The Swearing Corner: The N-Word and other words I won’t say (mostly)  

by Steve Wetherell

I’ll never say the n-word. Well, not in any official capacity. I might sing along to an Anderson Paak song, and my usual tactic of replacing it with ‘fella’ doesn’t always scan well. Also, I might write the word in the mouth of a racist character or such. Also, I might get drunk and scream it at someone’s wedding. Not the last one. That was a joke.

 

I wouldn’t say the word because it’s a very sensitive, contentious word, with a dark and terrible history, and it makes people uncomfortable. Saying it, to me, is far more effort that it’s worth. I mean, really, considering the fallout, I’d need a really, really good reason to say it. Maybe to prove some point about free speech and sensible conversation or such, or because Samuel L. Jackson commanded me to say it on national television. And that’s not really going to be an issue for me. I’m slightly suspicious of anyone who does think it is an issue. Why do you want to say that word? Is it because you were told you can’t? You coy little minx. Wash your mouth out. Also your soul.

 

Should the word have such power, though? The short answer is yes, but I may live to see a time when it loses that power. For example, when I was a young kid, referring to a black guy as a black guy was thought to be extremely crass. More sensitive people would say ‘the coloured chap’ or ‘Dave’ depending on how well they knew him. These days referring to anyone as ‘coloured’ is career damagingly offensive, and as ‘black’ is fine. Things change.

 

Faggot is another word I won’t say, apart from just then, obviously. Although it’s a fun word to say. (In England, a faggot is something you eat. It’s also a meat dish.) I won’t say faggot for the same reason I’ll never un-ironically say ‘cuck’, because it’s too often used by macho types with the self-awareness of a dick shaped lollipop and the compassion of an alligator. Also, it too has a pretty damned dark history. Again, not being able to say this word is really no skin off my nose.

 

I do miss “Gaaaaay” though. No, hear me out. We pretty much said everything was gay when I was younger, largely due to South Park. It’s got a big dumb mooing quality to it that makes it silly. Geography? Gaaaay. Newspapers? Gaaaay. Any outward sign of affection between two straight men? Gaaaay. In fact, the only thing we wouldn’t derisively call gay was actual gay people, because that would have been mean. Obviously, as we matured we realised that setting a tone where the word gay was used derisively was a problem in itself. It didn’t peter out entirely though. One of my favourite jokes in one my favourite movies- Shaun of the Dead- was the following exchange.

 

Shaun: We have to save Liz!

Ed: Why?

Shaun: Because I love her.

Ed: Alright… gay.

 

One grown man calling another grown man gay for admitting he loves his girlfriend is still hilarious to me. It’s absurd, and silly. I didn’t really stop saying gay in that way until my best friend and housemate came out to me in university. We had a frank and serious discussion about whether we were both supposed to stop calling things gay now, and he suggested that we should just carry on as normal. We didn’t though. I gradually phased it out. Now that it was more personal to me, it didn’t seem as silly.

 

Like retard. Remember when everything was retarded? Again, you’d call everything retarded apart from someone who was actually retarded, because what are you, a monster? Same situation as Faggot though. Phased that out. I’ve replaced it with fucktarded, but that’s still a bit dicey as the clue to its origin is fairly embedded in its structure. But here’s the problem- where I come from, flat out calling someone an idiot is a bit serious. It can be used light-heartedly, sure, but it’s also the word you use when you stop fucking around and want someone to know that they’ve sincerely fucked up. So, I sort of need a less serious word than ‘Idiot’ and less heinous word than ‘Retard.’

 

Answers on a postcard.

 

 

 

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