I have met the occasional easily offended individual that recoils every time I utter one of Carlin’s seven. Well, maybe not “piss.”
But most people seem increasingly comfortable with the taboo vulgarity of the past becoming the mainstream slang of today. “Bitch” has become a term of endearment; “motherfucker” an expression of disbelief (think Marcellus Wallace carrying the box of doughnuts and seeing Butch behind the wheel of Fabienne’s Honda); “shit” an expression of regret; and “fuck”…well, “fuck” has come to mean pretty much anything and everything.
The one exception to the mainstreamization of dirty words is “cunt.” And I say that because I’ve still met an awful lot of otherwise enlightened twenty-first century foxes that hesitate slightly before using “cunt.”
What’s replaced these taboos are the racial and ethnic slurs: “spic,” “kike,” “gook,” and “nigger.” The majority of which, I would admit, I have a problem with. Does that make me “unenlightened”? Or is there a fundamental difference between the objective offensiveness of, say, “cunt” as opposed to “nigger”?
I would submit that there is. The insults I find acceptable, like “dumb cunt,” “sack of shit,” “meathead,” “dumbass,” or “bat-shit-insane motherfucker” all have, at their core, something other than a human. Take “bitch,” for example. Female dog, right? Legitimate word. And essentially what you’re doing when you refer to someone as a “bitch” is characterizing them as similar, in some specified or unspecified way, to a female dog. Perhaps “yappy” is the core characteristic? Or perhaps “vindictive”? Or simply “not very bright”? But the important thing is that the insult is customized to the individual, and highlights negative qualities by reference to something not human.
But, you’re wondering, what about “motherfucker”? Isn’t that a human: a person who has sexual relations with his mother? Well, I think the core of “motherfucker” is the act of motherfucking, not so much the individual involved. I know, I know: it’s a stretch.
So how does that distinguish from racial and ethnic slurs? The core point then becomes, when the word “nigger” is thrown about as an insult, is that the target shares characteristics with “niggers” as a group. And that, on its face, is objectionable. You’re no longer comparing an individual unfavorably to a bucket of feces, a well-worn vagina, or a particularly brainless fanny. Instead, you’re comparing an individual unfavorably to a racial or ethnic group. Big no no. No?