On his 1972 comedy album, ‘Class Clown’, the legendary George Carlin included a bit that became an instant timeless classic: “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”. It was, in a word, inflammatory, though - for the life of us - we can’t imagine why. The words on Carlin’s immortal list were shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Now, if you can find a way to cleverly work all seven into one complete, elegant sentence, personally, we think you should receive some sort of award (maybe a cash prize or a Pontiac Aztek, such as was given away on the first season of ‘Survivor’. Nothing too extravagant). Some people, of course - even today - would disagree. But, fuck, what would those cocksuckers know?
Despite all the hypothetical naysayers and party-poopers out there, we must admit, we have come a ways since 1972. Slowly but surely, we as Americans have become increasingly comfortable with the so-called “bad word”. Maybe it’s media oversaturation or an evil liberal conspiracy, or perhaps it’s just the inevitable course of history, but we as a people have generally become more accepting of words and phrases that were once considered strictly verboten. Heck, we’re probably not too far off from actually having for purchase Carlin’s mocking suggestion of a “Tits” snack food. Onion tits do sound rather appetizing. Though, really, we’re more salt and pepper people. Call us old fashioned.
Still, for that very reason, when we come across words and expressions in today’s world that continue to be considered, for lack of a better or more apt term, “bad”, it makes that very word all the more intriguing. In a time when you can say “bitch”, “piss”, and, though this baffles us, “penis” on network TV and find photos of bare-breasted celebrities by harmlessly searching for “Clock 9:15” on Google Images, what could there possibly remain which would still offend?
Cunt - This is, along with the n-word, the big one. You still can’t get away with dropping the C-bomb in very many situations; that is, unless you happen to have a show on HBO. Let’s give it some credit: the word itself is abrupt-sounding, and—if one properly emphasizes the “unn” sound—spiteful. Used, maliciously, by men toward women, it is truly verboten. However, men calling men “cunts” is one of the few ways left, in a desensitized age, to adequately convey deep levels of anger and disrespect toward a man who is being a cunt. Also, there are some reported instances of women reclaiming the word by using it toward each other in a jestful way—“ ‘sup cunt?”—much as African-Americans and Poles have reclaimed the n-word and “Polack,” respectively.
Pussy - There’s some gray area here (regarding the word, of course). Thanks to, we’re assuming, the ubiquity of frat culture in mass media, it seems to be kind of okay to refer to men who are behaving in purportedly cowardly or otherwise unmasculine ways (which is, of course, in itself “problematic”) as “pussies,” which is fuckin’ awesome. It’s generally not okay to refer to vaginas as “pussies,” though, and in fact, it’s not entirely clear whether “vagina” is a word you can even use on TV.
Vagina - What else are you going to call it? “Lady parts?” The Obama campaign used this in one of their ads, so maybe. Nevertheless, this word still makes people rather uncomfortable. It’s not an obscenity, per se, but it’s definitely something you sort of dance around. So to speak. Of course, the possibility remains that just vaginas in and of themselves make people - namely, men - uncomfortable. If history has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t possibly overemphasize the level of mystique surrounding the space between a woman’s legs (CHECK-) (that’s where vaginas are, right?) (THAT SOUNDS FAMILIAR- MB). That’s the subject of a whole other article, however.
You, Who Lick the Dry Ani of Badgers - This one isn’t really an “expression”, per se, but it probably would still “offend,” which, you’ll note, is the point of the list. Moving onward:
Compound words with fuck - Motherfucker, fucktard. These two compounds have the advantage of combining one of the more (but not totally) inappropriate curses with other terms that are taboo, either through their indication of incest (presumably a motherfucker is not “a fucker of mothers” but, more specifically, of that person’s own mother) or use of an epithet referring to a retard. Sorry, developmentally disabled person. Oddly enough, the addition of the prefix “fuck-” in this latter case somehow renders the insult “retard” - which would, by itself, be considered terribly politically incorrect - more innocuous. Maybe the “fuck” adds an element of abhorrence (“Oh, he’s also a fucker, you say? Well, then, to hell with that retard!”) (This is best said with, at the least, a fake British accent). Or, perhaps, people just enjoy the clever wordplay.
Fuck you - This is sort of like the Cadillac of “bad words,” or rather, “bad expressions.” Yes, it has lost some of its ability to overawe through its heft and dramatic force over the years; yes, it lacks the same capacity to be the authoritative last word on any discussion (whether a figurative one about who is most successful or a literal one about who should get fucked). But it still communicates, in a universally recognizable form, the curious relationship between violence, anger, and profane expressions of sexuality at the core of any good bad word, just as the Cadillac remains America’s quintessential heavy, gaudy, expensive, grossly overstyled automobile. It is, however, somewhat curious that this supposedly hateful exclamation is, in fact, exhorting the recipient to go get laid. “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on,” although less common and more unwieldy a sentence, does hit the mark a little more accurately, suggesting as it does that the recipient go off and engage in acts of bestiality. Bonus points for specifying that he do this with, in particular, the very creature upon which he arrived. It wouldn’t be humiliation enough to go off and fuck any old horse.
Fuck Patois - Credit to author Tom Wolfe for the term. “Fuck” is far less offensive when used as a present participle, adjective, etc. than as a straightforward noun (“I had a good fuck”) or verb. Quite why this is, is unclear. Somehow the context legitimizes it or downplays the inherent threat, kind of like when white guys started singing black music in the Fifties.
“If you have a problem with it, you can buy a One-Way Ticket on the Go Fuck Yourself Express” - Things of note here: 1. The ticket is one way. You are not expected to return from this. 2. It’s an express train. There are no stops between here and you going and fucking yourself.
Taint - Though not as outrightly “offensive” in a strict, traditional sense, “taint” nevertheless has the ability to shock and take aback on occasion. The reasons for this are several; the first of them being that it is simply not commonly used. Another is that it sounds vaguely British. Perhaps the most important reason for its shock value, though, is the idea of uselessness implicit in the word’s meaning. At least assholes and dicks have a clearly defined function. Taints have no purpose. It’s just one more place you have to clean. For added insult value, one can explain this as one is calling someone a taint. “I would call you a dick, but a dick has a useful purpose…fuckin’ execrable taint” is a great way to settle scores with Harry Weaver, that cunt who asked Julie Ehlter out, or to get yourself taken off of any Christmas card lists you no longer care to be on.
Racial epithets - None of these are okay.
Moron and Imbecile - Never have either of these words been considered, in the traditional sense, “bad”. That being said, such ostensibly innocuous insults like “moron” and “imbecile” still have the capacity to hurt and take aback (you hear that, Cindy? Words hurt). In a sense, they’re sort of the ol’ fashioned man’s answer to such flashy vulgarities as “fucktard” (see above). They may not be as outrightly profane and offensive, but they can still deliver quite a heavy blow when used correctly and with great vigor.
When it comes down to it, though, the “heft” of the word - that is, the power behind it - is what truly counts. Very few people, we imagine, enjoy being called stupid. It doesn’t quite matter how many different ways you can weave “fuck” into an insult. As George Carlin so wisely stated in his aforementioned routine, there aren’t really any bad words, just “bad thoughts, bad intentions”. Words themselves have no inherent value. We ascribe that ourselves. And if you disagree, you can go get fucked.