cunt, fag, nigger, etc.

Language is powerful. So powerful, that I’d be willing to guess that even the title of this post makes you feel *something*. Language has the ability not only to indicate basic ideas, but to also to convey our emotional response to ideas. Taken out of context, some words can mean entirely different things:


vs

Hmmm. Let’s talk about some words that seem to rely on context these days:


1. Cunt
2. Fag/Queer
3. Nigger

Funny that today’s attack words all pertain to women, gays, and black americans (minority groups…), but let’s not go there right now. What I’m wondering is: is it really possible to “reclaim” words? Or should we leave oppressive language behind and replace it with new language?

In Favor of Reclaiming Language

South Park made a statement about the fluidity of offensive language in the episode “The F Word” which commented on the new usage of “fag”. The female sexuality program I facilitate at the university has a reclamation of “cunt” and “queer” written right into the curriculum. And as for “nigger”, these days it’s hard to come across hip hop music that doesn’t spew the word vehemently. These movements suggest that it isn’t the history of the word that dictates the emotion behind it, but the emotion that we choose to invest; that reclaiming a word can rob it of its history. Reclaiming words can be empowering.



In Favor of Leaving Language Behind

Language can carry a lot of baggage. Let’s look at race here. To a new generation, using “nigger” may not have as much pain attached to it as a generation where the word was used to dehumanize them. In this context, words become a soul force that have the power to destroy, whether or not we like it. It’s basic conditioning.

This is why I myself do not use the words “nigger” or “fag”. In fact, just typing it brings me a little bit of discomfort. Going with the n-word example, I am white, and I don’t feel like “nigger” is mine to reclaim. However, I know people who reclaim words that have nothing to do with their identity (i.e. a white man who uses “nigger”). But what’s the difference between reclaiming the word and being a racist? An old partner of mine used the n-word and he argued that it depends on context. The problem is, when I visit websites like 4chan (warning: NSFW), I realize that “context” is what you make it, so things that are actually racist can still pose as being race neutral.

So, here are some thinking points: Can oppressive language be reclaimed? If so, who can reclaim it? Anyone, or only the person the word refers to (i.e. cunt can only be reclaimed by people with a vagina)? Or, conversely, should oppressive language be abandoned and left to rot from its painful roots?

Have a tit-ilating Tuesday ;D

48 thoughts on “cunt, fag, nigger, etc.

  1. The Swedish gays reclaimed the word “bög”, which worked in their favour. And “queer” is now seen as a fresh, exciting new word, not at all meaning weird.

    However, I could never use the n-word. I’m white, so as you said, it isn’t really my word to reclaim and it would feel offensive coming from my mouth. Cunt is okay if women use it. If men say it, immediately I feel uncomfortable. Fag is not acceptable. That word should just die out.

  2. There is a Youtube user by the name of variablast who is trying to reclaim “nigger” as effectively meaning “human”. I agree with the cause, I’m just not sure it will be effective. The way I see it, the only way for these words to be reclaimed is to change your reaction to them. Those affected by the words must be proud to be fags, queers, cunts and/or niggers. I know many women who have claimed the term “bitch” as a badge of honor. In theory, the same couldn’t be done for these other words.

    • Ah yes! I had forgotten about Variablast. I linked to him as an example in the post, thanks for the recommend :)

      You make a great point about changing your reaction to it, I just wonder how this process is successfully initiated and completed.

  3. You go to 4chan? I AM DISAPPOINT.

    On a serious note: I think cunt, fag and queer are a lot easier to reclaim than nigger.

    Cunt is just a nickname for a bodypart, only deemed more offensive than cock or dick because of taboos on women’s sexuality. The more society is able to accept female sexuality, the less offensive the word becomes.

    Fag and queer are used as insults purely because it was once considered “bad” to be anything but heterosexual. The more accepting of the spectrum of sexual orientation society becomes, the less offensive the words are.

    Nigger is much harder to reclaim because it doesn’t just describe a body part or personality trait – it specifically means a dark-skinned person who is considered sub-human. It has implications of slavery, absence of civil rights, segregation…

    Crimes against homosexuals, though no less despicable than racism (the pink triangles of the Holocaust spring to mind) just haven’t had the same impact on the mass-consciousness. The implications of the word “nigger” are far too deeply ingrained to reclaim, at least not for a very long time. Probably not within our lifetimes, at any rate.

    • The reason calling a woman a “cunt” is offensive is because it defines her as only that. Good for NOTHING but to be f***ed.

