As western culture moves further towards proving that names do in fact hurt just as much as sticks and stones, the real crisis developing now is the elimination of descriptive words and letters from common English usage. For the record, anyone who has ever had to endure the onslaught of sticks and stones knows that a session of name calling, no matter how intense, is just not quite the same level of hurt. Just sayin’.
As society morphs into becoming a civilization of 12 year old girls, numerous words have been banished from polite and acceptable use over the years. We know that the ‘F’ word is verboten, as are the ‘C’ word, the ‘N’ word and now, according to Sheryl Sandberg, we add the ‘B’ word. Of course there was a ‘B’ word before, similar in intent, but that word can now be used interchangeably with this new ‘B’ word, ‘bossy’. If this keeps up, people may have to resort to combinations of clicks, pops and hand gestures to make derisive descriptions of people.
With the exception of perhaps the ‘N’ word, most of the words that are deemed too offensive to use have references to women. Apparently, there are differences between men and women after all. It appears that men have thicker skin. Men don’t seem to have any restrictions as to what words can or cannot be applied to them. For instance, the most common epithet may be the ‘A’ word. It’s not been my experience that men burst into tears and eat a carton of ice cream because they are labeled an ‘A’. In fact, when you attach the ‘F’ word in front of the ‘A’ word as an added descriptor, that wouldn’t even cause an extra blink for most men. Men seem to be able to label other men with any word they want, the ‘J’ word, the ‘P’ word, the ‘D’ word, or any combination of words preceded by the ‘F’ word used as an adjective or as an adverb.
The use of mean words to describe people has been around since the first caveman added ‘-ly’ to ugh. In fact, most of the time, there’s probably some basis for the choice perjorative. Of course with the evolution of civilization, sticks and stones aren’t always at the ready, so it’s far more pragmatic to hurl a familiar slag at someone than a rock. While admittedly, resorting to the most crude and common epithets shows an unconscionable lack of imagination, not everyone has the time to think up brilliant descriptors. Perhaps that’s the worst crime of all; with all the rich literary resources available today, people still use cheap, dull insults.
But it’s a slippery slope when an overly sensitive culture banishes otherwise benign words into the abyss. The list of words that are assigned verboten status only tends to make them more powerful. Ironically, what typically happens is that people will find other more oblique substitutes for the same word. In ancient China, it was very dangerous for artists and poets to insult the Emperor directly, so instead elaborate allegories and veiled references were employed in writings that were critical of the Emperor. In the end, the people always got the last laugh on the pompous rulers. If you ask me, that’s still preferable to having sticks and stones hurled at you.