do words hurt, hate speech

How Important are Words? (Post 29)

Writers are in love with words and so are comedians.  However, I would say there’s a BIG difference between the spoken word and the written word.  For example, I have no problem cursing like a sailor when I’m on a stand up stage.  I think that’s because there’s a smoke-like quality to speaking.  You say something – it may stun or shock or cause a laugh or a tear, but then it’s gone.  When it’s written, it’s there FOREVER.  As such, I invented a new way of cursing specifically for my blog.  Basically, I say “feck” a lot.  Feck this.  Feck that.  Sweet Mother Fecker.  Godermn it.  Goddermn that.  The spellings vary, but the intent is the same.  Since these curse-like words will be around for longer than if I had said them, it feels right to ‘soften’ them in a funny way.


bulling, words hurt

Do they? Or is it the a**hole that slings them?


But, on a stand up stage I think any word is fair game.  You need only look at Chris Rock’s N-Word vs. Black folk bit to understand how I feel.  (I’ll include the video for you at the bottom of the post.)  Chris has a right to that word.  I don’t use it because I don’t feel I have a right to it.  I also don’t have anything to say about it that would move diversity and tolerance forward.  If I did, I might use it.  But, only in that context.  Why?  Because I don’t believe that it is the word that is a problem.  IT’S THE INTENT.


Here’s a word I do feel I have a right to:  FAGGOT.  Faggot makes people nervous.  Just as nervous as the N-Word.  Though I would say the N-Word, at times, makes people even more nervous.  Yet, as a gay person and a comic, I feel I have an absolute right to faggot and any other word for that matter.  Especially, if I can be called it in hate.  Then I can use it, change it, play with it, and bring light upon it by desensitizing it.  All depending on how I use it.


There are people that don’t agree.  I used the term (a made up one) “rampant faggotry” on stage once within a bit.  I’ve used it often with very little outcry.  However, one day, another gay man challenged me on it.  He didn’t like the use of it because he felt that it’s used as a put down to small schoolchildren.  Fair enough of a point…to an extent.  BUT, it’s not the word itself, it’s the intent of the bully that causes the most harm.  If you use faggot with the intent of “you’re less than,” “you are other,” “you are less than human…” then YES, it has a harmful intent.  If you use it how I use it – to take down the oppressor by using it on them, then, I’m telling you, it has a quite different effect.  I also think it’s different when a woman uses it and a man does.  The same would go for c*nt.  It’s one thing when an American uses it and quite another when a British person does.  We could go on and on.


british man, british saying cunt

Here’s what I’m thinking, “Alistair is a coont, mate.”


Language is interesting, though.  Because I do believe that if a word is used constantly within a culture it truly says something about the culture.  For example, the French, apparently, use the word for whore or prostitute constantly: putain.  In DJango Unchained Quentin Tarantino uses the N-Word obsessively.  He’s taken heat for it.  However, I would say he’s overusing the word to make a point.  As if to say, “This is truly how bad it was back then…”


In South America, Colombia, specifically, I found that “marica” or “maricon” was used constantly.  It was literally used in place of how an American would say, “man” or “dude.”  As in, “What’s up, man?”  Colombians might say, “Que mas, marica?”  Unbelievable, but true.  Now, it could mean that marica, which translated directly means faggot or homo, has less sting for South Americans.  But, I think not.  I think that a great deal of South American culture has a VERY macho slant to it.  Therefore, what’s the worst thing that you can say to a macho guy?  Answer:  Faggot.  So, what does “putain” say about the French culture and women?  I don’t know enough about the culture to say, but I do find it interesting nonetheless.


What about you?  Are certain words off limits when you speak or write?  Let me know in the comments section.





