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Monday, November 28, 2011

A LITTLE BIT OF MY SEMANTIC THEORY OF SLURS AND HOW THAT RELATES TO MY AFFECTION FOR THE USE OF "SEE YOU AND TEA"


WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS POLITICALLY INCORRECT LANGUAGE.  IT INCLUDES WORDS CONDEMNED FOR RACIAL, SEXIST AND HOMOPHOBIC OVERTONES.  THEY ARE USED TO CONVEY A THEORETICAL POINT AND ARE NOT MEANT TO ENCOURAGE OR CONDONE HATE.  PLEASE DO NOT BE A CUNT AND TAKE THEM OUT OF CONTEXT TO CREATE A TITILLATING HEADLINE ON YOUR BULLSHIT ENTERTAINMENT BLOG. THANK YOU.

My use of the C-word seems to be a very polarizing semantic choice.  People either rally to the call of brashness or condemn me for rude literary ineptitude.  Quite honestly it seems to baffle most folks who know me.  Well.  My wife included.  She knows I don't move through the world with a boorish sexist swagger, so my liberal "cunting" rubs her confused. 

Before I defend my "cunt point" I need to speak to a larger thematic issue -- my theory about how the media and social guilt increase the power of slurs.  Not so much a theory, just a half-bright opinion.   

And forgive me for doing a brief cursory explanation of this idea.  It's a much larger, complex discussion, but this is a blog and I know if I post more than a page or two no one will read it.  If anyone wants to discuss the issue in greater detail, I'd be happy to do so. Well, maybe not happy, but obligated.

There are some words in the English language that we continue to empower as evil.  Not that their origins aren't sinister or meaningful, but society's obsession for public condemnation and censorship has given these words power beyond their negative roots.  The word "nigger" began as a harsh, ignorant term used by white slave owners that over time became a racial slur with brutal weight.  This is the quick historical from Wikipedia:

In the Colonial America of 1619, John Rolfe used "negars" in describing the African slaves shipped to the Virginia colony.[5] Later American English spellings, neger and neggar, prevailed in a northern colony, New York under the Dutch, and in metropolitan Philadelphia’s Moravian and Pennsylvania Dutch communities; the African Burial Ground in New York City originally was known by the Dutch name "Begraafplaats van de Neger" (Cemetery of the Negro); an early US occurrence of neger in Rhode Island, dates from 1625.[6] An alternative word for African Americans was the English word, "Black", used by Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Among Anglophones, the word nigger was not always considered derogatory, because it then denoted “black-skinned”, a common Anglophone usage.[7] Nineteenth-century English (language) literature features usages of nigger without racist connotation, e.g. the Joseph Conrad novella The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' (1897). Moreover, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain created characters who used the word as contemporary usage. Twain, in the autobiographic book Life on the Mississippi (1883), used the term within quotes, indicating reported usage, but used the term "negro" when speaking in his own narrative persona.[8]

In the United Kingdom and the Anglophone world, nigger denoted the dark-skinned (non-white) African and Asian (i.e., from
India or nearby) peoples colonized into the British Empire, and "dark-skinned foreigners" — in general. 

By the 1900s, nigger had become a pejorative word. In its stead, the term
colored became the mainstream alternative to negro and its derived terms. Abolitionists in Boston, Massachusetts, posted warnings to the Colored People of Boston and vicinity. Writing in 1904, journalist Clifton Johnson documented the "opprobrious" character of the word nigger, emphasizing that it was chosen in the South precisely because it was more offensive than "colored."[9] Established as mainstream American English usage, the word colored features in the organizational title of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, reflecting the members’ racial identity preference at the 1909 foundation. In the Southern United States, the local American English dialect changes the pronunciation of negro to nigra. Linguistically, in developing American English, in the early editions of A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806), lexicographer Noah Webster suggested the neger new spelling in place of negro.[10]
By the 1980's the wave of political correctness began to taint every form of art and media.  It wasn't just the black groups that were condemning the hateful n-word; it was white corporate America as well.  That's what took it from a racial slur to a political and social pariah.  I believe it was the "white guilt" of the men controlling the media machine that continued to give that word more power and hate.  Follow me here -- it was like the white guys got together and said, "Let's really make it a point to condemn whitey for using racial slurs.  If we do that, then maybe we can somehow wash away years of racial injustice to the black community."  But I believe that heightened, righteous correctness just handed the racists more ammunition.  Because the higher the crime for usage became, the more the ignorant used it.  Our semantic judgment just loaded the hate canons.  

Does that make sense?  I don't know, maybe not.  Always felt that way to me.  

I think the answer to that increased hate and awareness came in the form of Hip Hop's bastardization -- "nigga".  Suddenly there was a word that black people could liberally call other black people without pushing racial buttons.  Yes, it also allowed annoying white dudes the same option (although not without impunity).  I know there are black people who are as offended by the "ga" as the "ger", but I think consciously or unconsciously it was the African American community diffusing the hate.  Basically saying, "we're taking this word back, making it our own so you motherfuckers can't hurt us with it."  Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm a delusional white guy, but I feel like Hip Hop has diminished the racial weight of "nigger".  I'm not saying it's not still a racist, painful slur, I'm just saying it's lost some of it's power.  Which is a good thing.

