This week our topic is Forbidden Words! Now when we say forbidden, we don’t mean legally forbidden. This is, after all, still the friggin’ United States of America. And last I looked, we still enjoy the First Amendment right to say whatever we darn well please. We’re talking about morally forbidden words – words that hurt, insult, and demean.
What is it
Some words, like n****r, ch*nk, and c*nt, are so forbidden that we won't even spell them out here. Decent people simply don't use these words to refer to others; they are intrinsically disrespectful. But aren't words just strings of sounds or letters? Words have life because they express ideas. But in a free society, how can we prohibit the expression of ideas? How can we forbid words? Where does the strange power of curses, epithets, and scatological terms come from? John and Ken avoid mincing words with Chris Hom from Texas Tech University, author of Hating and Necessity: The Semantics of Racial Epithets (forthcoming). This program was recorded live at the Marsh Theater in Berkeley, California.