Words, Words, Words

Words are symbols that signify. Let that sink in.

The language that we uphold as holy is nothing more than random sounds echoing from our throats. Each word is just a variance of the grunts that signified things to our ancestors. Some words, however, hold an almost magical power in Western society. These are called swear words, cuss words, “bad”words, or curse words. They are taboo.

But in the end, they are just another possible combination of letter sounds that signify, in our language, something earth-shattering. Words that are more powerful than those of politicians. That can quiet down a court room, strike fear in people’s hearts, and offend some to no end. In this light, Derek rethinks words as he writes.

Derek writes all the time. He works on fiction every day and perhaps every other day, he writes on this blog. He writes stories, poems, and feature articles. He writes and writes and writes. So, maybe Derek was under the impression that words gave him power. Just a phrase can empower someone. But consider the origin of swear words. When considered, swear words may give people some power, but more so, people give power to the words.

The only reason words signify so much is because we make them signify a lot. Try cursing at someone in a language he or she does not understand. The meaningless of the words will be just as meaningless as the meaningless of other words meaningless to him or her. Meaning, that words can help communicate. But when you remove the symbolic meaning of the words, they are simply vague sounds that mean nothing.

This should affect both how we deal with people in society and how we write. We should rethink how much power we attribute to words. Words start wars after all, and there is of course the adage about the pen vs. sword. But the power words hold comes only from what society contributes.

The key to understand the paradox is much like wrapping your head around the question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Man indeed first empowered words, but when did words begin to exude a power of their own much like the futuristic robotic sentinels that will bring mankind’s demise?

The power comes from a collective agreement that the power should exist. Much like the power the president holds or the power a king holds. If ever the people decided that words hold no power, then they may not be affected so much.

But if we were not affected by words as we are, would that be a good or bad thing?

If man were immune to the emotional impact of words, we would not be swayed by politicians, would instead approach things logically. We’d become a world of pseudo-Spocks. We also, however, could never be drawn in by the suspenseful atmosphere of a thriller. We would never laugh of hilarity of a humorous story. The emotional pull that helps some stories affect readers would be lost.

So, in a sense, to understand the implications of curse words is very important, Derek thought. If we desensitized ourselves to their effects, why would we need to ever use them? Their only purpose to sensationalize our speech. And so without a purpose, they become mere words, yes, but boring words.

If we allow curse words to continue to be taboo, to continue to offend us, we allow them to be truly used in the way they should be. Both in life and literature. We can still shock each other with them and anger each other.

While many people complain that people give too much power to curse words, I say we continue receiving the power from the words. As over the words, through the influence of society, the words garner more and more symbolic significance. And mean that much more.

In other words, curse words have an important function. And no, they should not be overused or forgotten completely. Because they have power. The origins of the power, as I said, are vague. The chicken and the egg problem.

Derek thought of all this and then turned his attention to more words, words that were not necessarily curse words, but offensive in their own right.

What we perceive as offensive

Or Maybe Derek considered Oprah Winfrey’s fate, cause that’s how he DO

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on December 21, 2011, in Blogging, books, Poetry, Word Salad, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Is this in response to my request that you write about curse words?

    This is interesting regardless of where it came from. Why are you referring to yourself in the 3rd person?

    Are you saying that curse words have power over me because I let them? I suppose that is true. If I chose to ignore them, they’d lose their power over me, but what about the quality of our general discourse? Do they have a legitimate place in our lexicon? Is there no other way to shock someone other than to use the “f-bomb?” Can we get someone’s attention without calling them a “f-ing bitch or bastard?”

    These are more rhetorical questions, but if you want to answer them, fire away!

    • I am because all of these posts are part of one large series called “Choose Your Own Adventure Blog.” It’s the main featured blog on the main site. And the blog will stay in this irritating format for about a week for that very reason.

      But I think curse words indeed have a place in our language. I think the F word is almost too versatile for its own good, but as an adjective, it gives one a different feeling. Simply use the F word in place of “Very.” And yes, where the power of words comes from is very interesting.

      You could indeed get along without swear words, but I think they are rather fun to a point. I know this is a childish way of thinking, but it’s true.

      • Great topic to take on and your perspective is always interesting and fun.

        I can’t agree with you on swear words being fun. Maybe that makes me a prude. It certainly makes me Buddhist and very different from almost everyone I know. But that’s okay. I don’t mind being different. I rather like it. Working around curse words makes me think creatively. Sometimes I think people resort to curse words because they don’t want to engage their brain to think of more apt descriptive words. But that’s just my Buddhist bias (talk about an irony)! 🙂

      • Indeed, in today’s society, it is difficult to sound passionate about something without them. So, yes, it requires great creativity, especially when trying to insult someone.
        And to answer your earlier question, this is based off of your idea. I had a lot of fun thinking about the purpose of curse words and words in general.

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