Are “N-Word” or “F-Word” or “S-Word” Words?

A while back I excited quite a bit of interest among the established bloggers on this newspaper site–as well as among readers of that previous blog–by suggesting that it was futile to try to use “words” like the three in the title of this post because they do not refer to anything existing either in the intensional or extensional universe, as “real words” supposedly do.

     “Real words” might be defined as words which have extensional meaning; that, they refer to something that has concrete, sensory reality.  These would be primarily naming words, or nouns, such as “rock,”  “cat,”  “Alpha Centauri,” “retina,” and “Elvis.”  We can often find agreement when we use this category of words reliably.  For instance, we would be corrected quickly if we referred to “Lassie” as a “cat.”  There are of course ladders of specificity into which we can place relevant, particular words: such as the pattern from most general to most specific with “animal,”  “feline,”  “kitten,”  “Princess.”  Biological categories illustrate these patterns very well.

        When we start throwing out words with primarily or exclusively “intensional” meaning, we start to also have more difficulties in communication.  What Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe means by “democracy,” for example, is likely much different from that what it would mean to Barack Obama, incoming President of the United States. Other words of this type would include “dismay,” “divorce,”  “decree,” “disorder,”  “dementia,”  and “darling,” but not “dandruff” or  Dorothy Dandridge.

        When we use “F-word” or “N-word,” we had better be in agreement with our cohorts or comrades or correspondents about what these quasi-acronyms mean.  When I am playing golf badly and hit a ball laterally right into the pond on # 5,  I do not like to hear the word to which the “word” S-word refers, and thus I ask for the “S-word” not to used within my hearing.  But this is a kind of superstition: if one doesn’t say the word that describes the bad act, maybe the bad act didn’t take place or can be rectified.

     In early civilizations, we often find that there are certain taboo words which are not to be uttered aloud or are to be avoided completely.  The ancient Hebrews, for example, had two names for God, only one of which was used in a public context.  If their enemies got access to the more potent word, they would also gain access to “Yahweh,” now usually transliterated to “Jehovah.”

       A very amusing cartoon, which sometimes depicts primitive fetishes, is Mike Peters’s “Mother Goose & Grimm.”  The December 14 strip is priceless. It exhibits Grimm using the word “butt” and being accosted by a censor, who says,  “Sorry, But you can’t say the B-word on the comics page.”  The spoofing goes on with “but” or “butt” and similar words being used a number of times: until the censor gives up in frustration.

      I also wonder what the latitude is in the local newspaper for using “euphemistic” equivalents for taboo words.  Coach Roy Williams, for example, is quoted frequently as saying “Dadgummit!”  Or “dadgum” as an adjective.  (Both, of course,in place of a strongly profane reference to the Allmighty.)

      And what about Williams’s frequent use of “frickin'” in place of what we journalists have become prone to, or forced to, call the “F-word”?

     Comments and suggestions?


. . . .


17 Responses to “Are “N-Word” or “F-Word” or “S-Word” Words?”

  1. joris Says:

    Obviously, the J-word is still a taboo, not only with the ancient Hebrews…

  2. pen Says:

    I wonder, if no one could say Yahweh, how was the word passed on?

    As I’ve gotten older I don’t use near as many curse words as I once did. Using them too much, like how we hear them more and more on the teevee, takes their power away. I think they should be conserved, so we have another level of language to use when we need it.

  3. thescoop Says:

    Black America and the N-word:

  4. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Language is somewhat of a weapon for some. To use as needed at a given time to throw some off guard. To pay respect but at the same time making a strong statement. It’s not hard to fill in the blank.

  5. Joris Says:

    To Pen:
    The Name was passed on, only the enemies of the name refused to use it: Jeremia 23:27 (they tried to make people forget the name). Others still promoted the use of the divine name: Matthew 6:9 “Our father in heaven, let your name be sanctified…” (see also Joël 2:32)

  6. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    There are words that need to die out and there are words that need to live forever!! Joris, The enemies love to oppress those that follower the truth!!

  7. Forest Crump Says:

    The words that you can use but then again you can’t—in the bible the cock crowed three times but you have to be careful what you imply when writing that you are going by farmer John’s house to see his large cock, the reader needs to know you are referencing the new rooster he just purchased or else they might be offended.

    Then who gives a damn, which you can print in the paper and say on TV. You can even say ass and get away with it, “Oh, quit being such an ass,” is an acceptable phrase for prime time TV.

    I can say that my dog is a bitch but I can’t say the same of my ex wife—although I might think it.

    Even some names, like Dick, could be offensive depending on the context in which it is used, Richard, ‘Dick’ Nixon, comes to mind, and yes, I think that it could be applied both ways to him—he was a Dick.

