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Ramblings: The Re-purposing of Offensive Words

Warning: I use bad (NSFW) words in this post because I'm pondering them without saying anything meaningful but releasing wandering thoughts to the wind.

I started to have some honest thoughts about 'bad' words. I decided to be so honest with my thoughts that I would not use asterisk and dashes but the actual words themselves. Even as I wrote I found myself wondering if thinking around and along the topic would be "okay". And somewhere through the middle I felt a bit sad that it felt wrong to type out a word that existed and was used to attempt to discuss it. Welcome to my pondering thoughts.

The discussion of what should and should not be tolerated when it comes to the use of insulting, derogatory, and profane language is a slippery topic. On the outside it seems simple enough to not use ‘bad’ words. But what is a bad word? Common word usage to one culture may not be to another. My simplest example is the word ‘toss’. My husband, who is British, often snickers when he sees a ‘tossed salad’. Tossed meaning masturbate in its slang usage. Even now, knowing that, I still find it somewhat silly because the word doesn't hold that meaning to me.

However, word usage is not such a simple escape. Bad language is called bad language for a reason. Cursing and the incorporation of derogatory words into speech are common enough. Often these words eventually filter into the language. They become detoothed in a way and sometimes we forget that they were even offensive at all. Of late, I have started to wonder if that is the path some of the current crop of heavily used but highly offensive words are on.

My mind started to wander this path after a person who I know from Eve, but do not know well and have never spent much time with, joined coms to do an activity with someone else. This is not uncommon. Voice coms are a highly social thing and used by a larger community than my own corporation. Mixed in that is the people who play different games and may no longer actively play Eve but are still active members of the community.

A few minutes in, I blinked. I then kind of twitched and winced. After a few more minutes I decided to move to another channel. The reason was because I was becoming distracted by the number of ‘fags’ per sentence the person was dropping.  A buffer word for him. Sort of like ‘uhh’ or ‘umm’ but insert ‘fag’ instead. Some people use ‘fuck’ in this way as well.

In this case ‘fag’ is a filler word. It is an insult. But, the speaker is not directly insulting homosexuals (or cigarette). He is taking the offensive use of the word and turning it into a curse and then using it so much that it is just a meaningless sound.

Part of being a member of society is forcing oneself to conform to social norms. People may use proper or polite language in public but part of seeking a close social group is relaxation from social necessities. While some people may thrive in them, others subscribe to them by necessity or choice. There is also the aspect of  the social group. Inside of that inner circle incorrect things happen. I don't just speak of improper language I speak about discussions that we might not have in public but will happily have in private. And there are inappropriate discussions that would be considered vulgar, lewd, and crude in company but are joked about and snickered at in the inner social group.

How do you deal with the current perception of word usage? We can always make a stand and speak up each time, reminding people not to use such words. At the same time, that is not going to work. For one, the usage will often increase in a direct reaction to being told what to do.  People like to ‘troll’ each other. One example I use is something I told a group of people bothered me.
One of the first reactions was, “Why would you tell us it bothered you when we can now use it to bother you?”
My response was, “I did not think I had so upset you or that our relationship was in such a poor state that you had begun to actively seek ways to upset and harm me.”
“Well no, it’s not that. It’s just that we like to troll people.”
“I know that. Yet, I would think you could indulge in that pastime without going for the one topic that we have specifically discussed as something that causes me distress. I’m not asking you to never harass and tease me.”
It is not that I cannot stand up for myself when I need to stand up for myself. The question becomes what is standing up for oneself and what is tolerance. I'm no saint. While I may not use the current, popular buzz words in my conversation, I curse when I wish to. For some, that is just as terrible.  I may watch what I say because certain words are unacceptable to me but is creative use of non-derogatory words any better?

Fag, nigger, rape, and cunt are all very shocking words. Yet, if I creatively describe something with less shocking but still vulgar language, is that actually better? My goal is not to have 100% clean speech. I do not have a problem with cursing. But people who say fudge instead of fuck are turning fudge into a curse word for that instant.

Can I have one and not the other? I find nigger to be a terribly offensive word and I hate when people use it. But just about every use of it that I hear regularly has nothing to do with the ethnic group the word is directed to. While hearing it makes me flinch. I don't look upon the person who used it as terrible. I may wish that they did not but I honestly have no idea where my personal judgement comes into play.

