posted on Mar, 16 2005 @ 03:25 AM
Words are a form of verbal symbol. As such they convey more than just the definition of the term that you'd find in a dictionary. The social,
political, and even geographic context is as important as the base meaning.
In order to not offend the site's automatic censors, and to keep from having to dance around it, let's take an imaginary term. Lets say that there
exists an ethnic group, the Ignomians, in the US who's been here since the late 19th century. They came over because of famine in their own country,
and were not well received upon arrival. Many places of business would not serve them, and they were assulted for having the ill-luck to be born to
Ignomian parents. Because of the prejudices at the time, they mostly took jobs in rendering plants, and acquired the nickname "The Stinks" because
of the smell that clung to them even when not at work.
100 years and more later, if you call an Ignomian-American a "Stink," you're making a comment not just on their ethnicity, but also of where you
think they belong in society. You are, in effect, saying that in spite of whatever education and success they may currently have, they really belong
in a meat packing plant, or at least that's what they'll hear. With those five letters, you envoke a whole host of cultural references, many that
you may not intend.
On the converse side, if the Ignomian-American population at large has been mostly unable to climb out of the lower classes, they may adopt the name
"Stink" to use among themselves. Used in this context it implies a communion of misery, it allows a bonding, and it takes a formerly harmful term
and re-defines it, if only among their own community, as a positive name. We see the same behavior among many groups today: homosexuals,
African-Americans, even Wiccans have taken the term "witch" and turned its meaning around.
What's overlooked, though, is that these terms imply membership in that community. If the aforementioned Ignomians had a prominant physical feature,
for example they all had red-colored eyes, then a blue-eyed person calling another a Stink would be seen as using the outsider-version of the term,
whereas a red-eyed person saying the same thing would be seen to be using a term of solidarity. Context is at least as important as the base
definition of the word.
While NLP is an interesting investigation, and has many useful aspects, a better place to start on this subject would be to pick up a basic book on
sociolinguistics. You'll see, there, how different cultures react differently to swearing. Some, like the US, have a very strong social taboo
against it. Others, like France, are more lax on the subject. Almost every culture has "Words You Do Not Say™" but the number and the severity
of breaking the taboo will change.