Bad f***ing language, it’s a bit like guns.

Watch what you say in front of the Captain

As children, we are taught two important lessons about words. Yet as an adult, I have begun to see the contradiction between them.

The first thing we are often told is simply, some words are bad. Sexual words, abusive words, crude descriptions of female body parts, they are words that are forbidden to speak. Remember the first time you swore in front of your parents? Remember how much that slap hurt afterwards?

On the other hand, we are also taught as children a well known rhyme. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. This is a reminder that words are just noise. Actions can hurt, but words, who cares about words?

See the oxymoron there?

Ultimately, these two lessons are taught with good intentions. Being cautious about words is a good lesson to teach a child. Additionally, so is the lesson that if another person does say something that upsets you, don’t worry about it.

However I can’t help but poke holes in this logic. If words are just noise then why does the concept of “bad words” exist? If words can’t hurt who cares which ones I use? Why are there unspeakable words?

The key my friends, is context. You see, words can hurt. Words can create both beautiful poetry and hateful speeches. The decision of whether a word is good or bad depends on a huge amount of secondary factors. For example; the other words around it, the way the word is said, the person who speaks it — all of these things matter so much in the decision of whether a word is a “bad word”.

Interestingly, this is also the same lesson to be learnt about guns.

Guns can hurt. Guns can be part of a thrilling Olympic sport of the highest athletic achievement, or they could be used to commit horrific acts of terror. They key again, is context. It matters who is using the gun, where, when and what they are using it for.

Does this mean I’m pro guns? Absolutely not. I am pro gun education, in the same way I am pro word education. In the same way that there should be control over who gets to use guns, should it not be the same that there should be rules in the media to stop those who speak hateful words and attack others? In my opinion it is wrong to walk down the street waving a gun around in the same way it is wrong to walk down the street shouting racial slurs.

As children we should be taught that words and guns are tools. Both can be used for good and for evil. A word could make you fall in love or it could make you feel like your life is falling apart, the most important lesson we should teach is to use your words responsibly.

Forget rhymes and just remember, don’t be a dick.

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