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?