Words Hurt

**Note: This article contains some offensive language and racial epithets. The use of these words is solely for educational purposes, a compelling reason for the inclusion of this language.


According to Merriam-Webster, there are an estimated 1 million words in the English language. While it is difficult to know the exact number, there are a multitude of options that we use every day to read, write and communicate with anyone we need to. Every word in the English language serves its own purpose and is vital in conveying a certain message. 

Every word, that is, except for three. 

These three words stand out among the others, and we would all be better off if they were never spoken, read or written — “retarded,” “faggot” and “nigger.” Words like these are not only extremely derogatory and offensive but have the ability to belittle an entire group of people in less than a second. These words are not “just words.” 

I’m sure everyone has read the N-word in a middle school novel, or heard it in a song or by someone referring to their friend. Many people may think it’s not a very big deal to say it in a small group of friends or to call their black friend a “n*gga” as a joke. 

It’s no joke. 

This word was originated in the early 1600s by white people as a racial slur towards African Americans, according to “Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word,” a book written by law proffessor Randall Kennedy. The word is still used to this day to demonize black Americans all over the country.

 Its original purpose was mainly for slave owners to make sure that their slaves were kept subordinate and felt less than human. They weren’t a human, they were a n*gger. For this reason, it disgusts me that anyone finds this word tolerable to say to anyone, especially a black person, even if it’s a “joke.”

 As an African American myself, I’ve been asked many times by white friends for “the card.” This basically means a black person can give their non-black friend “permission,” and it is instantly acceptable for them to say the N-word as they please. I have a problem with this for multiple reasons, the first being that it is never acceptable to say, under any circumstance. Secondly, one single black person is not a spokesperson for the entire black community. No single person has the power to give someone permission to use that highly derogatory slur and offend countless members of the black community with a single word. 

The idea of offending an entire group of people in one word is very similar with the modern use of the word “retarded.” According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word is a description of someone who is less advanced in mental, physical or social development. It is often used to describe someone with an intellectual disability, and its use has morphed into basically describing anyone or anything that is seen as stupid or slow. This was not the initial intention or definition of this word, and I should not need to explain why this is extremely wrong.

 However, I hear phrases like “that’s retarded” or “you’re retarded” far too often that it seems as if no one sees the issue with it. By using this slang word, people with disabilities are put under this umbrella of being dumb, slow or incompetent. This is obviously far from true, and the use of the R-word in contexts like these causes nothing but harm to an entire community, as they are belittled for an aspect of themselves they cannot control. Imagine having an intellectual disability and hearing people make reference to your disability whenever they encounter something that they find inadequate or dull-minded. Once again, in a single word, an entire community has been diminished and made into a joke. 

As far as swear words go, I think many of them can be harmless, depending on their context, obviously. Yet there is one F-word that is extremely disrespectful, regardless of context: The word “faggot” is a slang term used mainly to describe homosexual men. It is often used not only as an insult towards gay men but expands into insulting any male as a negative connotation towards anything feminine. The same thing goes with many people exclaiming “that’s gay” at something they don’t agree with or don’t like. One of the main issues with these phrases is that they’re simply derogatory and incredibly rude, doing nothing but deprecate homosexuality. This leads me to my next issue with the word, which is that it feeds into the idea of toxic masculinity. Males are pressured to act tougher and more masculine in an effort to avoid being a “f*g.”

 Words are words, until they are discriminating, belittling or offending an entire community. It’s not difficult to fix this — just think before you speak and watch out for the weight that a single word you use may carry. It is important to understand that a single word in itself can promote reinforced racism, discriminate against an entire community or belittle an entire group of people based on their identity.