The other word that's jumped into the "never use it in public" category is "fag".  I'm not proud of this, but the truth is, where I grew up in Jersey, "fag" was a fucking noun, verb, adjective and adverb.  We used it constantly and it had nothing to do with sexuality.  A fag was a punk or a pussy.  A fag was the guy who left the game in the fourth inning to go do homework.  A fag was a guy who wouldn't steal his parent's smokes for his buddies.  I was using the word fag long before I even knew what a homosexual was.  I'm not saying that makes it okay, just saying the evolution of this semantic curve is more personal.  I never used the word "nigger", now or as a kid, but "fag", man, it was everywhere.  Wiki gives this quick historical glimpse.   

The word meaning "bundle of sticks" is ultimately derived, via Old French, Italian and Vulgar Latin, from Latin fascis (also the origin of the word fascism).[4] The origins of the word as an offensive epithet for homosexuals are, however, rather obscure, although the word has been used in English since the late 16th century as an abusive term for women, particularly old women,[5] and reference to homosexuality may derive from this,[4][6] female terms being often used with reference to homosexual or effeminate men (cf. nancy, sissy, queen). The application of the term to old women is possibly a shortening of the term "faggot-gatherer", applied in the 19th century to people, especially older widows, who made a meagre living by gathering and selling firewood.[6] It may also derive from the sense of "something awkward to be carried" (compare the use of the word "baggage" as a pejorative term for old people in general).[4] Use of the word as a general insult, not necessarily implying homosexuality, is either a continuation or extension of this older usage[5] or of the homosexual usage.
 
Unsubstantiated Associations

It is sometimes claimed that the modern slang meaning developed from the standard meaning of "faggot" as "bundle of sticks for burning," presumably with reference to
burning at the stake.[4] This is, however, unlikely to be the case,[4] and there is no tradition of burning at the stake being used as a punishment for homosexuality in Britain,[6] However, the Theodosian Code, which was influential in the development of medieval law, does prescribe burning: "All persons who have the shameful custom of condemning a man's body, acting the part of a woman's to the sufferance of alien sex (for they appear not to be different from women), shall expiate a crime of this kind in avenging flames in the sight of the people."[7] Although supposed witches and heretics were burnt to death in other parts of Europe, and were often accused of deviant sexual behaviour.[8]

The
Yiddish word faygele, lit. "little bird", is also claimed by some as an explanation for the modern use of "faggot." The similarity between the two words makes it a reasonable possibility that it might at least have had a reinforcing effect.[6]

An obsolete reference to faggot from 17th century Britain refers to a "man hired into military service simply to fill out the ranks at
muster", but there is no known connection with the word's modern pejorative usage.[4]

Louie CK did a great episode on the evolution of the word "fag".  Basically discussing my point above and the truth about why the word is so painful to the gay community.  It was really smart and effective.  As an adult, I embrace that concept and understand the hate behind the word.  The fact that right wing Christian groups defend the use of it is reason enough not to ever use it again.  But my theory of the media and social guilt increasing the hate holds true for the f-word as well.  Every time someone gets caught using that word, we headline it, hold it up for persecution and give it more weight.  Again, we load the hate canons.  Instead of giving these assholes media coverage, we should be diffusing the power, mocking the ignorant, finding a way to take the sting out of the word.  "Fag" needs a "nigga".  

Basically, it's this -- when my four-year-old uses a bad word, I don't give it any weight.  The experts say, you just calmly reply, "we don't use that word because it's rude", and move on.  When she sees that the word gets no buzz, she moves off of it.  If I yell at her, call attention to the behavior and make a fuss over the word, it reinforces her knowledge that the word has power.  She will definitely use it again.  Now I know that's an incredibly simplistic point of view that can hardly be applied to words that have social and historical weight, but there is truth in that basic concept -- that the media and our own social guilt continue to reinforce the negative by giving it so much fucking attention.

Which brings me back around to my "cunt".  One of the few nasty words left in the English language that does not have a "league" condemning its use.  Yes, women find it offensive and I'm sure at some point a feminist organization will adopt it as a cause.  But until then, it's a word that makes people incredibly uncomfortable without sounding a social or media alarm.  It's percussive, aggressive and just feels wrong.  So why do I use it so freely?  To make a point.  It's my personal quest to diffuse the power of "cunt".  If I use it frequently and in such absurd context, just maybe it will begin to lose its weight (I think it already has in this blog and on my Twitter feed).  Fuck, fly, shit, eager, cunt, banana, sky, yo-yo.  Just a bunch of words.  

So that's why.  We are the ones who turn letters into sounds, sounds into hate, hate into headlines.  We create the cycle of animosity and violence.   

Cunt.  It's slang for vagina.  It begins with a hard-c.  It rhymes with punt, stunt and front.  Use it lovingly, "that flower is opening up like a beautiful crimson cunt."  Use it with edge, "that little fucking cunt just cut me off."  Use it absurdly, "there's a certain oaky cuntiness to this Merlot."  Use it frequently.  And when someone balks or is morally offended, tell them it's just a fucking word, lifted from a whore street in Old London and first used in print by James Joyce.  Then gaze at them with judgmental disdain and tell them perhaps they're the ones who need a morality check.  Cunts.



 


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