It’s Like This: Words Can Denigrate

Dorrie Gaeng, Staff Writer

A group is eating lunch. One person complains about a teacher who gave him a B because he turned in an assignment late. The kid’s insult of choice is the derogatory f-word referring to a gay man.

Another group of friends is hanging out over weekend. One is dared to steal something. When he hesitates, his friends call him the p-word referring to female genitalia.

High school is home to a host of offensive language. After witnessing countless instances of people casually throwing around derogatory terms, I can only hope that this habit does not follow them later into life.

With the social pressure and anxiety most teenagers face, it can be hard not to conform to norms like swearing. But everyone has the opportunity to break this demeaning vocabulary. Some people truly may not realize what they are saying is offensive, but that’s not usually how it goes. The vast majority of people probably recognize these aren’t things they would say around adults or teachers.

When confronted, offenders issue a long list of justifications. “Oh, they know we’re just joking,” “It’s okay because they’re not actually gay,” and “Don’t worry, I would never actually say that around a black person.”

The more excuses we make, the longer this behavior endures. When you find an assignment stupid and call it gay, you are connoting gay to mean stupid. When you call a shirt gay, which you think is ugly, you are connoting gay to mean ugly. It doesn’t matter where you are or who is around you, if you say it, you convey that you believe it.

Because members of the LGBTQA+ community are often the victims of crude and offensive language language, it’s no surprise that women are too. When a man is called the p-word, it is not implied that he is female genitalia. He is being called weak. He is being called un-masculine. He is being called afraid.

These words are probably said to get a laugh, but there is nothing funny about labeling an entire gender weak.

Perhaps the most prevalent and widespread derogatory speech occurs in the form of racial slurs. Whether it is the punch line of a bad joke or just everyday words, this is unacceptable. Many people have started to revive the use of the N-word, presuming that it’s okay as long as they don’t drop the “hard E-R.” The offensive connotation of this word does not lose its capacity when a letter is replaced.

Calling someone Jewish a “penny-pincher,” or calling a Native American “Big red” or “alcoholics” are probably less common in the high school setting, but no less disgusting and demeaning. It is impossible to address all the potential instances of derogatory speech, but it is important to understand the roots of this problem.

People who fail to examine the true implications of their words are fueling this vicious cycle of stereotypes. What we all need to do is remember to speak with conviction, to choose words carefully. In short, we must think before we speak.

I can’t emphasize enough that words are not ephemeral. It doesn’t matter who you are around. It doesn’t matter if it’s in writing or not. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a job interview, cafeteria, or social media website. Words matter.

Just because crude language abounds in high school hallways doesn’t mean we should let it stand. The next time you hear a friend label another the p-word or something equally offensive, I challenge you to speak up.