It was “the R-word” that pushed me over the edge.
Admittedly, I was pretty close to that edge already, given the accelerated rate at which verbal sensitivity was devouring the various letters of the alphabet. But let’s begin at the beginning, which was with:
“The F-word” was, of course, the first and the granddaddy of the whole “X-word” tribe. Just to be clear, the X in “X-word” doesn’t actually stand for any actual word beginning with X, unless xenophobia starts getting a lot more press and sociological leverage than it has now, so allow me to substitute for “X-word” a term that I just now made up, and hope to Trademark: Capdashing.
Capdashing, as I define it (and who better to do so), is the taking of an offensive word and replacing it with its initial letter, Capitalized, followed by a dash and the word “word.”
The reasoning behind capdashing “fuck” into “the F-word” was, presumably, that innocent little children would not see, and would thus be shielded from, the crudity in question. Rather comically, this reasoning basically assumed that the same innocent little children would be perfectly satisfied with hearing and reading “F-word” and never even think to wonder what the F might stand for — children being, as we all know, just about the least curious creatures on the planet.
It is fitting that a the capdashing phenomenon, given such a moronic genesis, would promptly proceed to make a thorough ass of itself, following up the success of its F-word with a mad rush of other capdashes. Given the initial emphasis on obscenity, the “F-word” was followed in kind, by the “C-word”, the C standing for a singularly vulgar slang term for either (a) the female genitalia or (b) one’s ex-wife, or (c) one’s ex-wife’s divorce lawyer, even if the lawyer in question was male. In fact, especially.
There was a halfhearted attempt to keep the momentum going in this vein, with the “B-word,” but it was just impossible to make a case for the capdashing of a word which, however sexist it might be, was not only used as an epithet with equal vim and frequency by both genders, but a word whose prohibition would make life nearly impossible for dog breeders and show judges.
Then, of course, capdashing moved to a whole new level: that of the personal affront. Unlike the C- and F- words, which were capdashed largely out of deference to obscenity laws, “the N-word” was born of political, sociological and ideological considerations, along with a desire to avoid physical harm. Or even worse, career harm.
Consider the example of Ms. Laura Schlesinger (if you can’t write me a prescription, don’t expect me to call you Doctor), who is up to her stretchmarks in hot water, and deserves to be, having gone on the air and said not just “Nigger” but “Nigger nigger nigger,” and not just once, but several times, rather like the chorus of some deliriously vile Klan Anthem.
Nonetheless, this entire sordid little episode brought back to me the words of the immortal Lenny Bruce, who did a whole bit on exactly this subject circa 1963, opening it with, “Are there any niggers here tonight? Let’s see, yes, two niggers, over there. And at this table, some spics. Are there any kikes? I’ll call your spics and raise you two kikes. And there are six micks, and two chinks…”
I’m paraphrasing by memory, and very raggedly, but I recall with icy clarity his point: That by prohibiting such racial slurs, you mystify and empower them, you sharpen their teeth and juice up their mojo, you enhance their ability to cause pain and rage, you effectively energize them. Make any particular X-word commonplace, banal, a cliche, he insisted, and you neutralize it. I like to think that he was right, but looking around, would hate to have to argue the point.
In any case, the capdash phenomenon has now, as I noted in my opening line, also given us the R-word, which is not exactly a breakthrough neologism, given that there was a period a few years back when “R-word” was commonly used in the media in place of Recession. But that’s not its primary designation today. The word so offensive and insensitive that it must now be reduced to “R-word” status is: Retard.
And that’s where I get off the politically correct bus. Mind you, I can sympathize with those who consider “retard” to be demeaning when used with reference to someone with a clinical condition that renders them cognitively constrained compared to the general population, blah blah blah. But it doesn’t rise to the level of obscenity or vicious slur or racist invective. It may be impolitic, or insensitive, or tasteless, but it doesn’t really merit capdash treatment.
Plus, if you eliminate retard from the lexicon, how can historians even begin to discuss George W. Bush?
More to the point, if you knuckle under to the “R-word” purists, where does it end? There are legions of minorities out there who believe themselves to be discriminated against simply by virtue of the words used to describe them. How soon before “obese” is, in deference to the feelings of those who are, reduced to “the O-word?” And what about Gays, for whom there are so many crude and capdash-worthy terms that you could wipe out a fifth of the alphabet? Certainly they’ll have first claim on “the Q-word,” if they want it.
You could probably work your way right through the entire alphabet, coming up with a word for each letter that some thin-skinned and emotionally involved group would find offensive. A-word? Well, we all know what that one is, don’t we, even those of us who are A-’s. B and C we’ve accounted for. D-word? Think Rosie O’Donnell. E-word? Okay, we’ve got our crack researchers working on that one. Stay tuned.
Anyway, I think the point is well made. All we’re doing is coming up with sanitized, socially acceptable ways in which to essentially say fuck and cunt and nigger and retard and evangelist and…
Hey! There’s my e-word!
Well, I guess my work here is done.