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61 thoughts on “How Important are Words? (Post 29)

    1. i’m reading this book about social media called, ‘roi’ by a guy i like and he talked about it, which gave me the post idea. that and the django unchained stuff… looool. i thought you might like it. :) sm

  1. I think everyone has a right to every word. Words stay profane because of the taboos against them—that profanity adds more layers of taboo and on and on until it’s a vicious cycle. I believe we should take the sting off these forbidden words by using them every now and then. Just my two cents.
    I agree with you about Tarantino in Django. I don’t think he’s racist.

    1. i couldn’t have said it better myself. and i agree about tarantino. no racist would take on these subjects with such cinematic door-kicking elegance. i love what he does. i DO think there’s a power to ‘taking back’ words so to speak, as well… xo, sm

      1. Thank you! I was so afraid I wouldn’t write anything worth a damn—not being American (yet!) or Canadian. I’m glad you liked it. Thanks for reblogging it. :)

  2. Oh I can’t stand either of the words you’ve said above – the N-word or the other F-word (fag). My brother used to say that a lot. I got on to him once to no avail. It just took him growing up (and moving away to the “Big City” for a little while) to understand how bad it was. I also don’t like to hear “retard”…like in….that is retarded….I think it’s way too easy to come up with a better word for some reason.

    1. i think when they are used maliciously, they suck. for example, when kramer did his crazy assed n-word rant all over the stand up stage. not funny. when chris rock does it though, funny… so, i do believe it’s truly about HOW it’s said. but, i also totally respect you not liking them. ;)

  3. I both agree and disagree with you on this, SM (how’s that for confusing?). It’s not about intent, it’s about filters. They are simply words, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter how the speaker means them, but how the listener taakes them.
    A few examples of what I mean (how the listener chooses to take the meaning) Folks have called me gay, fag, faggot, and stuff like that. My responses were stuff like, “How did you know I was happy?”, “I am a Female A** Grabber. What gave it away?”, or “Why are you calling me a cigarette?”, or “A bundle of sticks? You’ve *got* to work on your insults.” My personal filter is usually set to “Most folks are beneath me,” so their words don’t affect me.

    Unfortunately, most folks are too worried about what someone else thinks of them, or thinks a stranger’s words matter somehow, so they get upset over little words. I feel sorry for them. They’d be a lot happier if rather than accepting someone’s words as hurtful, they turned them into a compliment.

    I know what you’re thinking, Rebecca, “That liquid excrement is easier said than done. How the feck does Foster think he is?”

    To which I say, “It’s just as easy to say as it is to do.” Here’s how:

    Let’s say some noisey, ignorant fecker calls you a d*ke, or a c**t. You’re ideal response would be, “Thanks for the compliment.” They’ll look at you like you’re crazy, or say, “The feck?” Your follow up is, “Thank you for telling me I mean so much to you that you took time out of your life to talk to me. You’re special.”

    I’ve done it for years. Give it a whirl, hey?

    Lot’s of love,


    1. i think the words actually DO NOT bother me much. after all, i’ve been doing comedy for years and as such i’ve been called everything and i mean everything in the book. so, i’m a little better with it than others. i also have that comedian’s viewpoint of NOTHING is off limits, IF it’s funny. and it has to be funny. a lot of comedians try to roast one another, but they miss the funny part and then the jokes fail…

      i also LOVE how this girl handled it:

      check out the video, it’s awesome.

      i think the place where the ‘words matter’ thing is most important is with little kids. i think as a kid i didn’t always know how to handle being called something. i wasn’t there in the head enough to have the smarter retort, so i ended up getting into lots of fights. truly, that’s when an adult has to intervene…

      xo, sm

  4. I tend to see such language as a symptom of intellectual sloth. Unless they are used to make well-deserved emphasis, or used in a funny, clever, original way. And coming up alternate phrases can be fun. For instance, “you syphilitic son of a b!tch” can be “you deranged son of a dingo”. I considered keeping “syphilitic”, but then I hear my son ask me to explain what it means. I wimped out.

