who decides this shit?: a classroom discussion re: profane language

I am a cursing teacher.  Hell, I’m a cursing colleague, friend, and sister, too. I curse, often.  Not because my vocabulary is weak, or I am angry and/or sad.  I curse because profane words are linguistic expressions that make up my human language.  It’s as simple as that.

Words are neither bad nor good–unless you are a Christian who believes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  Then, the Word is good, right?  ‘Cause God is good all the time?  If that is true, then curse words are  bad, ’cause, historically, cursing was disrespectful to God and all things holy.  I can respect that idea, but the question–which one of my students raised during our discussion on perception–still remains. Who decides what words are profane?

With that question in mind–which I cannot answer except for crediting the overzealous (White, male) Christian–I charged my students with creating a list of words that they believe were just as profane and vulgar as traditional curse words.  What words, I asked, made them wince and cringe when they heard it?  What words do they, themselves, refuse to utter?

Their submissions are below:

thot; dookie, doo doo, (which seems to be a popular “curse” word amongst Black people, despite the 2 Live Crew’s 1992, “Doo Doo Brown”); puke, vomit; luv; mucus; ca ca, turd, poopie; cunt; douchebag; kill; blood; war; dummy; bastard; jackass; pee pee; toot; crap, suck; jack-off; cum; moist; faggot; loser; blumpkin; blue waffle; guzzler; maggots; pus; ooze; yeast; and pussycat.

(I must admit, I am surprised that in this class of predominantly Black students, not one submitted the term “nigger.”)

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About Kendra N. Bryant

I teach peace, & I write poetry. View all posts by Kendra N. Bryant

16 responses to “who decides this shit?: a classroom discussion re: profane language

  • ricshawnwilliams

    Wow, as I read this post I began to really think about the question. Who really has the right to say what words are good or bad, words are just words. I feel that the dominant society decides this s*** because at the end of they day, we are living by their terms and rules, what they feel are good and bad words and it doesn’t stop there. We base everything on what “society” says is normal: appearance, acts we commit, language, etc. and you don’t even have to second guess yourself on the fact that this is a European Worldview society built on the European construct and ideals. I am also surprised at myself that when I was writing my list of words, I didnt even think to mention “nigger.” I, along with others, have gotten used to the word that I tend to forget that it’s a degrading term my ancestors had to deal with (one that still floats around today). I can honestly admit that I don’t like that term very much, and to this day, am still trying to rid myself of using it. So who decides this s***? THEY do and we just keep going along with their plans not even realizing it.

  • fabiolaspierre

    I don’t think any word is good or bad. I think that society decides on what’s good and bad. Society goes based off of what they hear other people saying. We grew up hearing s*** is a bad word. We grew up hearing that sticking up your middle finger is bad and that is means “f*** you”. In my opinion these “cuss words” should not be considered profane. While jotting down my words I thought about the word”nigger”. That word does not roll off my tongue the right way. I feel like that word is belittling and wrong but its so common that I don’t pay attention to it true meaning. I also wouldn’t consider it good or bad because African Americans have taken ownership for the word. They even refer to their own kind as a “nigger”. I would never refer to anyone as a “nigger”

  • keishalarkin

    I grew up in a household with parents that did not say bad words or drink alcohol. Since I never knew what profane language was or heard anyone use it, it was never a part of my vocabulary. When I turned 12 years old, my parents started letting me visit and go over to my friends’ houses that I met in school. I will never forget, I had this one friend named Shondra. I loved going over her house, because I was going to see adults fight, party and pass out from being drunk. This one particular Saturday it was her mother’s birthday, and they threw her a surprise party. She walked in the house, and we all yelled “Surprise!” What happened next was something that I was not ready for. She said, “What the f*** yall n***** doing in my house running up my go*d*** light bill?” I never heard those words before. My facial expression was like a deer caught in headlights. To my friend and her family, that was there everyday language. They started laughing, because they thought it was funny. To me, it was foreign, because I had never heard any of those words before. I went home that night and said, “Momma, shondra ‘s mom was so funny. When she came in the house and we yelled surprise, she said….” Well I repeated every word, and I had to pick myself up off the floor after I said it. My daddy heard me talking to my mom, and hit me so hard that it knocked me to the floor. He told me don’t ever let me catch you talking that filth again. That hit scared the living daylights out of me, because I had never seen my father that way. I never said a bad word until I was 21.
    Till this day, I don’t know what is bad or what is good. I can only go by what my parents told me what to say and what not to say. Does it make it right? Does it make them the law? No. I just respect them enough to keep my vocabulary simple and drama free.

  • camdjenn

    Iam a Christian, my mother and father taught me at a young age not to say bad words. They told me the Bible says honor thy mother and father. But whoever signs your checks decides this shit I feel, unless you don’t have a job. Sorry if Iam being really ignorant. The person who decided this shit said I had to.

  • keieradaniels

    Just based off my upbringing, I was always taught that you were never to use bad words . But the confusing thing about it is that a curse word is in the bible. They justify that by saying that it is according to how you use it. In my opinion society determines what words are good or bad. Thinking about the word “nigger” irritates me. Nigger means an ignorant person, and not all black people are ignorant. I am pretty sure that society knows if it was not for the “BLACK” race that nothing would really be here today! This is my opinion on this blog.

  • kevonvbradley

    I feel like words are just words. If people catch offense to words then they’re going to spend a lot of their life offended. People use “profane” words loosely, and most of those words have many different meanings. People are going to say what they want so just live your life!

