I’m a poet. I swear occasionally. Occasionally I also use language that I regret. My rule for myself, and that I try to instill in my students, is to use language that’s accurate and respectful. Life might be simpler if we had a list of off-limit words, but that’s really not the point.
One issue is context. Case in point, a conversation I had over the weekend:
A: Why, cause it’s too fobby?
B: You say fobby? You’re O.K. with that?
A: Yeah. I know that it stands for Fresh Off the Boat, and it’s been used in a bad way to make fun of people, but I think we’ve reclaimed it.
B: Are you sure? Because you’re not an immigrant.
A: True, but I still feel like its a term that’s been reclaimed. I spend enough time in the Asian American community that I’ve seen it used pretty innocently within the community.
B: So you wouldn’t be upset if someone called you a fob?
A: If it was a friend who said I did something fobby, no. If it was a jerk who meant it in a bad way, yes.
Another issue is defining which words belong on such a list. There’s the seven dirty words you can never say on TV, as defined by George Carlin. That list doesn’t quite correspond to the list of words I understood as swears on the elementary school playground. Neither of those lists corresponds to the words that I think hurt people the most. Case in point: the word “gay” really bothers me. It’s so commonplace, that most people don’t even associate it with the GLBT community. It’s a negative catch all for stupid, lame, boring, feminine, or otherwise unwanted. Gay is never used in a good way. Which leads me to my next point.
Just because you didn’t mean to be offensive doesn’t mean you weren’t. I realize that some people are overly sensitive. It’s true. But that doesn’t make it ok to be under sensitive in response.