I have always been very conscious of language, especially ‘bad’ language. As a child and as a teenager, whenever someone would say a bad word I would always say ‘Cussing is unattractive.’ Well, things have evolved a bit since then. I don’t think bad words are unattractive anymore (I cuss plenty), but I certainly think bad language is unattractive. And by bad language I mean things like: derogatory terms, racial slurs, rape jokes, discriminatory slang, etc. etc. This type of language is not just unattractive, it’s unacceptable.
People used to be very formal with their language and also very conscious of it. Today language has progressed to be much less formal; it’s colloquial. Although the colloquial nature of contemporary language has allowed our culture to be more open and comfortable, it has also allowed people to become less conscious of language and the meaning behind it. I have heard so many people say, ’what’s the big deal, they’re just words.’ People have forgotten what language is and how powerful it can be. Language is used to communicate not just sentences and words, but our thoughts, our ideas, our culture.
For example, when people say things like ‘b*tch’ or ‘c*nt’, they are not just using nasty words. They are perpetuating the idea that women are lesser. The more often words like this are used and the more casually they are used the more the idea spreads, until it becomes a cultural norm. It is our culture’s norm to degrade women, to sexualize them, to pay them less, to abuse them, etc., etc. because we communicate that it’s okay to do so everyday.
The same concept applies to racial slurs or LGBTQ slurs. Racism and homophobia and transphobia continue to exist because our language allows it to. Hearing the phrase ‘That’s so gay’ to describe something that is negative or bad over and over again eventually transforms from an idea to a belief. Using racial slurs to describe a person or to insult them just further separates us as human beings. By nature humans fear what they do not know and fear leads to violence. Don’t believe me, just look at any news station and you’ll see how many black people were killed this year or how many Latino people were killed. I’m not saying our use of language is the sole factor behind this, but it is absolutely influential.
Language may not seem like it has the power to affect our socio-cultural beliefs so strongly, but it does. The manner in which we communicate affects the lives of more people then you know, especially now with social media. What you choose to say tells the people around you who you are, what you believe, and what you stand for. It can be difficult to be conscious of language. Sometimes I’ll find myself wanting to say something, but then I think about the reach words can have and the potential effects and I rephrase. It may not be easy, but it’s worth the effort to spread ideas that change lives and change ideas for the better.