      It means something that is inhuman and empty.

      This is the worst thing you can call a woman. Unfortunately, there are some worthless inhuman individuals in the world that I consider to be such.

    • Cunt reduces women to something that’s only use is to be f*cked, as MoonDancer stated. It is tied to their body and reduces them to the sexual anatomy they were born with. It is often used by misogynists and sometimes well-meaning individuals who claim that the word holds no sexist baggage, but those people are idiots. I’d say even bitch is more reclaimable, although it is also extremely degrading.

  4. Its as simple as this, People who use words like these are ignorant, uneducated and just plain simple.
    They do not have the proper vocabulary to say anything remotely intelligent.
    “mouth breathers”

  5. I’m black & indian and I find it really funny how some white person has the audacity to redefine “nigger” as being “human.” WTF is wrong with you? First off, there was a reason rappers, activists and pro-black advocates reclaimed the word. They got sick and tired of everyone still using it’s racist term/ideal to keep oppressing them. They attempted to reclaim it but they always knew there is nothing “proud” about being a “nigger.” There is nothing proud about the history of the word either. If you think differently, you’re fucking mental and need a serious history lesson. People today try to say the origin of the word means “an ignorant person” but that simply isn’t true. That was the PC Webster definition as a result of black people not being allowed an education (hence “ignorance”).

    WTF should I change MY reaction to a negative word that was born out of murder, blood and hatred? Why? So white people can use it in a positive light because your lame asses can’t find a better word to use? Child, good day! That’s bullshit and you know it.

    This whole topic and people who advocated keeping the n-word around is a result of a generation who thinks racism is bad BUT have no idea about the history of racism NOT TO MENTION don’t know about their own while privilege. It’s pathetic really.

    • This is how I feel about the reclamation of these terms. Somehow men today now find it not sexist if they call me a dumb cunt/bitch. They think it is “ironic” because they believe that our society is post racist and post sexist. Oh, it is privilege not understanding how these words burn.

  6. When i join the army i stopped using the N word completely, when i left the army i stopped using demonizing words. all i say now is SHUT THE FUCK UP xD

  7. At my university (Otago University, New Zealand) our gay community has taken back the word Queer, and uses it in a positive sense for their organisation, e.g. Queer rights, Queer Tea Party (an event) etc.

  8. This reminds me of the movie Clerks II, where Randall says he is reclaiming “porch monkey.” Of course he is white and told he cannot.
    Unfortunately and/or fortunately these types of words are mostly used out of ignorance not malice. Often to hide ones own insecurities just like bullying.
    The best practice is to only use words for good purposes and not to try to disparage another person, race, or sexual identity with words or actions.
    In the words of Rodney King “OUCH OOOCH OUCH SHIT THAT HURTS” Oh no not those words. The one where he said “Can’t we all just get along?”

  9. Frankly language belongs to everyone. Some of it will be offensive to someone regardless of whether it has been “reclaimed” or not. Truly the only way of making an offensive term inoffensive is to not take it seriously. Eventually no one will care when you say it and it just becomes pointless noise. During this process there will be those that, while having good intentions, will be offended by you using a term that they want to see abolished.

  10. I think these hateful words should not be used. The majority of people are far too ignoratnt to to grasp the concept of the groups that the words are directed at are “reclaiming the word.” The automatically think “IF THEY CAN SAY IT, I CAN TOO” which ends up further pushing the hateful association behind the meanings of these words towards women, homosexuals, or african americans.

    On a side note, I’m really enjoying your website Laci. Reminds me of you older youtube topics =)

  11. I knew cunt as a word for vagina before I knew it was a “bad” or demeaning word, so it’s a lot easier for me (a guy) to use it.(only when I’m referring to a vagina of course.)

    • This word disgusts me when used to mean vagina. I interpret the word “cunt” to mean less of a body part and more of an empty hole that CAN’T really be filled up.

      Pu**y doesn’t mean the same thing to me. Pu**y is kind of sexy depending on who’s saying it.

    • It’s not okay if you use the word. You’re obviously too ignorant and privileged to understand the weight behind it and how words can change. Faggot means a bundle of sticks and nigger means an ignorant person, do they somehow hold less weight?

