Why Are Bad Words Bad?

@#$%!

We are all familiar with swear words. Whether they are taught to us by an older sibling, or a particularly mischievous kid at the playground, or you happen to overhear adults swearing, these words often fascinate us as children.

It makes sense. Children, particularly very young children, are among the most powerless members of society. They have to be fed, clothed, taken everywhere, they don’t have or make money. And yet, just by speaking a particular set of words, they can elicit a reaction from adults all around.

These words also hold some fascination, even for adults. You may or may not swear yourself, but cursing is everywhere. Certain words are bleeped on broadcast TV, sometimes with humorous effects. For example, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has a recurring segment called “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship“. In it, non-swear words are bleeped, with the intended effect to make seemingly innocuous speech sound dirty.

But what is it about these words that makes them bad?

$#*!

To help examine this question, let’s look at the word shit. What makes this word bad? What are the qualities that make it so offensive that it can’t be spoken in polite conversation?

Certainly it isn’t the action itself. We are all familiar with going to the bathroom — it is among those things that everybody does. There is even a children’s book called “Everybody Poops”. The concept of pooping is something that is explained to every child in every language and in every culture. It has to be, because, well, everybody poops.

So there must be a difference between the word poop and the word shit. They can’t simply be synonyms, or else why would you be able to say “poop” on broadcast TV and not be bleeped, but “shit” is censored every time?

What is the difference? Is it the context in which it is used? Is it simply that everyone agrees that it is a bad word? Would it be possible to just agree that a bad word is no longer a bad word? Why are bad words bad?

Related questions: How does your vocabulary influence how you think? Where do shared ideas exist? What do we have in common? What words have the most power?

What Is Intelligence?

Are you book smart, good at math, or a logic problem pro?  If so, you are likely labeled as intelligent.  We see people with a command of language, numbers, or puzzles as highly valued in society.

But is this definition of intelligence too limiting?  Could there be different ways to measure the capacity of a brain?

Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, argues in his theory of multiple intelligences that there are eight different intelligences.  They are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

What is intelligence?  How could society benefit from a broader view of what it means to be smart?  How would we be different?  On a personal level, how are you smart?  (Traditional intelligences are okay too.)

Related questions: How Do You Learn? How Are You Special?  When Is It Useful To Fail?

What Makes You Curious?

Maintaining a sense of curiosity can make your life more interesting. Being curious can help you maintain wonder. It can help you appreciate life. It can help you learn more.

In addition, there is a lot to learn. The world is a wonderfully complicated place. From human behavior to the natural world, from the microscopic to the cosmic. There is more in this world to be curious about than there are people to wonder about it.

However, what topics pique your interest can vary wildly. What you were exposed to at a young age may have helped determine your interest. Or perhaps your family’s interests may be yours as well. Thought leaders, like teachers or politicians, can help set a life course. For example, after President Kennedy challenged the U.S. to put a man on the moon, children all across the country went into science programs.

Thinking about and expressing those things that make you curious can help you to lead a more fulfilled life. In other words, choosing a career or even a hobby based on what fascinates you can make your life better.

There are seven to eight billion people on this planet, and each one has a unique set of interests.

What are yours? What makes you curious?

Related questions: Why are we fascinated with the unknown? How do you learn? What makes you the happiest? What is your favorite Intellectual Roundtable question?