Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
nathan fertig y0HerwKQLMk unsplash?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
nathan fertig y0HerwKQLMk unsplash?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
/ Unsplash

Why We Should Not Use Derogatory Words

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Sonoma chapter.

TR: derogatory and racially offensive words.


Words really do matter. Which we chose to use in order to communicate with one another is what shapes our world. We have an obligation to understand their meanings and use them in a way that both refelects our personal convictions, and encourages the rest of society to do the same. Our social and political climates have been changing and have risen many conversations about speech. This discussions have produced my own opinion on how we should use speech and after much contemplation and discussion, I have come to the conclusion that an individual in society should not use derogatory words such as “gay” as a slur, “faggot”, the “N-word”, or “retarded” in lue common words. For the sake of the article these words will be considered equivalent in the nature of their use.

Derogatory words such as the ones listed above, are used in everyday speech and language by those who often do not know or understand their origins, the gravity of their negative connotations, and or simply ignore them under the belief that what one says does not matter. Many even claim that they do not mean the word in the offensive connotation which the word has accred. However, the words’ association with the negative effect cannot be overseen or undone by continuing to use it.

Why should you change what you say? What is the benefit and logic behind you as an individual deciding to exclude certain words from your vocabulary?

As stated, the words listed above have developed a negative meaning over time. This happens by object association, or by continuing to link an object to a particular meaning, such as using “gay” to mean something is “lame” or “bad”, or the R-word to mean someone is “stupid”. Often times, when in casual conversation, the person using one of these two examples will say that they didn’t mean it like that. The question arises, then why not say what you mean? With such a word in this case, like “gay” or the R-word, that can apparently have so many different meanings and connotations, one’s audience may not always understand which of those meanings and connotations the speaker is referring to. It makes more sense for the speaker to chose a word which has a more singular and direct meaning so that most, if not all, their audience will understand what they are saying. If one means to saying something is “stupid”, they should say “stupid”. It is simply speaking as accurately as possible when choosing a word that most accurately depicts what the speaker is attempting to convey. Not using derogatory words allows an individual to communicate more accurately.

The offensiveness of each of the words listed cannot be overlooked. Although a person does not “mean it like that”, a negatively charged offensive word can NOT be used unoffensivly and without its negative charge. If no one around can be personally offended by a derogatory word, is it still offensive? Should you still not use it if no one is around to be hurt by it? Even in a room full of people who are all white, and therefore cannot take personal offense to the N-word, the word is still offensive. The same with the R-word in a room full of non-differently-abled people, or with “f****t” in a room full of people not who are not LGBTQ. We know this is true because a kitchen knife does not lose any aptitude of danger when used as a letter opener. Nor to run around a mall swinging a bat is less dangerous even though it does not hit anyone. A derogatory word is still offensive even if the individual claims they are not using it offensively.

As the first words of this article states, words matter. To claim that our individual speech is unimportant simply denys how we operate and change as a society. When one says a word, millions of connections go off in the brains of whoever hears. It is up to us to decide which connections will go off in the brains of our listeners when we speak. To use “gay” when one means something is “bad”, associates “gay” with being bad. Of course this is not so, but using “gay” to mean “bad” makes it out that the speaker associates those two things. One should not associate things if it is not in line with their personal beliefs. What one says also subconsciously affects other people, and exposes them to “acceptable” behavior. It gives them an impression of what society thinks is normal and acceptable. The then question arises, do we want to give people the impression that the R-word means “stupid”, or that being gay is bad? Every time we talk we are given the ability to choose what direction society is pushed in. Does one want to associate a word with a negative and incorrect connotation, or simply use a more accurate one? The negative meaning, history and baggage that these words carry are undeniable, and we as active members in society get to chose each day if we will continue to uphold these harmful connotations or if we will work in the direction of a more accurate, tolerant and positive society. It is in the benefit of an individual to propel society in a progressive direction.

To return again to the question, why it is in the benefit of an individual to change one’s speech? Words can have many different meanings attached to them, and derogatory words are so because they have a negative connotation and history associated with them. If one uses them, they run the risk of their audience misunderstanding the speaker by thinking the word choice is meant for its derogatory meaning. But if one simply uses a word that has a more singularly accepted meaning, then the individual will be more widely understood. It is in the benefit of an individual to speak as accurately as possible. Second we know that these words are inherently offensive, and are still offensive even if “no one is around” to be offended by them personally. Finally, we as individuals uphold the burden of society and what it tolerates as normal and acceptable. An individual should not use derogatory words instead of common ones because it is in the benefit of an individual to speak as accurately as possible, the words are still offensive even if not use offensively, and it is the duty of an individual to propel society in a progressive direction.


Read next…

It’s a Crime: a poem about the war on women

The Disassociation of My Mind from My Body

Geniuses Shake Their Foot


I'm Rebecca DeMent(she/her/they/them), a Buddhist Catholic vegan ecofeminst, and I am a junior at Sonoma State University studying Philosophy in the Pre-Law concentration with a minor in Business. 
Contributor account for HC Sonoma