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  • No word can be completely forbidden. If no one is ever allowed to say a word under any

  • circumstances then children never hear it when they're growing up so they never learn

  • it and after a couple generations everyone who remembered it will have died and it won't

  • be a word in that language anymore. In fact, the more people know a word the stronger the

  • rule against it can be, because if everyone knows a word then when someone says it everyone

  • can immediately participate in punishing them. But for people to learn the word in the first

  • place there have to be some circumstances where it's permissible, or at least tolerated.

  • What all this means is that I'm probably not going to be telling you any words you

  • don't already know, at least in English, so if you came here for any huge surprises

  • on that front you might be disappointed. But I still think it's really interesting and

  • counterintuitive that there are so many words that we have in our language but that you're

  • not really supposed to use, and not only that but the presence of words like that seems

  • like it might be universal to all languages. There's a lot of ways of categorizing these

  • words but I think the most useful way to sort them is by why people think you shouldn't

  • say them in the first place, which gets you about three types of forbidden words.

  • Uh, before I go on, fair warning, I'm going to be saying, like, all of these words, or

  • at least all the ones in English. I won't be using them exactly, but I am going to be

  • saying them so that we all know what we're talking about. So uh, viewer discretion advised.

  • Alright, the first type of forbidden words are the ones for which it's probably the

  • easiest to understand why people would want to avoid them: blasphemous words. These are

  • usually names for some sort of supernatural entity, a god or spirit or angel or demon

  • or something like that. It's really common in cultures around the world for people to

  • think that saying the name of something like this will call its attention to you and, perhaps

  • depending on how respectfully you said it, possibly anger them. Therefor, if you want

  • them to like you, it's probably best not to call their attention to you frivolously,

  • and if you want them to ignore you it's probably best to just never say their name

  • at all. We don't really have words like this in English any more, but boy did we used

  • to. In the middle ages saying words likeGod,” “Jesus,” “hell,” orDevilwas

  • taken very seriously by both the church and the state and was often illegal. But my favorite

  • example of this type of word is from Hebrew. Religious jews from ancient times and up to

  • today go way out of their way to never, ever say Yahweh, which is basically the most direct

  • possible name for God in Hebrew. They don't even write it unless they're making a copy

  • of the bible, which makes it probably the strictest prohibition on a word I'm going

  • to talk about in this video. I could give more examples but this category

  • is pretty self explanatory, so let's move on to the second type of forbidden word. This

  • one is easily the one that's most confusing for me. You see, in a lot of languages, maybe

  • even all of them, there are taboo words that refer to something having to do with either

  • sex or excrement, either referring to those things directly or referring to things that

  • the culture deems somehow related. Words like this in English include shit, piss, fuck,

  • cock and cunt, just to name a few of the worse ones. Oddly enough though these words are

  • rarely used in their literal sense. When someone saysfuckorfuckingthey're

  • actually talking about sex maybe one time out of a hundred. The rest of the time they've

  • probably either stubbed their toe or they're losing at Mario Kart.

  • What interests me most about these words is that everyone agrees that they shouldn't

  • be said in certain circumstances but very few people have clear beliefs about why. It

  • seems kind of like wearing pants in public: everyone does it because everyone else does

  • it. Anybody can imagine a society where no one wears pants, and nothing necessarily seems

  • wrong with it, but nobody wants to be the first person to try it.

  • I'd really like to be able to tell you about the historical circumstances that lead to

  • words like this, but unfortunately there's not much much research into that area. A decent

  • amount has been written about the origin of these particular English words, but similar

  • words exist in loads of other languages and I honestly have no idea how much of what happened

  • in English is applicable to other languages. So, with that disclaimer, here's about what

  • happened in English. In the beginning (and bybeginning” I

  • mean about 1500) these words didn't have any stigma at all. They were direct but not

  • vulgar, kind of like today's wordspenisandvagina,” words which, by the way,

  • didn't exist at the time and were only borrowed form Latin in the 1600s.

  • So what changed between then and now? A lot, but three main things:

  • Firstly, there were a lot of people, especially around the protestant reformation, who thought

  • that naming things having to do with sex directly would inspire lust and, therefor sin, so they

  • did their best to talk about them in a super round-about way.