    Great post SM :)

    1. i think i just love, ‘you deranged son of a dingo.’ it just rolls off the tongue. loooolll. and i also loved the sentence, ‘i tend to see such language as a symptom of intellectual sloth.” so well put. so well put. you know i say that it’s okay to curse in live comedy and i feel that it is, BUT there is a point where a comedian is cursing so much that it ALSO just becomes laziness…as if they are trying to shock the audience/ wake them up in place of a punchline… very interesting points. xoxo

  5. Words are very interesting things, SM. They are the tools, vehicles, instruments we use to communicate concepts, thoughts, feelings, beliefs. We use words to express the magnificent and the mundane, and sometimes we use the same words to express both! I attempt to use words mindfully, as well as meaningfully. Sometimes I succeed…others not so much. I am frequently accused of placing too much emphasis on the word and not sufficient on the intent; however, very often, especially in writing, the intent is not that clear. The reason for that, I think, is because while we may be 100% scrupulous in our intent, in our delivery, there is a 50/50 possibility that our communication will not be received as we intended. Since I only have control over my delivery, not its reception, I am very mindful of my choice of words. Now, let’s see how well I’ve succeeded! lol xoM

    1. you bring up such a strong point, margs. although we may be very specific in our intent it may be completely misread upon delivery. i do agree that we should err on the side of caution with these things, yet at the same time i don’t believe in banning them altogether. you bring up lovely and eloquent points. xo, sm

      1. I don’t believe in banning the words, SM. They do serve a purpose, a purpose that needs to be thoughtfully, mindfully exposed! “Erring on the side of caution,” implies – to me – that there is an error, a wrongness in the use of words. I would agree with that idea for ANY words used mindlessly, no matter what they are. Using the words deliberately, appropriately, and mindfully is – in my view – an opening to further discussion. I’d like to see a world where we are free to say “what do you mean by that,” without being combative, with a genuine desire to get on the same page so that we may actually communicate instead of just fling words at one another. This discourse, this conversation that you’ve opened, SM, is just one of the many, many steps we can take toward that goal. Thank you! xoxoM

  6. On my blog and in my personal speech, I avoid all types of words like that–wouldn’t feel at all comfortable saying them, and I see no reason why I should. It doesn’t jibe with my writing. When it gets tricky is when one writes fiction. In Stephen King’s “On Writing” he mentions that as soon as writers censors themselves because they’re worried about what others will think if they write something offensive, then they stop being real. In other words, one has to write whatever makes sense in the story, even if it offends oneself or others.

    I’m facing this in my current novel. I have a killer; his actions are deplorable and so are his reasons for doing them. As I write him, I’m constantly thinking, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t say that or do that.” But in doing so, then according to King, I am no longer writing honestly. It will be interesting to see in the end how much I censor myself.

    Great post, SM.

    1. it most definitely gets tricky with fiction. i was trying to write a fiction piece where the main character’s lover had died. so, of course, i had to think about if something had happened to my wifesy. i hated it. it wasn’t a place i wanted to live and i ended up scrapping it. getting into the mind of a serial killer must be awful, but then again some people do it so well (nesbo/ king). it’s a difficult one, but i think a worth pursuit when it comes to fiction. great comment, cr. xo, sm

  7. I read all the way through and one question is nagging at me: what’s the difference whether a Brit or a Yank says c**t? I only use that word when I am really, really pissed and it is almost always preceded by f***ing! Even then it is usually spat under my breath. I read voraciously and I can honestly say that I see these words almost never on the written page. But my favorite stand up comedian was always Richard Prior. He wouldn’t have been half as funny and his material half as meaningful without the expletives. But oh, Sweet Sweet Mother, I would love just once to see you splatter a serious F word across the page. Just to remind us you really are a stand up comedian. You could do it tastefully, I’m sure. And you know what? I loved Rita Rudner (bought her book and she autographed it) and she wouldn’t swear on stage to save her life. But what I liked best about her routine was her perfect timing. I would have to admit that the humor of Richard Prior or Eddie Murphy is more up my alley than Rita’s, but humor is like music. Some music is heavy metal (I love Iron Maiden) and some just sound beautiful (I love Joan Baez). Where the hell am I going with this? Lastly, I get really ticked off when I hear some yo yo curse in front of a child. You obviously stirred me up with this blog, SM. Good on ya.

