Some words are taboo, so that when they are used they constitute the “bad language” of socially inappropriate “swearing.” Those taboo words used to consist of the irreverent use of religious language. Then words about sex and “bodily functions” became taboo swear words. Now, profanity (words that profane what is sacred) and obscenity (words about what is done “out of the scene,” or out of sight, referring to sex and excretion) have become commonplace, even in public social situations.
Our culture doesn’t take religion or the body as seriously any more, so words about them are not so shocking. Now our forbidden words are “slurs,” words that denigrate racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual groups. The shock of hearing those taboo words and the social disapproval they create are equivalent to what the old “bad language” used to create. So says linguist Randall Eggert, who discusses ‘how the n-word became the new f-word.” [Read more…]