I was startled at the constant use of Jew when I started playing. It took me quite a while to figure out why people used it and once I did the casualness of the racism was odd. Racist terms bother me. Just as when someone uses, ‘nigger’. It is a word I find highly offensive and I do twitch whenever I hear it. Yet, the usage is meant to be highly offensive and twitch while at the same time not delicately pointing to the ethnic group and history. The words are used just because they are offensive. It seems to be a re-purposing of the word.

 When people stumble over someone who was black or was jewish there is a, "Oh. I don't mean you" type of thing. A "I don't mean to offend you or say bad things about you I am just wielding this word around." And if I stand there and lecture them on the casual usage where is the line between ignoring what people say and there being so many 'slurs per sentence' that it becomes uncomfortable?

I'm not upset or offended as I compose this. I'm thoughtful. Word usage is flexible for people. People know that they are saying things that are socially wrong but those that wish to indulge in it seem to wish to indulge in it. I should probably ask a few people who use the terms why they use them. (As I write that I think that I will. It should prove enlightening and everyone I know is rather approachable) Whether it is of personal taste, social situation, want, or habit what they say and what they mean and how they would view themselves are often at such different points.

I can jump on the socially acceptable band wagon. I am old enough that gay was not a commonly used insult when I was younger. When I started to hear it more and more I would often comment that "x was not a homosexual y". Such blank looks I would receive.  And now the socially correct train is chugging down the tracks streaming banners of recognition and intolerance of particular things making the entire subject a huge, buzzing bed of emotion and soapboxes. And if anything because it is becoming a topic it is polarizing the usage.

If one were to sit down with many of these people and actually discuss their thoughts and opinions towards the social groups, many would say, "No. I have no problem with that ethnic group or that sexual orientation or gender demographic." I can also say with a near certainty that they might add an insult at the end of it as they express their normal, healthy social acceptance to groups. "You are such a bastard my friend," can be said with such warmth and affection without any true comment to ones illicit parentage. And bastard was once, yet another terrible insult.

In the long run. That particular person is not a part of my core social group. If he was and his fluency in slurs the norm I'd not have found any comfort where I am. But, I cannot say that some does not happen. I also cannot say that I stand up and immediately chastise whomever says the 'wrong' thing. If someone offends me or I feel they have gone 'too far' I will pull them aside and speak with them. The response will dictate our future social interaction.

And social interaction is the key. There is the general response that makes one morn for manners where the response to moderating language and rejecting slurs and words like rape reap a rich harvest of insults, ridicule and nastiness. And then you have the other side of the coin that is a matter of social acceptance and tolerance for behaviors of other people. And somewhere in the middle is actual society. Stripped of its perfect world wishes and frantic stands, people are out there being people. Good and bad and polite and crude we still have to figure out how to work together. Even in a video game.

I understand the argument that the very use of the word propagates it and does terrible things. Do we choose what is the most wrong? Or is it just a matter of the simple fact that we can only focus on a few issues vs a whole least we loose or momentum in the very slurry of thought and reaction I am creating and therefore drowning in, in this blog?

 There will always be special words in the social consciousness as particularly unacceptable. They will change with each generation. At the end of the day I have to look at myself in the mirror. I attempt to like the person that I see. That means I craft myself in the vision of myself that I want to be seen as. Not everyone may have that perception of themselves. Others may have their personal imagery in other forms without an eye batted to their personal dialog.

Anyway, I'm thinking out loud. I'm not making a particular point. I'm not pushing an agenda. Nor do I have any answers to my own musings.


  1. One thing most people don't realize is that by using racial/homophobic/mysogynistic slurs casualy they associate themselves with the most horrible things done in the minds of others.

    As an example: I am german; hearing people using jew as it is used often in EVE triggers a feeling (picture jackbooted men marching in goose step brown coats and burning books, synagogues and people). I know that is not what people using jew this way mean but its my primary reaction. I don't act on it and I rationalize that its is not used to associate with these things but it makes it a lot harder for me to like someone if I don't know the person beforehand.
    EVE is a melting pot of many different cultures even inside many of the closer social circles inside itself. One should be aware that what might be a casual curse for one person might make you a horrible person in another persons eyes.