    1. he who, such a great response all around. you hit so many great points. comedy is indeed subjective and as varied as like aerosmith as opposed to metallica as opposed to susan boyle. as far as the way brits say c**t. they literally say it all the time. it has less sting. i’m telling you. women say it, men say it, it’s so ingrained into their language and culture AND they deliver it with less of a hard ‘c’ then us north americans do. there’s more of a playfulness to it, to be sure. i do curse from time to time on here, in the full monty sense. but, if you want my truly edginess in all its lack of refinement, i’d say follow my twitter feed. ;) sm

  8. Words have power — they hurt, heal, anger, make you laugh, cry…you get what I mean. I don’t think we can ignore some of those words of hate or ignorance because unfortunately they’re a part of our culture and history.

    I think when you’re doing what you do, becks, as a comedian and as we both do as writers, we sometimes have to dredge them up to make a point, to illustrate a character, to make what we’re trying to express seem authentic, if that makes sense. I do agree with you about not using certain words on my blog though and made that decision for a number of reasons. My fictional characters use offensive language at times (and a short story I’m writing has a very nasty piece of work in it) and he uses offensive language. But a writer has to do that, because writing is about feeling and evoking emotion. You have to go there sometimes to make people squirm, feel this or that.

    I don’t think Tarantino is a racist — quite the opposite. I agree with you on your great post — it’s the intent and it’s the person using it that makes the difference between being horribly hateful/offensive or using a word for the sake of “Yes, this word is necessary to this story…”

    Great thought-provoking post and that video about the French word was great.

    1. all my francophiles like you and sk love that video. but, we are not alone. it has like over 1 million views! i couldn’t agree with your commentary more, briges. “sometimes we have to dredge them up to make a point…” that is EXACTLY it. what i was trying to say, anyway. i think it’s different w/ children, but with grown adults…sometimes necessary to push us forward, perhaps. great comment. much love, sm

  9. This is super duper interesting to me especially because I super love your use of the word “feck” :P

    On my blog, I didn’t cuss for a good few months for fear of upsetting random people or my friends/family who I read my blog. But the truth is, I couldn’t really get into it. It was just me. I need all those damn emoticons meshed with all the “fucks,” “bitches,” & “balls” otherwise it just wouldn’t be me. Once I started doing that, my posts flowed more freely. It was great.

    I think that people who know me know that’s how I talk so they appreciate that I’m the same person through and through. And those that don’t know me, well I hope they can see that I mean no harm.

    Great post and I hope I didn’t make you want to stab your eyes out from my overly long comment :P

    1. overly long comment? from you? NEVER. i love your comments. you remind me of a quote, “write like everyone you love is dead.” i think what is meant by that is write for yourself and your personality. that is what it means to be truly authentic on the page. i think you do that quite nicely, actually. xoxox, sm

      1. HAHAHAHA!! Thank you, Sweet Mother :D that means a lot coming from you since you can now say you met me and how I write is how I sound in real life :P

  10. Intent is everything. Interesting that you wrote this post on the same day Clown wrote a post about comedy pushing limits. I think the argument you both make essentially are the same.

    Louis CK and George Carlin really nailed down the technique of saying things that we would normally find offensive, but make sense within the context they’re saying them. I hate the word cunt, absolutely hate it, but when Louis CK says it, it seems like the most appropriate word to use. It really is about intent and delivery.