  12. Absolutely words can be reclaimed — the hacker culture is a perfect example of this.

    During the 50s and 60s, when the first software and hardware hackers started popping up and creating everything from assemblers to the Apple II, the term ‘hacker’ was attributed to the values and ethics of those individuals. Sometime during the early-to-mid 1980s, however, some kids were arrested for developing malicious code with the intent of accessing systems to steal or vandalize its contents. These kids, believing they were real hackers (look up ‘Hacker Ethic’ to understand the difference between the two), were directly responsible for the media’s association of the word ‘hacker’ with the actions of these kids, and thus is the sole reason hackers have been seen as criminals for as long as they have. Recently, however, the origins of the word have begun to resurface due to the efforts of the FSF, OSI, numerous *nix distributions, and the rapidly-growing amount of open-source software. While individuals who use computers to steal or harm someone still exist, the actions of the real hackers are beginning to be noticed on a global scale and the general public is, gradually, beginning to distinguish one group from the other.

    For decades, a hacker was thought as someone who broke into a computer or wrote viruses to steal bank information, social security numbers, product ideas (some real hackers do leak copyrighted works, however real hackers do this to fix or share the work, not to profit or cause harm, as ‘crackers’, as they’re called, are known to do). Fortunately, within the last few years, and mostly due to the actions of real hackers throughout the entire history of computers, it is gradually becoming not only acceptable to publicly call yourself a hacker (assuming you actually are a hacker), it is beginning to be seen as a status symbol to those who understand its roots (just as the terms CEO, MVP, Nobel-winner, entrepreneur, etc. have become).

  13. This is a good article. I really don’t agree with the whole reclaiming words bit. Nas tried to do it with the N word. Jay-Z had a good response, which was even if we change the word to mean something positive or if we ban it, another word would just come to replace it. It’s best to try to tackle the ideas and ignorance behind the word instead of just trying to ban of reclaim the word. Like with the N word, Jay-Z said, and I basically had this thought when Nas came out with the album ‘Untitled’, is that we have to fix the schools, the communities, and bring jobs back.

    It’s like how the word idiot use to be a slur for the mental handicapped, but when people were told to stop using it everyone started to use the word retard. We have to get rid of the ideas and hate behind it, not just change the word to mean something else. Hell, I even know people who are trying to reclaim these words use them to offend. I’ve seen feminist who try to reclaim slur words use slurs, and I’ve seen minorities who are trying to reclaim slur words use slurs on people from their same race.

    I think the whole reclaiming words movement is just a reaction to the problem. I’m Puerto Rican, and when I was in high school I use to call myself a spic sometimes. I think that subconsciously that people try to reclaim words because it’s kind of like drawing a line in the sand. When I called myself a spic what it meant was “Yeah, I’m a spic. What are going do about it? You view me and what I am/do negatively–well I don’t. Now do something about it?” Now remember, this was in high school when I was very much against authority and anyone who disagree with my opinions.

    I went to high school where most people were either black or Hispanic. We all said the n word in a positive manner. Yet there were times where if someone said it in the heat of anger a fight might break out. Giving a word another meaning won’t necessarily take away the original or negative meaning. It might just end up being just another definition.

    I’ve just learned that if a group of people don’t want me to say a word, and their argument makes sense, then I won’t say the word. And if that word changes and a new word becomes the word they take offense to, then I won’t say it either.

    • That story pissed me off so so much. Its censorship to be sure which I hate, but also it misses the entire point of the story. Calling Jim a “slave” instead of a “nigger” changes the entire context of the story. To children that read it the association that Jim was a slave -because- he was black is gone. Instead Jim is a slave who happens to be black. Stripped of extranious context slavery and race become disassociated in this context.

      Pretending it didnt happen isnt the way forward. Learning from it is. The book is a period piece, written in the style as was common. Part of that professors reasoning was to make the book more “comfortable” for modern audiences to read. This is missing the entire point, modern audiences are -supposed- to feel uncomfortable and disgusted about how things were. Twain is probably still spinning in his grave from the news.

  14. Just to point out to all the people that say “fag” cannot be reclaimed, in the UK, fag means cigarette. It is used all the time for that, you can’t really work in an office or go to the pub without hearing “I am going outside for a fag”.

    In fact, it wasn’t until I watched American shows/films did I learn that fag was also used as slang for gay people.

    • Also “faggot” is a type of meatball in England ;)

      But this is an interesting topic. Depending on where you come from in the world, some words are more offensive than others.

      Take the word “Spastic (Spaz)” for instance. Here in England it is a derogatory term for a physically/mentally disabled person; though Spastic is also a term for a medical condition. Whereas in America it is a perfectly acceptable term for many meanings.

