Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Taboo words

What constitutes a taboo word changes with locality and over time. 25 years ago, when I roamed around AOL, The Powers That Be would give you a ban (temporary or permanent) for using taboo words. But they wouldn't tell you what words you couldn't use.

So I tried using the word "smeg", which isn't in any dictionary, but which sounds vaguely obscene (and was used thus in Red Dwarf), and got into an argument with TPTB about whether it was obscene or not. My argument was that "it is a meaningless word, so how could it be obscene?" Their argument was, "We're TPTB". And no, they wouldn't give me a list of taboo words, I ought to know without being told, and my protestation that the list of taboo words in the UK wasn't the same as the list in the US, fell on TPTB ears.

So I rooted around until I found a list of the words that AOL considered vulgar (they didn't actually use the word obscene).

But times change.

And now we have Facebook.

I'm in a group that has rules, including "No disparaging comments against groups of people, i.e. no discrimination against genders, races, sexual/gender orientations, etc.". That sounds fair enough, except that most of the bans I'm seeing, are for ableist words. So what is an ableist word?

I don't know. Words that I've seen incuded are "crazy, stupid, insane, dumb (in the US sense, meaning stupid - I suppose if used in the "I can't speak" sense it wouldn't be ableist - or maybe it would?)". "Blind" is obviously ableist, except that I have a colleague who is 100% unable to see, and he doesn't seem to be offended by the word "blind". But what about "foolish"? Or "silly"? I've gotten away with using those, even though they seem to me to be little different from the banned words.

And if stupid is ableist, so is its opposite; intelligent, clever, brainy. Short and tall, fat and thin, brunette or blonde. Are any of those ableist? Your hair colour is one of those things you have no control over (unless you dye it).

And anyway, although these words are describing characteristics that people wouldn't want to have (or would want), are they disparaging? It's a minefield. "Black" used to be the word to use, then it was "coloured", now I'm told there isn't a word, you have to say "African-American" (but not everyone is American) or "person of colour", and how "person of colour" is less offensive that "coloured person", search me. Plus Americans seem to have a very different definition of who falls into that category than I would.

Go figure.

You guessed it. In this group, they're mostly Americans.


  1. "not I'm told there isn't a work"

    Now, I'm told, there isn't a word?

  2. In the interest of unfettered free speech, I am going to send you an invite to, the un-censored twitter alternative. The invite will fast-track you, so you don't have to join the waiting list. Of course, you might not like it- there are a lot of right-wingers and even anti-Semites there; it is uncensored.

  3. Although I have a Twitter membership, I don't actually use it, because I can't imagine how anyone could say anything of interest in a couple of dozen words.

    So although I enjoy talking with anti-Semites (and other gullible people), I'll thank you for the offer but decline.

    1. Just one of Gab's improvements over twitter is that you aren't limited to 140 characters. And you can edit your own posts, and a few other things, but mainly, they don't block or ban people for content.

      But I don't have a Twitter account myself. The Gab invite is already sent, ignore it if you don't want.