A Word with Unjustified Power

A certain well-known radio commentator recently referred to a word which I am absolutely terrified to mention and got in mucho hot water for it.  They call it the “N-word.”  It has become more taboo than the “F-word,” which was, at one time, strictly forbidden, but now is widely accepted and can be heard in its un-retouched form in the material of stand-up comics, vice presidents and motion pictures acceptable for thirteen-year-olds to watch.  In fact, given an ultimatum to use the F-word or the N-word or be tortured, I would choose the former.  To use the N-word will get you messed-up real bad.

I am hard-pressed to think of any other words that possess such dangerous, unjustified power.  There are some powerful words (I am thinking of the gospel which is the power of God for Salvation-Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:5) but none that can get you in quite so much strife quite so quickly…at least in the land of freedom of speech and expression.  In the words of the childhood proverb, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…unless, of course it is the N-word.  We are talking a world of hurt here.

Now let me go on record here to say I think it is a terrible word.  It should never be used…period.  If it is used as a pejorative, the user needs to be disciplined.  It is a negative, racially-charged word.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that no word has any more power than we assign it.  There are epithets for nearly every race and ethnic group and we (even officious know-it-alls) ought to be able to at least mention them if for no other reason than to talk about why they are off-limits in courteous language in a civil society.  But, of course, in a culture that grows less civil every day, that’s the problem isn’t it?


Filed under Community, Culture Wars, Current Events, Language, morality, Racism

2 responses to “A Word with Unjustified Power

  1. Bob Chapman

    I am intrigued because down here in Aussie I don’t have a clue what you are writing about. What is the N-word?

  2. It’s “nigger”. Not sure if that word has the same connotation down under as it does up top, but it creates images of slavery, forced family separation, beatings, lynchings and hateful racism. It’s not a nice word, when used pejoratively, but in the end, it’s still just a word. For instance, I typed it out up there, with no intention to offend. If it offends someone by its mere existence, then that’s is a problem for the beholder, not me.

    I agree with Dwight, though. I think it has far more power over people that the work “fuck”. ( I typed that out to make a point.) The latter has a lot of the sting taken out of it by common and repeated usage, which I think is a good thing, because it’s a great word for imparting meaning. It can be used in multiple forms of speech, as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, you name it, and the intent of the speaker can be made quite clear with minimal effort. Once we get past the taboo nature of the word, I think you’ll find it used commonly, and not for its shock effect, like it is now.

    When I was little, “damn”, “hell” and a lot of other similar words would have ended with my mouth being washed out with soap. Not any more. And I think that’s a good thing. No words should be taboo. If you are scared of a word, then it has power over you, and people who use it have power over you they need not have, while you allow it.

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