  15. I never did grasp the concept of “reclaiming” a word. Attatching new meaning to a word and then attempting to mainstream it is missing the root of the problem. Language is just an extension of communication.

    Take the example somebody commented a few above about reclaiming the word queer by incorporating it into their culture. This misses the point that people who use the phrase “queer” in an offensive manner are still being offensive. They havent attatched your new meaning to the word their just plain anti-gay and havent chosen a differant word.

    Imagine for example that campaign was a success and for a 100 mile radius everybody knew the word queer was now a positive word that was connected with the gay movement. Then those people who would have used it previously would switch to “fag” or similar. You may elimante the word from the vocabulary but other words and of course new words with the negative meanings will just take their place. The target of any campaign should always be to normalise being gay.

    Words will always retain their power and so long as people are racist/sexist etc they will find a method to convey their hatred. Instead the focus should always be on progressing equal rights for all and instilling the belief that white/black/female/male/gay and straight etc are all to be viewed as equals.

  16. I have debating this issue with myself for a long time. I have no issue with the word ‘cunt’ and don’t see why it’s any more offensive than calling someone a dick. Cunt is a completely valid insult. Who wants to be a big vagina, or penis for that matter? Someone who is just genitalia wouldn’t be very interesting. I see no reason to be proud or ashamed of our dicks and cunts, and so am not bothered by such a word.

    Fag depends entirely on context. If I hear someone yelling ‘Shut up you fucking faggot!’ on the school bus, I WILL report them and inform them that such language is completely innapropriate. However, my friends use fag as an endearing term, so I often do as well. But I’m pansexual. Am I gay enough to use the word faggot? Does it matter? I don’t know.

    Nigger I would never feel comfortable saying as a white person and so I try to skirt the issue. I really don’t know how to feel about the word. That’s one I’ll leave to others.

  17. i’m with whoever argues that it’s all about context. i use the word nigger sometimes, but only to make a point, and the point i’m trying to make is ‘screw politically correct BS’. someone who uses a neutral context to hide racism is still being racist. something i’ve realized growing up is that i can choose not to be offended by anything. as a hispanic, i don’t care if people use words like spic or wetback. so long as the racist in question isn’t harming anyone, in a position of power, or isn’t harassing someone because of their race(or orientation/gender/etc.), who cares?

    i think it doesn’t matter what you do(pertaining to the choices you gave us) so long as we don’t give those labels any power over you.

  18. ‘nigger‘ is meant to be offensive and the attempts to reclaim it have just caused a very confusing situation. I mean the word is created to segregate and just black people using it causes just that. Saying that a word can only be used by a minority suggests that they are different than the rest of us( for better or worse). It should either be okay for everyone to say it or no one should say it. The same goes for the rest of them. However cunt is just a body part and it should be okay to say, same as dick or cock.

  19. I occasionally use the word nigger when telling jokes with friends (I am white). These jokes are often a satire of racism. Racism is funny because it is absurd and it makes us feel uncomfortable. I don’t really understand laughter but I suspect there is a hint of pain in every laugh. Why else would we laugh at people getting hurt or embarrassed?
    I suspect that when blacks say nigger around whites they are taunting us because we can’t say it. The word nigger will not be disarmed until anyone can say it and no one cares that it was said. When we give a word too much power it hurts our ability to communicate honestly. The word nigger is so loud it silences the words around it.
    The topic of race is so confusing, just when I think I understand it I realize how little I understand. I don’t even know whether this rant is offensive.

    • You will never understand it as a white person. You should not be able to say a word when you can never understand how it stings because of your privilege. To be fair, I don’t believe anyone of any race should say it. But you, you’re just ignorant, that is why the topic confuses you.

  20. I use the words “faggot” and “nigger” in everyday conversation. I myself identify as pansexual, and I’m not at all racist.The words don’t bother me, probably because I am a former poster on /b/. I’m very glad that people are trying to reclaim these words. Thank you for writing about this Miss Laci :)

  21. i am black and latin which mean;s i’m from brazil when we say nogalito’s we mean what we mean a person who is black the anglo spainard’s in my country say coffe cat so the word’s are clear and evident i don’t use a certian h word when talking about white people i just don’t say it i don’t use mean word’s when i describe asian people in fact i even ask where their from so many young people forget that the n word is meant too remind black people of how far they still have too go and yet how long the journey too get their i ended a two year releationship with a person won’t name names of who it is but i will say this his mother used the n word on me and yes granted she’s greek it stung me immensly she then called me a spic i told her i’m half black and french portugese she didn’t care either way yes word’s are just word’s but used in the wrong subtext end context it can wound many people ok bye

  22. Not gonna lie, I’m white, mid 20s and I say nigger a fair amount, mostly whenever I’m around my other white (close) friends. I do not consider myself in any way a racist and would never use that word in a hurtful, derogatory manner. Because words can have multiple meanings when spoken with certain inflection & tone, the intrinsic meaning (aka context) of what you are attempting to convey is what should matter not the words themselves.