  • Somewhat after that but also kind of simultaneous with it people started avoiding talking about

  • sex and excrement all together. This was especially true in the victorian era, when even the word

  • legwas considered by some to be too sexually suggestive for public use.

  • Thirdly, some people saw it as class marker. The middle class in England at the time used

  • their avoidance of these words as a way to differentiate themselves from the lower classes

  • who they thought used them more freely. Squeamishness around sex and poop as well

  • as class divisions certainly aren't unique to the English speaking world, so I wouldn't

  • at all be surprised if these are where swear words come from in other languages as well,

  • but on the other hand it's a sample size of one so who knows.

  • Now we come to the last type of forbidden word, which unlike the other two I actually

  • fully endorse the prohibition against. These words are slurs: words that refer to some

  • category of people while also attaching a strong negative value judgement to those people.

  • The most common and widely studied of these words refer to ethnic and racial groups, so

  • I'm gonna focus mostly on them in this video, although similar words refer to sexual orientation,

  • gender, religion, disability and all kinds of stuff. Words like this in English include

  • chink, coon, spic, gook, paki, and of coursenegro,” variously pronouncednigger

  • orniggah.” Anyway, there's actually a few slightly

  • different theories as to what exactly makes these words so bad. Most of them revolve around

  • the idea that these words are somehow connected to both a group of people and a series of

  • negative stereotypes about that group of people. I think that's pretty clear from the fact

  • that some people use the N-word to refer to black people without any negative judgement

  • intended, while others use it to refer to people who fit properties traditionally associated

  • with black people regardless of that person's race. For some the word only means the category

  • of people and for others it only means the stereotypes, but for most people it's at

  • least connected to both. But how exactly it's connected to both is

  • a matter of debate. Some scholars have argued that the category of people and the negative

  • value judgement are all contained in a slur's literal meaning. It's kind of like how the

  • word penguin refers to flightless black and white animals with wings and beaks and flippers

  • that lay eggs and live in Antarctica. If you use the word penguin to refer to something

  • it suggests that you think that penguins are a thing, that these traits (which aren't

  • necessarily logically related) tend to cluster with each other in the real world, so something

  • with a few of them is probably a penguin and will therefor have the other qualities of

  • a penguin as well. In the same way, some people think that slurs refer to categories that

  • include both the ethnic group and the stereotypes about that ethic group, so that using the

  • slur suggests that these properties naturally belong together.

  • Not everyone agrees with this analysis though. Another theory is that slurs literally refer

  • only to the category of people but that they also carry some sort of evaluative connotation.

  • Kind of like howexit the building promptlyandget out now!” literally mean the

  • same thing but imply radically different emotions on the part of the speaker. In the same way,

  • this theory says thatthere's a gay guy over thereandthere's a f***** over

  • thereliterally mean the same thing but one implies that the speaker has negative

  • attitudes towards gay people and the other doesn't.

  • There's a lot of subtle variations on both of these theories, and they tend to struggle

  • with the fact that different people clearly use these words in different ways. For instance

  • the phenomenon of members of the targeted group using a slur as a mock insult amongst

  • themselves to acknowledge their shared community has been talked about at length by many people

  • much smarter than me. Different theories explain all this in slightly different ways, but one

  • thing that they all agree on is that most of the time the people who these words target

  • feel attacked when people not in that group direct it towards them, which makes sense

  • when you consider that a lot of people have used and continue to use these words for the

  • specific purpose of attacking them. I hope you don't need a rigorous linguistic analysis

  • to see the logic in that. That said, I hope the educational value of

  • this video outweighs any discomfort I might have caused by saying all these words, not

  • just the slurs but also the religious swears and profanity. I'm sorry if anything I said

  • in this video bothered you or offended you, and I promise my next video won't feature

  • such a touchy topic. See you then!

No word can be completely forbidden. If no one is ever allowed to say a word under any

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B1 US people refer forbidden penguin category group

Three Types of Forbidden Words

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    Samuel posted on 2018/04/13
Video vocabulary