  2. My corp and core group use none of these phrases. Then we jump in Alliance or CFC fleets and its a hot mess of ugliness. It's so frequent that I mildly have become immune to it. Not because its not ugly anymore, I've just come to assume the people using these terms are idiots or idiots following other idiots. I do understand the use of words morphs into something all together different, but not everyone in a comms channel of 300+ is going to feel the same. These "sensitive" people are not special snowflakes, but if they were to ask for the FC to not refer to a victory as "raping face", they would be laughed at by an entire channel of idiots. In the end, I just have to tune it out. Idiots multiply like rabbits.

    1. I got to know some people who publicly use some vicious language but they are different in private. I rarely like to excise without reason although I will for personal comfort.

      That is why I think I'm gonna go and just start asking them to give me their thought path towards the creation and use of the insult.

    2. Their answer "though not spoken outloud" would be

      "because everyone else does. Why not? I don't mean anything by it."

      It's just monkey see, monkey do.

    3. Well that is also why I comment on indulgence in a culture that they'd like to participate but do not due to social pressures.

      The right and wrong of it is a very defined line but not everyone actively wants to live on one side or another. Lots of people enjoy crossing over.

    4. My mother had a very caustic response to the "monkey see, monkey do" mentality and it came out when I or another sibling would say something along the lines of "Everyone is doing ..." Her reply was "Well, if everyone stuck their head in a dirty toilet, would you do it too?" It was her way of asking us if we were going to be rational people or sheep. Just because the majority does it, does not make it right, good or ok.

      Just more proof of the comment from Henry Ford "Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it."

  3. This is an incredibly important topic. Voice comms can get salty, and i don't think most people mind that. But sometimes those comms can cross the line and become offensive.

    Perhaps not to me, because perhaps I'm not [fill in the blank]. But I cannot tell who else in the channel might very well be [fill in the blank]. And they're my friend, even if I don't know as much about them as I thought I did. And I feel badly for them because they have to suffer in silence because they risk poisoning relationships with people if they complain.

  4. I comes from the top. People in positions of power have the ability to shape those comms.

    People will follow the lead of those they respect. I have been on comms in small fleets, where the FC asked one particular group to cut out a particular slur from the conversation. That ended it.

    That FC maintained high standards in his fleets. This is not to say that he controlled comms overly tightly, but when he spoke it was expected to be listed to. Being very professional in his manner and role established trust in his abilities and his judgement. When he asked that certain phrases and subjects be dropped from open comms, there was no discussion of why. There was no need.

    Sometimes the leader of a fleet isn't the FC. But those in leadership positions, even if its just social leadership, will set the tone for the remainder. If the people you respect are idiots and assholes, your fleet will become like the leaders in the fleet.

    All I can say is, if you want a professional, focused fleet. Be the leader that the fleet needs.

  5. Good word and excellent point. Unfortunately, not a common action by FC or leadership. To site an example, as it was clear that TEST was leaving the field in 6VDT, local and alliance chat explodes with a cartoon depicting DaBigRedBoat aboard a "Rape Train" with TEST as the victim. I cant even begin to count the positive responses and laughter as its shared. These images are created by leadership or validated by leadership. Not sure how good leadership can squelch this crap if said leadership joins in the laughter. Again, the type of leadership you mention is good, but rare. This is a strong topic and should be brought to Blog Banter or other outlets for discussion. It couldn't hurt to get more people talking about minimizing the trash.

  6. "Minimizing the trash..."

    EvEs playerbase is mostly young 20s to mid 30s males, mostly single, mostly in college or just out of college and starting their careers. They are attracted to and play a PVP centric FFA sandbox game. This is, by definition, a group that is going to be highly aggressive and highly competitive in nature.

    Hence trolling, the act of verbally insulting, from mildly to very harshly, their stated 'friends' much less the trollling of enemies with the actual intent to cause emotional harm and demoralization for game goals is often perceived as an 'art' an practiced with great enthusiasm by a vast majority. To be truly effective this seems to require the overuse of cussing. The use of derogatory and shocking words in order to heighten and intensify the insult, whether in the time honored male-bonding-in-war or in the as time honored agiti-prop and demoralization role.

    Interestingly enough all children do the same thing whether they are siblings or between outsiders. It is dominance games and posturing and the pecking order. Humans are a verbal species, and we USE the art of language, both for peaceful cooperation as well as in aggression.

