Saturday, March 3, 2007

watch your language

Since the nationwide freakout about Isaiah Washington's use of "the f-word", I have been mulling over the importance of language and word choice. Not that I don't do this hourly anyway (I'm an English major/teacher/total geek, remember?), but this incident seemed to incite a broad discussion (including a broadcast on "Talk of the Nation") of various words, their meanings, and their power. Now there is a kid-sized panic about the word scrotum (more excellent "Talk of the Nation" coverage). I find all of it immensely fascinating and am certain you do, too, dear reader.

Let's start with the f-word - I'm going to be bold and just say it because we're all grown-ups here, right? And even if we aren't, I doubt the mention of the word in this context would damage young brains. Hell, any kid not bored stupid by this point of the blog has a pretty solid brain, right? Interestingly, the "Talk of the Nation" host would not say (or let guests & callers say) faggot during the discussion. They even had to substitute "the other f-word" when trying to talk about fuck. Then there was "the n-word." Dan Savage asked once, only a tad jokingly, if he was supposed to say "the q-word" instead of queer. (Thankfully, the answer was no). Bottom line for me, without creating a dissertation here that even my smart adult friends would find tedious, words and phrases are powerful because of their context and intention. There is an obvious difference between me saying "I love you" to a student who compliments my hair or clothes (an extremely rare occurrence) and "I love you" to, oh I don't know, my Mexican boyfriend. A slur is a slur, sure (suddenly I'm Dr. Seuss?), but again its power is in the speaker's force and the listener's likelihood to blow a gasket. People are generally not total idiots, some behaviors albeit suggesting the contrary; they know when an insult is truly meant and when someone has simply spoken rashly. Isaiah Washington ought to be sorry for hurting feelings, but I don't believe the gay community - or any other - should be rounding up a lynch mob for him.

Now, the kid book frenzy makes my head hurt. The author didn't even use a slang word - that I might object to (although still only slightly). But parents and teachers up in arms about her using a correct term for a body part? That's plain insanity. Frankly, I'd be proud if my kids know what a scrotum is - it means they're paying attention to what I teach them. I just can't get behind people who call their parts wacky names like hoo-hoo and pee-pee; even "boobs" gets on my nerves, although it can be the perfect word in the right context. But I'm not going to lead a book-burning parade over any of this. It just makes me want to say the f-word. Foolish, that is.