Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

1/22/2007

The Other “F-Word”?

Filed under: General,Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 12:18 am

While I'm talking about vapid entertainment news, another recent brouhaha has embroiled Grey's Anatomy's Isaiah Washington.  According to reports, back in October while on-set, Washington referred to his co-star, T.R. Knight, as a 'faggot.'  Knight is gay.  Though this wasn't publicly known as the time, it seemingly was the cast and crew.  The incident was apparently privately resolved when it happened.

Earlier this month, however, it started prickling entertainment reporters' ears and then Washington was asked about it backstage at the Golden Globes, to which he replied, "No, I did not call T.R. a faggot.  Never happened, never happened."  People are now demanding Washington's head for uttering the term at the Globes… not so much for the angry invocation of it in October.

This is bizarre.  Washington wasn't using it maliciously on the latter occasion, he was using it in context (and denying its use at that, lending to his dislike of the term) as prodded by reporters.  While I quite agree that the word is inappropriate, I also think it should still be used given the proper contexts, such as, "One should not refer to someone as a 'faggot.'"  Given the uproar with Washington, however, it seems improper to use it in even this way.  Washington in his lengthy mea culpa, for example, apologizes for "using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance."  If this is the case, then I cannot but wonder why no uproar has arisen against media outlets that reprinted the term.  Weren't they also quoting or using it in context as Washington was?

It seems that 'faggot' is now going the way of 'nigger' in that the term is so frighteningly offensive, it can only be referred and alluded to by some silly euphemism.  For the latter, it's 'the n-word.'  Unfortunately for the former, 'the f-word' is already taken by another very versatile obscenity, so it will have to come up with something else. 

Let me be clear that I am against the malicious and/or discriminatory use of either term and both should be used with some prudence.  But it seems simply ridiculous that any term should be so loaded with meaning, that no one dare utter it, even when it's being quoted or used in a context such as the above.  Using a euphemism for it is akin to a child using gustatory terms to refer to his/her personal anatomy.  Words are not to be feared, only their improper use.  The euphemisms already do language an injustice.

The argument has been made that the euphemism for 'nigger' is used because the term is so fraught with hideous meanings and implications that sensible African-Americans and anybody with a reasonable conscience will and/or should have fainting spells upon hearing it.  Poppycock.  The euphemism actually succeeds in a strange paradox in that it strengthens the fear of the word while simultaneously removing it's meaning.  People come to fear the word itself for the use of the euphemism makes it plain that the term is to be feared.  At the same time, the meaning of the actual term slips away as it is never directly used in any context.  The word itself is feared and not what it stood for.  It's becoming a linguistic 'boo!' – something that is itself supposed to frighten though it has no real meaning.

As best as I can remember, the use of the 'N-word' euphemism first came into vogue during the O.J. Simpson trial.  Detective Mark Fuhrman was on tape using it numerous times and the media outlets felt queasy using it context.  While I don't care at the moment to wade through the transcripts, I believe Simpson's attorney, Johnnie Cochran, used it in the trial.  This was a brilliant act of courtroom theatrics since he was trying to discredit Fuhrman.  By acting as though the word were so offensive to him and civilized people that he could only allude to it by a euphemism just made it seem so much magnificently worse than anyone imagined, and Fuhrman that much more of a monster for having said it, thereby completely impugning his character.  How curious that the euphemism was given birth and popularity in the cynical, theatrical service of freeing a double-murderer.  Not an auspicious birth, to be sure.

1 Comment »

  1. I always thought one of the more creative instances of this was in the Harry Potter books, where Potter is about the only character not afraid to say ‘Voldermort’ and most of the other character get the vapors whenever he says it and instead use ‘you know who’ or some other euphamism.

    The instance of the city council member who got into trouble for using the word ‘niggardly’ a few years back was also quite entertaining. There now appears to be a growing list of words that we are not supposed to use like ‘picnic’ because the origins are supposedly racist when in reality the origins of many of the words are not racist.

    It is also ironic that other non-racial offensive words are becoming so commonplace in public that many people do not even realize that they are using them.

    Comment by Pete The Elder — 1/24/2007 @ 8:33 am

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