What Makes a Word Into a Bad Word?

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I still don’t understand the hang-up with “bad words” – who said they were bad? Were they written to be inherently bad, or did someone merely say they were bad? I’m confused, so I had to ask some friends what they think.

They can’t be that bad if they are in the dictionary – Outsanity

What the fucking shit are you trying say, dammit? – Akiva Moskovitz

bad words are generally common words which come to be associated with ideas, groups, and behaviors considered taboo or unclean at some time by someone. for example, "faggot" means kindling (as in, material to start a fire), but came to be a bad word due to a redefinition and the taboo nature of homosexuality in the context of certain societies. edit: i just had a "am i *really* that dorky" moment. – idnan

I remember I was punished in first grade for dropping the f-bomb. So, my first grade teacher said they were bad. But, generally, there are words that turn off some people in your potential audience. If you’re OK with losing them, go ahead and say them. By the way, our media and government has banned certain speech on our commercial media. Partly to avoid losing audience and partly because government gets pressure whenever, say, 5% of people get pissed off enough to call a Senator. – Robert Scoble

akiva – ROTFLMAO. @idnan – I understand the use of words in a negative context, but that wasn’t my quandary (rather, I don’t know why people call them "bad words"). @scoble – You used the f-bomb in the first grade? I have a whole new respect for you, my man. – l0ckergn0me

words only have the power that society gives them. If everyone decided ‘nutfreak’ was awful, then … it would suddenly be bad. – AJ Kohn

No word is bad if it can convey a thought. If it can’t, it’s useless, not bad. Profanity conveys information just as well as non-profane words. – Jack Carlson

I think the touchstone for words that are bad are that they are hurtful. – Victor Ryden

George Carlin talked about this at length, I think. It’s another superstition. Just like my Catholic friend in High School was convinced that certain physical objects, like Ouija boards and pentagrams were "bad." – Tad Donaghe

It is kind of a double edged sword. It makes no sense at all to my why words would be taboo, especially as Jack said words that convey information/thought. On the other hand if they weren’t considered "bad" then they wouldn’t be as impactful or useful. – Joe Pierce

Chris: my parents still laugh about that. The teacher called them, forced them to make me apologize to the class. So, what did I do? I dropped the f-bomb again. But this time not to one kid, but to the whole class. – Robert Scoble

It’s all a matter of context. Nothing in of itself is inherently bad. It’s how it’s used and the effects of the use. We don’t try to shield our kid from "bad words" because it’s silly. But we do tell him those words only have power if he lets them. And we caution him that other people don’t really understand that so he needs to be careful how he uses them. – Lindsay Donaghe

scobel that’s awesome, I was expelled from catholic school in first grade for dropping the f-bomb – Bryan Thatcher via twhirl

Why do I try to refrain from using such words on my blog? Well, lots of companies will block your blog if you trigger certain words. I still remember getting an Apple II and using certain words with the spell checker my dad bought. It wouldn’t correct the spelling, but, rather, said "you should clean out your mouth." – Robert Scoble

Chris – Robert dropped the f-bomb because his teacher took away his oregon trail on the apple IIe :-P – i always tried to cross the river btw – Allen Stern

There are two meanings to every word. The meaning to the speaker, and the meaning to the listener. – Jennifer

Jennifer – one of my mentors always said – it’s not reality that’s important, it’s the perception that is. – Allen Stern

I’m pretty sure when Scobez was in first grade they were still using chalk on slate boards. :P :D – Tad Donaghe

Don’t they still use chalk on slate boards in school then? Seriously, don’t they? – Ian May

I meant on their desks instead of paper and pencil. – Tad Donaghe

Ian, these days when kids drop the f-bombs in class, and get caught, they’re writing their lines on a whiteboard with a marker. – Pete Delucchi

Wow, I completely forgot about Oregon Trail up until right now – Nicholas Molnar via twhirl

Every computer that I’ve ever owned that was capable of it has been through at least one play through of Oregon Trail. – Joe Pierce

In all seriousness, I avoid curse words because I feel the more sparingly they’re used, the more effective they are. My wife knows that when I drop the f-bomb, I am truly pissed (unless I’m using curse words for comedic effect, of course). If I cursed constantly, as I used to do, they’d become ignorable, ineffective background noise. – Akiva Moskovitz

They were tagged long ago as terms not to be used to describe something. Theory would be there would be something unspeakable that was decided upon – Chris via twhirl

Jesus, damn right! – James Tenniswood

idnan… ^_^. They are only bad words because some group of people decided that they are offensive. You know, the same can be said for the "good" words. A group of people decided these are okay, those are not. – Yolanda

Yolanda, that just points to the fact that people today don’t understand even the concept of vulgarity. We live in an everything-is-permissible society (in the West) because many people reject the notion of arbitrary or abstract rules. For example, take 100 people who have no problem illegally downloading music and then put them in front of a record store and tell them to go shoplift a CD or two and see how many will do it. They reject the abstract consequence but are afraid of the physical one. – Akiva Moskovitz

I’ve become desensitized to my potty mouth. – Yolanda

yolanda of course. communication is a necessarily collaborative effort. communal decision (and often submission) is how languages are created and how they change, how conventions are adopted by a society and rejected. – idnan

F-U-C-K = Fornication under the consent of King :)- IMHO, thats the how the the common verb come along :)- – Peter Dawson

Yolanda, for some reason the phrase ‘potty mouth’ is one of the most subtlety amusing ones for me. – Akiva Moskovitz

In Scotland people use certain "bad words" a lot but not in any "bad" sense – more to put more emphasis on what they’re saying. You must watch this for a laugh on swearing – http://tinyurl.com/56s5zsSteven via twhirl

What do you think? What makes a word into a ‘bad’ word? How bad is too bad when it comes to normal, everyday conversation? Where do you draw the line when writing in a public space, such as your blog? Let’s hear what you have to say.