I am often met with confusion and questions from people about why certain subcategories of society are socially ‘allowed’ to say certain words and the rest of society are not. This often comes with questions regarding the ‘n’ word the ‘f’ word (f*ggot). Such as: ‘how come they can sing and rap about it yet we can’t say it?’ Well my loves, today I will grace you with the knowledge you need in order to avoid being a nobhead.
Language has a history, as do individual words; words can carry connotations which can cut deeper than a knife to some people. Although words have a literal definition (otherwise known as the denotation, by geeks like me) they often go through processes of change over time. A common semantic change is called ‘pejoration’ which in simple terms means that the word goes through a negative change; amelioration is the opposite. The result of this change is known as the connotation. Like the connotations of the colour red are danger, love or STOP. Connotation is what we think about when we hear such word/see certain colour/thing or characteristic.
When I was growing up, the word ‘gay’ was going through a major pejoration period, where the boys at school would use it as the optimum of insults. I remember one lad getting more in trouble for calling someone gay than the other one did for saying ‘I sh**ged your mum’ (classic) The schools reaction only made kids want to say it more, instead they should have pushed the agenda that being gay is not a bad thing, and calling someone gay is far from an insult.
Not to fall under the ‘snowflake’ category, but unfortunately The Fairytale of New York’s use of ‘f*ggot’ should be censored and discouraged, as this makes it seem an acceptable thing to say. In reality, gay people often go through battles that they never speak a word about, and homophobic slurs like this can be so upsetting to go through. Imagine the pain of a parent or even a stranger calling you a f*ggot/being attacked for your sexuality and then hearing the lads at the pub shouting it for a laugh. I do understand that there is no malice behind ‘singing the lyrics to a song’ most of the time, but this word is hurtful and triggering for a lot of the LGBT community.
‘So why have I heard people of colour saying the n word and gay people saying the f word?’ Great question, seems a little off right? Just the same as how words go through pejoration/amelioration and general semantic shifts, words can go through other processes too! Fun right? What you have experienced here is a process called ‘reclamation’, meaning that groups reclaim the words which were originally invented to impress them – it can be liberating for some, but others disagree with it. I think it is quite admirable, as oppressed people have taken what others use to hurt them, to empower themselves. People are in fact using these slurs as an advanced linguistic resource, as they can create new meanings for such words. I have seen many a gay man positively self-reference as a faggot.
Many women do this too! This may sound strange but I bet other girls my age have done this. I often greet my friends by saying ‘hey bitch!’ Which is another example of reclaiming a word which has been used for centuries by men and women to drag (other) women down. Many of the words we use today have gone through a semantic shift. Another example is ‘feminist’ which can often be used as an insult, not for me through, I’d be happy to receive that! I have often heard ‘you’re not one of those feminists are you?’ Oops, yes sir!
I must admit that I would be shocked and confused if someone genuinely called me a ‘dyke’ in an offensive way or in an argument. I do use the word sometimes but only when referring to myself or having jokes with others in the LGBT community. But it would upset me if a stranger called me it aggressively or derogatorily, as it has been used to oppress and offend lesbian women. Many lesbians openly label themselves as ‘dykes’ – meaning more masculine lesbians. However, I much prefer the masc, stem and femme approach.
This is not about what we ‘can’t say anymore’ it is about learning and understanding that some words have no business being said by some people. And that’s just how it is. This is not me trying to be ‘woke’ or overly PC, but in fact trying to educate people who are genuinely confused on why certain people say such slurs (of course there are more) and why some people choose not to. It is all about context and history. Some words which are still prevalent in today’s society are so horrendously offensive. I urge people of all ages and backgrounds to just stop and do some research. Talk about these issues and try to understand why these words are destructive so we know what we shouldn’t say. With all the hate in the world, words can do more damage but they can also heal and offer support. Please be kind to your friends of colour, your LGBT friends and everyone in between.
How do you feel about this? Do you use slurs? Let me know & leave me a comment!
5 thoughts on “Why you Shouldn’t Call me a Dyke and I don’t Say the ‘N’ Word”
Hi Niamh, great article as ever 😁. I think people should take care with words, reclamation I think is a long process and can be side tracked. I have to disagree when you said ‘some words have no business being said by you or your demographic’ not in that white people should be able to say the ‘n’ word or straight people should be able to say the ‘f’ word but this is entering an area of division that I don’t think is particularly progressive. I think the ‘n’ word has gone further along the process of reclamation than those words associated with LGBT people and this has resulted in the ‘n’ being very commonly used by some black communities and I think this is the issue. If communities that should be very close together like working class black and white communities both use very different language, like one using the ‘n’ word very regularly and the other it being a horrendous racial slur it can cause integration between those communities to slow. I don’t think this example applies as much to LGBT communities as I think they’re generally more integrated within other communities but I’m not sure.
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Hey, thanks for your comment! Yes I think I could have worded that better. I just cannot deal with people who fight and argue to ‘be able to say the words’ when they should just accept that they shouldn’t say them. I agree that communities should use language to become closer and not to cause a divide. Thanks for reading and commenting! 😁😁
I don’t use slurs because that is how I was raised and I don’t care what ethnicity or sexual orientation one is.
As an English major in college, I understand that language is a powerful tool because it has the ability to denigrate an innocent individual.
For heaven’s sake, I was punished for telling my little brother to “shut up.”
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P.S. I can’t edit but I would like to add that slurs are unacceptable to me even among similar demographics. It is not ok for an African-American to use the “n” word or a gay person to use the “d” or “f” word.
It’s called civility, people.
Thanks for your comments! 🙂