  • seairrasmith

    I’ve always been the person to question what makes words bad. Many people say that unintelligent people use curse words because they are not competent enough to think of anything better to say. I totally disagree with that. I believe that “curse words” are words of expression. I also believe that those bad words that should not be said are a part of the European Worldview, therefore, I feel no need to abide by it.

  • andrej503

    After reading this post I instantly recollected the change in societal acceptance. Growing up in the 90s such words as shit, fuck and ass were never heard on popular television networks but because of the shift in social acceptance it’s now printed, recited and apart of popular culture. These words that were once banned are accepted because of the increase in their usage by celebrities and influences of the generation. Once used, these words become the norm until someone becomes offended and then the words are banned. For example the word “nigga” or “negro” were seen as derogatory and racial slang during Slavery and The Civil Rights Era. Now in 2015, rappers and celebrities have used the once racial slurs as common lingo. Nigga has become commonly accepted, yet it’s close to being banned since more and more non African Americans are using this term and reciting it along with their favor songs such as popular song “My Nigga” by YG. Once Black people get tired of this words usage it too can be a part of the list of banned words. So who does make the rules as too what is a good or bad word? Honestly this is an ever changing list based on society and the generation.

  • jamalmassey92

    I honestly feel that we as a society determines If the profane words are good or bad. Everyone has a different outlook on different profane words, some words that you might think are profane words might not be profane or harsh words to me. I use the word nigger a lot, not that am saying it as a harsh or hateful way but that’s just a part of speech that me and my friends greet each other with no harm by it. Then again if I was to say nigger around a certain type of crowd, then that certain crowd wouldn’t know how to react to it and that’s completely understandable. So therefore, I feel we as people determines if some profane words are good or bad based upon our different taste and preferences.

  • Justin M. Campbell

    As I read the blog the question come to mind that didnt God make the language profane since it was disrespectful to him and he’s the one who create all thing on eart ? and the words that some of the students listed i can agree with and others I’ve never even heard before so I know that there are amny words that can be considered missing from that list. I too, am surprised that no one listed the word nigger because as much as we use it agmonst ourselves, it lnly becomes profane if someone outside out complexion uses it.

  • Robert Bivens II

    It is difficult to determine what is a bad/good word. It all depends on the person and how they interpret the word as well as the way you say it and the aggression in your tone. Society has also made us believe what is a good or bad word by bleeping out certain words in songs or the reaction someone may give you when you say one of these words. I didn’t write the “N” word as a curse word because I have personally removed this word from my vocabulary along with a few other words. I don’t think that certain words should ever be said and they are the racial slurs that often offend and hurt other people. I personally feel that all words are a way of expression and freedom of speech so to each is own but I do believe that there is a time and place for everything and certain words shouldn’t be used in certain environments or settings

  • Shanice Mckenzie

    After reading this post, I also questioned myself what makes a word bad? Did someone one day decide certain words were “offensive or bad”? I believe society determines what makes a bad word profane. There are just certain words you cannot speak aloud without getting frowned upon or offending someone. Our society is run by rules and perception, whatever is considered to be safe and “normal”. It depends on what the individual determines what words or bad or good based on their beliefs and values. For example an individual growing up in a household were the use of profanity was a common occurrence , won’t see using profanity as being wrong because the use of those words are expectable in their eyes. As I was growing up the use of profanity was only used when my parents were upset or wanted to put a little expression into story telling. I personally believe all words are a use of expression good or bad. However, I do believe there is a time and place where certain words shouldn’t be used. You wouldn’t dare tell your professor to shut the f**k up , or tell your boss what an a**hole you think he is.

  • Timothy L. Orange II

    I honestly believe that the individual should decide which words are good or bad. But then again society has conditioned us to think according to generic norms. “Curse words”, “Holy”, “Good”, and “Bad” are all concepts created by the regulators of society. A mass amount of research is required in order to trace the steps of who, what, and how the concepts of good and bad were created. I believe that every human being is born with an innate knowing of “right and “wrong”, but I also favor the idea that human beings are born with a strong sense of survival. Regardless of societal norms, a man with his back against the wall will do what is required to survive. Meaning, he will disregard the concepts of “good” and “bad” if his life depended on it. But even this is conditional. So to say that word is good or bad is preposterous to me. To say a word is respectful or disrespectful is a bit more understandable, due to the fact that we are aware of the context and energy the words are presented in. So by all means, I say use whatever word you feel is necessary at the moment.

  • Laughvon

    Words are neither bad nor good. What is believed to be a “good” word can be misused to insult or offend and a “bad” word can be used to compliment. Generation after generation we have become so desensitized that it is really all in how its delivered by the individual, and their intended use of it. For example, the word roach has no meaning but to name a species of insect. While living in Texas the majority of the population of hispanics were referred to as roaches. It was because they lived in dense grouping and were considered to be filthy by the dominant society in general. A simple clean word with a simple clean meaning but used in a dirty derogatory manner. However the word “niggah” is deemed bad but on television I saw a basketball player dunk over another player’s head, and his colleage yelled out to regale him, “my niggah!” Here is an example of a “bad” word being used in a good way as an act of praise. So who decides this shit? I think we all do based on our intended use of the words.

  • keishalarkin

    Reblogged this on Keisha Larkin and commented:
    This was a great class discussion, and it was very interesting to see the submission from the class.

  • florence ouattara

    It is true that the question, “Who decides what words are profane?” still remain. However, in my opinion is the media who decide what words are profane. Because if we take a look at the definition of those words in the dictionary it does not have the same meaning in our society. Society is shape by the media. By that been said is the media who decide which word are appropriate or not.

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