Words by themselves are totally neutral things, neither good nor bad. It is a superstition to believe that words have any power or efficacy, for good or for ill. According to this superstition, good words are "blessings," the magic words said by the priest during Mass to effect transubstantiation, etc.; and bad words (the flip side) are curses (i.e., "May you have bad luck for the rest of your life," "May you have terrible pain. . .") or "dirty words."
The above is a very brief synopsis of my thoughts on this subject. For anyone who wants to read more I am attaching as a file (Word for Windows) my full article on this subject.
Why should Pinker get all the credit? I originally wrote that article nearly 40 years ago, when Pinker was like 3 years old.
Also, the talk of Pinker which you send us a link to is about euphemism, and again his ideas are not original. I've got a book by Keith Allan and Kate Burridge entitled Euphemism & Dysphemism, published 1991.
Also, a British anthropologist (I can't recall his name at the moment) had some interesting ideas as to why we seem to be uncomfortable with words for bodily excretions (our discomfort with the ambiguity between the "me" and the "not-me")-- and this was (again) long ago, probably before Pinker was born.
And, if you in fact read my article, I think it has a somewhat different thesis.
1) I have read Pinker. I found he has a lot of interesting ideas.
2) That is no reason to not point out when I feel he's not being original;
3) Nor to point out that you don't seem to have read my article.
4) When I have some ideas which are NOT Pinker's (and which I still think you didn't read) I don't see why I should not get what's due, even if I am not a well-known Harvard scholar.
5) Why-- if you are to be presumed to be an intelligent and rational person--have you allowed yourself to get so exercised that you resort to insulting me? A.N. must have some policy that at least discourages people from flaming one another. And, you accuse me of being "old." Is that a crime? It will happen to you, one day.
Is this an attempt to show that words by themselves are neutral?
BTW i agree wholeheartedly with Richards assertions, and probably Pinkers, though i am yet to read it.
Its an interesting juxtaposition to the recent thread Ableism& Atheism in Ethics and Morals.
Yes (in one word), words are neutral. But to be more accurate I should say, Words are intrinsically neutral. It is an inescapable fact that people do have reactions--even strong reactions--to certain words, and the discipline of sociolinguistics deals with this phenomenon.
My article intended to deal not just with the "dirty" or taboo word phenomenon but to place it within the context of the very old notion of words having power, both for good or for ill-- which I call a superstition.
I bring in insights from anthropology, Judaism, and Old English (or Anglo-Saxon) language and literature. The second of those Pinker should be aware of but I have noticed, in his books, that he has no knowledge of Old English. (Here I am more replying to John D.)
There was a saying back when I was in the Mormon Church. It went something like this, "Curse words are the products of a small mind failing to find a word that better explains what they want to say."
Not the exact saying but its pretty close. I couldn't remember it verbatim.
it's about fuggn' time! ; )
ya know.. indeed it's odd.. i think.. wow what if a kid non-teenage? like 11-12.. uses internet because he or she found out about the politics.. reasons atheists unite etc.. that's something.. ~
Consider this: an idea forms in my brain. It sends a signal to my lips to shape the sound, SHIT, when a buff of air from the larynx is exhaled. Air molecules vibrate accordingly, and travel to you earlobe, pass through the ear canal and stimulate your tympanic membrane to vibrate the cochlear hairs to send a signal to your brain. The nervous impulse evokes images of a smelly, slimy and unctuous substance that only rose bushes appreciate.
Therefore, SHIT is a dirty word. :-)