  23. I don’t know anyone who gets offended by the words fag or queer. “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re proud!” has always been proclaimed loudly at gay pride parades and if anyone was ever offended by the word fag, Scott Thompson reclaimed it forever on “Kids in the Hall” in the ’80s.

    I live in Southwestern Ontario — your mileage may vary where you live, particularly if people are less open minded there.

  24. Cunt should be reclaimed… When it’s not used in a particularly demeaning way, I think it has an effect similar to the word cock. It’s explicit, Crass, and frankly, kind of sexy. I hate the word Pussy, though. I will probably never be ok with that one… I just can’t think of it in any positive way.

  25. Hi I like your post and it is so good and I am gonna bookmark it. One thing to say the Indepth analysis you have done is trully remarkable.No one goes that extra mile these days? Bravo.. Just another suggestion you canget a Translator for your Global Readers !

  26. NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER
    NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER
    NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER
    NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER
    NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER
    NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER NIGGER
    FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG
    FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG
    FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG
    FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG
    FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG
    FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG FAG

  27. I think a word can only be reclaimed by the people it refers too. However, some words i think will always carry the negative baggage. “Nigger” is a word that i believe will never be fully reclaimed. Being an african american female, I know that a black man saying the word and a white man saying the word will never be equal, even if the context is the same. As for “cunt”, i despise that word and would rather just get rid of it all together. Im not gay, so it would be up to them to decide if they want to reclaim fag or not. All in all, the words have some sort of power over the people it refers too. It’s up to those ppl to decide how the word affects them. At least, thats what i think. :)

  28. It seems to me that the word “nigger” should be perfectly acceptable when use to mean “a person who is enslaved and subjugated by the system, forced to do demeaning work at starvation wages.” Thus a statement like: “The company expected them to be good corporate niggers while the executives collected obscene bonuses and bought multimillion dollar yachts.” is not racist in that it is not putting down black people, but recognizing that they were abused and mistreated and identifying with them. Of course there will be those who will say we can’t expropriate their suffering, and this may be valid. But it seems to me that in this context, “nigger” is just a word for “slave” that packs more of an emotional punch, adding a connotation of being disrespected and dehumanized.
    My point is that no word should be taboo. It is the emotional implications that should be taboo, within the context of the way the word is used. As the illustrations with this article point out, “cunt” can be positive or negative.

  29. As a First Nations woman I don’t believe that effort should be used in reclaiming words. We should instead change societal attitudes. I’ve noticed that with attempts made at reclaiming words like cunt, nigger, and faggot, we have people who continue to use them for hate under the guise of “jokes” or “irony. We also have an army of ignorant white men on websites like 4chan who will be forever clueless being part of a marginalized group in society.

    These words, when used often, become less shocking to those they aren’t aimed at. The word becomes cheapened. It doesn’t matter WHAT the dictionary states, nigger has weight behind it and people should never forget why. People SHOULD feel uncomfortable when it is said because they should remember the brutal history behind it.

    If you do not understand how the word stings, you are too ignorant to say it. You may say you aren’t racist, but I will never believe you. I will always wonder in the back of my mind what sick thoughts you think.

    I grew up in a reservation and we called each other squaw as a joke, but to be called a squaw in anger was enough to start a fight. I grew up being called squaw by white relatives, it hurt. I don’t care what the origin of the word was or what your stance on racism is, it will never mean anything else to me than “Stupid native bitch”. Bitch is another term I despise. When men refer to women as bitches they send the message that they are dangerous, they do not respect us, and we should avoid them.

    A white man saying squaw and a native woman saying squaw will never be the same. To be fair though, I don’t believe anyone should be able to say these words no matter what they identify themselves as.

  30. Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!|

  31. People who get offended by sounds emanating from another’s mouth are purely nigger-faggot-jew-cunts and they’ll soon be extinct. The MORE we use these words, the less they’ll be so shocking. Use them up, take their “power” away, you stupid nigger faggot retard midget fuckers.

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