    It is only when one is fully mature, either through parenthood or simply through life experiences that have taught a respect for others and an understanding of our connectedness and an appreciation of the 'other'... an empathy for the 'other'... that the use of derogatory slang seems to decline. I am 52 and a father of 2 and step to 3... and I find I cuss far less than I did before my kids were born and I find I am offended when comms is all 'shitted' up...

    I don't say anything, because 20 and 30 year old single males will simply react with extreme Pavlovian knee jerk increases in lewdness, volume and sheer amount of derogatory slang because they have no empathy and no care for the 'other'... until they too grow all the way up... and not all do that I am sad to say.

    It saddens and embarrasses me to think how much like them I was when I was young... but it is part of the human condition and most grow out of it... mostly.

    1. I'm not saying that there are few 20-mid30s single man, but I'm pretty sure you severely underestimate the number of 30+ "mature" men, often married, that play Eve... you & me are but 2 examples. Very few females though, that's for sure....

    2. I think you also underestimate the number of those 30+ "mature" men who talk just like the 20-year-olds. (A certain Australian I used to fly with who sometimes even called his own kids "cunts" comes to mind...)

      The stuff that Sugar is talking about also has a lot to do with why I left the CFC... that, and old friends who don't talk like that tracking me down.

    3. It all comes down to leadership and group tolerance. As soon as you have some people who enjoy it when others use this kind of words, the use will increase.

      This isn't general behavior in 20-30 year old groups, most of my members fall in this range but they have a sense for speech and manner.
      It also isn't related to academic grade, it just seems to come down to "what entertains my audience". The comment about idiots following idiots seems to fit.

      I'm not a saint either, but there are words I just wouldn't use to describe an ingame action. If someone gets fucked, well OK, thats in general a mutual interaction between people, most of the time they have fun with it. It still falls under bad language but it is far less offensive than rape. Rape is a word I would never use to describe ingame action because all play this game for fun. We know that bad things happen in eve and we like it that way, we may not like the outcome of a fight but it never is a rape.
      Luckily there aren't so many rape victims that anybody would know one, and I really hope it stays that way. But I would like to see the change of a person who used to speak of rapes in a fun environment when he realizes how bad a rape really is if a close one or he/her self is effected by it.

      At the end of the day, I decide with whom I play and I choose my people with good language as a prime attribute. If I do PvP and the FC (or the hole fleet) over uses that words, I won't fly with them any longer. If that happens on my Comms, that one will be kicked and my corp mates applaud for it.

  7. Im quite lucky, we have plenty of guys with families etc who sometimes can hear our comms so we keep it clean. Also we don't recruit childish arsewits who feel the need to swear every third word.

    Just tell them to grow up and shut up?

  8. I personally associate frequent use of derogatory, hateful, and crude speech with ignorance. We recently changed alliances and the comms channels are now running rampant with "Dirka Dirka Jihad, Nigger, Faggot, Jew, etc"

    I know I can't change their ways but I also don't have to tolerate it. If things keep up the way they are going and then if I can't convince my corp to leave this new alliance, I will be leaving myself. I refuse to have to listen to this crap every day. It's ruining my experience in Eve. I don't mind people constantly saying the word fuck or whatever, but when every sentence begins and ends with faggot or jew, I can't be in that comms channel, meaning I can't participate in fleet ops, which means I shouldn't be in that alliance.

  9. I find it a bit misleading that this discussion is always about gender, sexual minority groups, ethnic minority groups or social minority groups.

    Fact of the matter is, in an online game, you are interacting with people from different social backgrounds, different nationalities and different cultural backgrounds. It is very easy to end up saying something that will create offense. I have a great talent to say incredibly disparaging things about people of faith, or people who vote for certain parties. What ends up happening is, that you have a difficult discussion which contributes nothing to the game but bad blood.

    There was a time in my alliance where any non game-related talk was banned from comms because it just created an atmosphere that was not conductive to having fun together and get away from all that stuff that makes life difficult sometimes.

    We are all here to play an escapist spaceship game after all.

    That being said, I totally do not take people serious as a person who use slurs in lieu of either a good argument or - if applicable - a well worded insult. That - in my eyes - is more a problem for them than it is for me. If you don't want to be taken seriously, carry on as you were then.


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