover how fast I can put them in a hospital ... and if they rush me ... in a MORGUE.




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