    Why do lesbians shop for their sporting equipment at Gander Mountain?
    Because they don’t like Dicks.

    I can pet my pussycat but if I used the term, in any other way people would be very offended and I wouldn’t be invited back—unless they have a cat they want me to pet.

  8. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    On a more cerebral plane, but maybe not that much more:

    If the English language doesn’t give us a word or, as stated so eloquently and elegantly above, we don’t like the word it gives us, we’ll make one up.

    Of particular note is the word “you” as it occupies the second person, plural spot in the personal pronoun chart. Almost every other language has a distinctly different spelling for this word versus the second person singular. And even our native born ears do not like that.

    So, up north, it’s “yous” or “youse”. In the Alleghenies or Appalachians, it’s “yis’, as in “I’ll whip all o’ yis.” In the midwest it’s “you-uns” or “yins” or something like that. And of course, down here it’s “you all” or contracted to “y’all”.

    It seems like that lately all the rest of the country has adopted “y’all”.

  9. bum Says:

    And “y’all” is correctly used only in the plural, never singular. I hate it when some Yankee writer tries to do Southern and slaughters the use of this perfectly good word (or would a contraction be two words?).

  10. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Forest Grump you’ve been sitting on that bench in the Park again! You’ve got it all right! Times have changed and words have changed meaning according to the content it is referring too! Isn’t it in the tense, present or past! Grass can be something we don’t like to cut or the profit will be cut short but folks are fighting over grass at the Park which is nothing new. Forest Grump you do have a way with words.

  11. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    I’m hearing there may be limited free speech because of current events folks want to manage what others hear. That’s right there is already many limitations as to even how one must pray or the court will be calling your name. Here-here

  12. roro Says:

    Yahweh translation is Jesus. Jesus means God Saves Jehovah means Lord. All in Hebrew. Democracy has many categorical meanings-Representative, Parliamentary, Liberal. So how words are used and how they are supposed to be expressed, whether made up or for conventional meaning the purpose of the message is important. The truth is many like to censor others because they don’t like or accept others “intent” of meaning. The origin of the word becomes irrelevant.We are often lost in translation. My, My My poor poor pussy. Frankly, I have enjoyed this article even if you do allow “pen” in the blog.

  13. pen Says:

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,'” Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t–till I tell you. I meant, ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.


  14. roro Says:

    Maybe Humpty Dumpty shouldn’t be leaning over the fence and be a little bit of a shirt lifter! Ya Betcha, ay Mate! lol

  15. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Bum: I’ve heard “y’all” used ignorantly in the singular too! Disgusting!

    Yahweh was originally spelled “YHWH”. The ancient hebrews believed the name was so sacred that they wrote it without the vowels.

  16. Raymond Rundus Says:

    A couple of comments on this fine December 29th evening:

    I heard many years ago from a native Tar Heel that y’all was a singular form and “all y’all” was plural. Don’t think this will “hold water” in actual practice or “pragmatics.”

    Thanks to all who commented on this posting. Marshall Faircloth’s pointing out the way in which the secret or taboo form for “God” was handled rings true with what I learned in a college Introduction to Religion or perhaps in was “The Life of Christ” many years ago.

    Much in the news in the last couple of days about the “Barack Magic Negro” song, defended by some as parodic and therefore protected by the First Amendment. Others are saying that the song is offensive to a protected minority and therefore needs to be condemned as “politically incorrect.” I am undecided about the issue. What is intended behind a particular action that causes a fuss is difficult to define or to defend, once expressed by either the perpetrators or their allies or their antagonists.
    What do you think?
    I have used earlier in my Blog–maybe way back when–the passage from “Alice in Wonderland” that Pen shared on this site, and one could obviously relate the “Barack Magic Negro” song to what Humpty-Dumpty says to Alice about the meaning of “glory.” Keep in mind here that “glory” is an abstract word with only “intensional” meaning, though one of course could relate actions and symbols to what he or she says was meant by “glory.”


  17. pen Says:

    I think you’re mixed up about the meaning of “free speech” and “politically incorrect”. Of course Saltsman has the right to say anything he want, within the limits set through case law (hate speech, inciting riots, etc). The cd is also undoubtedly politically incorrect. Politically incorrect speech is still protected by the first amendment from government censorship. No one is saying that Saltsman should be prevented from distributing the cd by government action. But free speech provides for open debate- Saltsman has the right to distribute the cd and we have the right to call him an insensitive, tone deaf jerk. We also have the right to not vote for him or his political party as long as they tolerate this guy within their ranks. His political party has the right to distance themselves from Saltsman and drum him out of the party, if they choose. All these things are protected, and they are all part of politics. Let’s not forget that Saltsman is a politician.

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