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 V.16 No.5 | February 1 - 7, 2007 

Thin Line

The Real F-Bomb—There are no "bad" words. There are ugly ones. There are vicious, rude, divisive and crass ones. There are flabby and flat ones.

But no bad ones.

I'm into free speech in every sense of it. We cannot blanch at every curse, blush primly at anything beyond a "darn." While dropping the F-bomb for the F-bomb's sake makes for bad writing, newspapers can't always pretend it's not out there, used by millions as a noun, verb, adjective, etc.

There's a double standard in the works, though. The same newspapers that won't print cuss words, those same editors that will remove a quote before allowing even mild offenses through the gates, printed "faggot" last week by the thousands.

Isaiah Washington, a doctor on "Grey's Anatomy," hurled the slur at co-star T.R. Knight in October, then denied it at the Golden Globes in January. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation criticized Washington for it, so he apologized. He'll undergo treatment for his behavioral issues.

Remember, he only plays a heart surgeon on TV.

The Associated Press wrote a story about it, which ran at least in blurb form in papers across the country. If you, like me, shamefacedly "peruse" (read: devour every morsel of) celebrity gossip, you saw this thing everywhere. Actually, it was big enough that even if you aren't a star scandal hound, you probably saw it somewhere. In nearly every case, that homophobic insult was reprinted in all it's divisive, crass, hateful glory.

That really messes with my concept of the bad-word terror alert scale. See, in the light yellow level, I would put "dang" "shucks" and "geez"—all totally acceptable to the mainstream print industry. In the orange level would sit "damn" "SOB" and "friggin'"—usable if they're part of a quote. Dark orange would hold your standard fare, words that everyone says but the media can't admit we're saying—"shit," "bitch," "fuck." Lastly, in the red, would be racial slurs and homophobic slang, words designed to demean people, words that I don't utter and grimace at the thought of writing.

For instance, take that one in quotes up there, the one Washington is undergoing treatment for. If you ask me, that's the real F-bomb, the one that hurts more than just the person it references.

By reproducing that word in print by the thousands, papers condoned it by saying, essentially, "There are lots of words that aren't OK with us. This one is."

So while I stand by the argument that all words are OK, when you moderate them, you've established a criteria of good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. And if you're already going there, let's move the new F-bomb to the bad list.

 
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