    1. that’s so interesting. i haven’t read clown’s post on that. but, i will now. i couldn’t agree with you more on what you’ve said about intent and delivery. i used to think that there were things/ topics you could not discuss in comedy because no one would think they were funny. like abortion, for example. then i saw the original ucb team (amy poehler’s improv group) do the most hilarious sketch on abortion that ended with a full on abortion musical. it was drop dead funny. (pun intended.) and that’s when i went, ‘nope, nothing is off limits, if done right…’ great commentary, as always, j and t. xoxo, sm

  11. I rarely use expletives in the real world so when I do they seem to have more impact – usually more than I intend by their use. My brother uses fuck like a fecking adjective, I used it once in an email and he took extreme offense – my gauging of the situation was way off. Maybe I don’t swear enough to do it properly.

    It really doesn’t bother me to hear people use any word they like, but I agree with you about intent – when the intent is to make someone less than human then it doesn’t matter what the word is, I am not OK with it.

    1. you also bring up a really interesting point, artsi. if someone doesn’t curse much when they do it either seems totally out of character for them or twice as loaded. it’s very interesting. like if you were to see martha stewart or mr. rogers curse. against their wholesome images, it would have twice the effect. i’m not saying your totally wholesome, only that the cursing has to be authentic to the person, otherwise it either seems gratuitous or extremely well placed. great thought. xo, sm

  12. Aussies swear a lot but some of our swearing is almost cultural colour. The two words that immediately spring to mind are ‘bloody’ and ‘bugger’. I rarely use the F-word and never use the C-word but bloody pops out of my mouth without thought. “That was a bloody good movie”. Same with bugger “Bugger, that was great.” In fact bugger is so much a part of the language that we’ve had about three brilliant and very successful TV commercials that everyone calls the Bugger Ads. :D

    I know you hate following links in comments so I won’t post it here but I’ll do a quickie post on Meeka’s Mind if you’re game to see it. :D

      1. oh, that sounds awesome. i can’t wait to read it. and i’m with you, so much of it varies by culture, now, doesn’t it. and sometimes even more so by region. these are not curse words, but in the boston area of the u.s. they say ‘wicked’ all the time. ‘wicked cool’ ‘wicked awesome’ wicked this, wicked that. in california they say, ‘hella’ all the time. ‘hella good’ ‘hella awesome’ etc. i didn’t know what in the ‘hella’ they were saying when i first arrived here. and then of course there is the way americans say, ‘awesome’ constantly. when i was living in britain, every impression a brit did of an american included the word ‘awesome’ and i thought christ, we do say that a lot, now don’t we? it also say a lot about our dramatic nature or tendency as americans. i mean the real definition of the word awesome, should indicate a natural wonder like the grand canyon and yet we use it for things like an ice cream sundae… language is endlessly interesting, that’s for sure. xoxo, sm

      2. Yes! Is it any wonder we’re obsessed with words? And sometimes words can be hilarious because we use the same one with very different meanings – like cookies and biscuits. Think I’ll go have another cuppa and a chocolate biscuit. ;)

  13. SM, you are so right words have huge power. Words transform us, they can demean us or lift us up. Words have history and the idea we can take power back by using them, well it isn’t always true.

    Some years ago I did a Victim Impact panel for First Responders, these are Fire and Police who are first on scene and are in the classroom presumably learning empathy and how to work with victims. In this case victims of violent crime, victims and their families. Very often First Responders remain involved with families during the investigation, their ability to communicate, to show empathy helps. If you know my story you know my children were very young when I was shot, one of my sons was very angry and at one point he came home from school and said, “I hate N*ggers”. There was a reason for this, the three who kidnapped me and shot me were all black, their confession read they only wanted to hurt white people. During the Panel I used the word, several people got offended.

    So during the discussion that followed I talked about how part of their job was to listen, not be offended by what they hear but truly listen. My son, though he was wrong actually had a right to his emotional outburst and his feelings. I corrected him, both for his feelings and his use. It was a hard day. But their job, was not to get offended, not to get their azzes on their shoulders but to listen to the context, like I did. If all they did was filter for political correctness they would never reach their victims, never help.

    Words have huge power. I particularly hate that word, for its history in this nation. I hate other words for their power to do harm and the fact there are no good intentions behind them. But, we have an obligation to use the power of our voice to teach; empathy and context are both great tools.

