About the b-word (and other taboo words and phrases)
As referenced two entire days ago, there’s a growing backlash against the R-word (Washington Redskins). The argument against it is that you’d never name a team the Blackskins (or other derogatory terms), so why is Redskins okay? However, in some of the corresponding discussion, other words have been referenced as unacceptable as well.
For instance, the b-word. I first saw bitch referenced this way shortly after I moved to Tampa, probably around 2000. According to some, bitch, along with being a decent Meredith Brooks song and a better-than-decent Rolling Stones song, is a word that should be out of bounds for anyone except women.
And for some, it can be a very short fuse. I once worked with a woman who was among the more mild-mannered people I’ve ever known. Until a co-worker called her a bitch one time, at which point, she turned into She-Hulk.
Another phrased I’ve used that offended others is I hate you. Not as in I’m a teenager raging with hormones who doesn’t get his or her way, but in the adult way. Hate is, indeed, an ugly thing. And when it’s played out against masses of people, we call it genocide. On a smaller scale, it results in people being murdered for the color of their skin, who they sleep with, and even wearing the wrong team’s sports logo.
I have used both terms and been called out for them–in both cases by people who weren’t the target of my statement. In the first case, I’ve called women I know pretty well bitch when they’re right about something and it’s obvious they’re right to me and everyone else around. It’s another way of playfully saying “You are so completely right that I have no recourse except to call you names.” It has always been done in controlled situations and always with humorous effect.
I said I hate you to my daughter (yes, I am a horrible parent) after her first short story ever accomplished things I had to work at to learn. Just naturally. Without working at it for a long time. Any rational person would respond with I hate you. (In fairness, my daughter has had years to get used to my…unique brand of humor so she knew it wasn’t an insult.)
The question then, isn’t whether we should use such terms in our writing. This blog has asked that question many times in many different ways. (The answer: you do what the story demands, even if it offends people.)
The question is whether to build in scenes about such words to add to the richness of your story. As we noted before, Beverly Hills Cop (a movie) was a different movie once Eddie Murphy got involved. It would be a far different movie if Denzel Washington were to play Axel Foley. Now, instead of a foul-mouth jerk from out of town, Axel would be a hard-working cop trying to do his job while wading through culture shock and, probably, racism.
The plot would still be about bringing Victor Maitland to justice. But the story would be about something other than Eddie Murphy showing off how funny he is.