4.8
August 27, 2011

Offended by the word ‘****’? (This one’s for you)

Mark was my best friend.

We grew up together. I knew him since I was 4 years old.

We used to sleep over at each other’s houses, sliding down the staircases in sleeping bags, keeping each other’s parents awake at night.

I never felt comfortable in his house though. Everything was too clean and tidy – not a thing out of place.

And he wasn’t allowed to say ‘God’. He got round this by saying Gaw’ instead (like Gawd – ‘Queen’s English’ pronunciation, but without the D). I remember the first time I heard him say it. I laughed out loud.

His mother (who I must say is a lovely lady, and still friends with my mother) didn’t let him say God, but Gaw’ was ok. Even though we all knew that the meaning was the same.

I was always afraid of his Mother as a child. She reminded me of Nurse Ratched.

“Medication time”

The thing that bothered me the most about this vocabulary restriction that my friend was under – it sounded so contrived. As if, at the moment when he wanted to exclaim “Oh my God, the house is on fire!” or “Good God, I’ve never seen such a large carrot”, or “God Almighty is that really the time?”, he had to check his surprise / indignation / relief, and redirect his feeling into another direction. It was the censorship of expression that I found hard to swallow.

Once, when I was sleeping over at Mark’s house I woke up having shat in the bed (I promise you, it never happened before or since). After I got over my fear of waking up Nurse Ratched and telling her the bad news, I stood in the hall and chuckled to myself as she changed the sheets. Somehow, it seemed like some kind of divine retribution.

And I don’t imagine that she was saying to herself: “Oh my Gaw’, what a mess”.

In 1939 when Gone With the Wind was released, the famous line: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” almost didn’t make it past censorship. In those days, the words ‘hell’ and ‘damn’ were taboo. Hard to imagine that now isn’t it?

Nowadays there is really only one word left that universally causes us to pause and consider “can I really say that?”

Cunt.

A cunt is a vagina. We all know that, right? But a cunt is also a person so despicable that no other word/s will suffice to describe. In my recent article Why I Had To Leave Bangkok After Just One Night – The Girl With The Black Eyes I used the word ‘cunt’ to describe the various men who tried to ‘sell’ me an 11 year old child for the night. I personally think that a nastier word would have been better, but I can’t think of one. If you can, please let me know.

Several people commented that the story would have been better without the use of the word ‘cunt’.

Really, this is my reply to those people.

I think that a word is just a sound. The word cunt is a single syllable. And it can of course have a meaning attached, but meaning is subjective. So one person who hears it will react in a different way to another…

And of course, cunts can be beautiful genitalia (your vaginas are all beautiful, girls, please realize that) or they can be despicable men. In the same way that a dick can be a phallus, or a fool!

So in a way, the two people who react differently to the same word are really only separated by their cultural exposure to the word itself (the more someone has heard it, the less they will react).

For example: Gone with the Wind did wonders for the cultural acceptance of the word damn. (At that time the word ‘damn’ was prohibited from use in films – it was considered, yes, vulgar. Nowadays we don’t batt an eyelid do we?)

This article is doing wonders (I hope) for the word cunt (although perhaps not for my reputation. Oh well).

The meaning doesn’t change. Just the level of cultural acceptance.

So, when I am speaking or writing something, I won’t dampen my expression, my voice, to suit the audience. I just won’t do it. What would be the point – to protect delicate sensibilities? If so, should I worry about every word – god, damn, cunt…?! Where do I draw the line?

Rather, I challenge those of you who find this use of language offensive to question what part of you it is that is offended, and why?

If you remain offended after said questioning, then I apologize for causing pain. It certainly was not my intention. I promise you that I don’t often use the C word. (I save it for special occasions)…

Mark and I drifted apart. We were too different.

Last time I saw him was Christmas a few years ago. He came over with his fiancée, who I’d never met before. During dinner I went upstairs to find an old photo of the two of us at University. I wanted to show his wife-to-be how hilarious the two of us looked, both wearing wire-rimmed spectacles, with long hair and glowing red eyes. He intercepted me on my way back into the dining room, and insisted that I shouldn’t show her that photo.

Later, I figured out why. He had a joint in his hand, and he didn’t want her seeing that he’d ever smoked.

A couple of years later he and his (then wife) had a baby. I found out about it from my Mum. That was when I realized that our friendship was dead and buried.

Censorship is not a Good Thing.

Please help spread the word (ahem) love by sharing, ‘liking’ (or recommending, or whatever facebook are up to now), Tweeting, etc, and leave a comment! I’d love to know what you think…

 


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Lori Oct 12, 2014 12:04am

"Any unit of discourse can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways." – George Gopen, Professor of Rhetoric at Duke University – The best you can do is first be clear about what you mean to say, have some sense of how others might interpret or misinterpret what you are saying/writing and attempt to minimize the possibility of gross misinterpretation as much as you can. For a few pointers, you might consider this article: http://192.38.112.111/write/Science_writing.pdf – it is focused on scientific communication but there are general rules that can apply to all kinds of writing/communicating. But, in general, there is no way to communicate that avoids all possibility of misinterpretation or offense.

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Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting.
He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.