    1. val, there are a lot of great comments on here, but yours humbles me. honestly, and even more powerfully makes me think about things in a slightly different light. how can anyone blame your son for uttering such a thing after such a heinous crime? they can’t, is the only answer. context, it seems, is everything. i truly don’t have much more to say. i think your comment and story are so powerful that i hope everyone reads them. much love, mother

  14. Love this. We must remember it’s not just intent its context. If you take the words on their own they can reek of harmful memories/history. If you go to a comedy show, you should know the context is going to be funny. We have become so overly sensitive that I wonder if Lenny Bruce could exist today. Comedy’s rule is to break all the rules. Yet, people look at what a commedian says now as if it needs to be “setting an example” for proper behavior. What? Those are not the commedians I grew up with. People need to watch Carlin to become more aware of the ludicrous intention of words. He was so great at pulling apart the norms. The only risk a commedian has is not knowing what the audience experience is. Take the risk.

    1. yeah, i agree. PCness will KILL comedy. and a lot of the time, free speech, i believe. but, you and a lot of the others here bring up a great point. it is not just intent, it is not just WHO does the saying, but it is also most definitely CONTEXT. well said, once again, mads. xoxo, sm

  15. I swear in my blog, but only if the word isn’t a slur (meaning it’s not directed at any group of people negatively) and only if I feel like I have ownership of it (I liked the way you described that concept).
    For instance, I don’t feel that I have ownership of the N-word or the f-word (not fuck…the other f-word). But, because of my exposure to the Vagina Monologues and Eve Ensler and that whole movement, I do feel like I have ownership over the reclaimed word cunt.
    I absolutely agree that it’s not the word, it’s the intent, and I feel proud to use cunt because it’s been redefined to take back women’s power that’s historically been taken away.

    1. i also believe in saying that word (the c one, oh, i suppose i should say it now… CUNT. there.) to not give it so much power, but then of course, i said it one time and another woman got over the top offended. so, you have to have these rules for yourself, not hurt other people, but also let it roll off of you when someone is overly sensitive. not an easy balance, that is for sure. much love, sm

  16. Thought-proviking post! I definitely feel comfortable using any word on stage that seems appropriate. It helps that I am gay and black and society seems to entitle us minorities to speak more freely without impugnment. As a comedian, though, I feel obligated to take the audience on an uncompromised journey. I really like your point about potentially using the N word if you felt you had a bit that stayed true to your principles as a performer. I think comics have a great opportunity to make enough fun of people until we realize that we’re all the same in the ways that count and our differences should be celebrated or at least laughed at in safety.

    1. very interesting commentary, jules. and thank you for reading my post. i agree with you that i think we are in a unique position as comedian’s to sort of jar certain ways of thinking through humor. when that’s the intent and your intent is not to demean, then i really think there is no word off limits. on the page, somehow, it feels different to me. anyhoo, thank you for commenting. i enjoyed reading your thoughts. xo, sm

  17. I loved the post and reading all the great insights from your audience! I have a cursing problem. I know I have a problem and I am trying very hard both in writing and conversation to make my cursing count instead of just fuckity fuck fuck all the time. Sometimes it’s hard, but my f-bombs now have more power and meaning than they used to.

    I also very much agree with you that it really is the intent (or in writing the context) behind what you are saying that determines how offensive it may or not be. If I am writing about a friend of mine being called a nigger at the Waffle House, I don’t see it as offensive, it is a fact and it happened. However, if I am writing about my ignorant racist neighbor, I do don’t give his words the power by repeating it in text (he complained about our black neighbors and their “nigger” music). His name is Rebel. So you know, I don’t have high expectations of him anyway…

  18. First of all, Chris Rock is genius. Second, I agree with you wholeheartedly…on all your points, so maybe you’re genius too. You and Chris Rock. Now there’s a MENSA meeting I’d actually like to attend.

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