March 5, 2007

Context is everything, part one

Posted in Language at 11:54 am by The Lizard Queen

Much has been made of a study done recently, the results of which were that left-wing bloggers swear a lot more than right-wing bloggers. In response, Luaphacim wrote up a great post on the sociolinguistics of those infamous “seven words you can’t say on TV”. The post is interesting in and of itself, and I highly recommend checking it out, but I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

Thirdly, if Patrick Ishmael were to include this blog in his search, he would get at least eight “positives,” regardless of the fact that I have avoided using any of the “dirty seven” gratuitously. Doing a Google site search on particular domin (sic) names ignores matters like communicative appropriateness, which is another reason that his methodology is flawed.

That is an excellent point. Granted, often the words are, in fact, being used gratuitously (though that, of course, begs the question of what is considered gratuitous–I, for one, don’t tend to swear in print unless I really fucking mean it), but still, the study fails to differentiate between “gratuitous” uses and quotations, comments, or discussions of the actual word. For example, “faggot” is a word that’s not part of the big seven, but it’s a word that I personally find beyond abhorrent–and yet searching for it on my blog would turn up at least one “positive,” because I quoted Ann Coulter at the CPAC. Furthermore, I linked to Christie Keith‘s discussion of the word’s history and usage on Neither of those facts, however, could be construed as an endorsement of the use of the word as an anti-gay slur when one considers the context.

So, then, I urge my readers to consider context when reading lists of “objectionable content” online or off. More on the subject later today… if WordPress cooperates…



  1. luaphacim said,

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, LQ! 🙂

    Also, d’oh! Typo!!! 😡

    /really, truly am a good copy editor. seriously; i get paid.

  2. I was torn between ignoring the typo in hopes that no one would notice, and marking it so no one would think I’d made a mistake, ’cause I’m compulsive like that… either way, though, I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious about it, so I apologize.

    However, getting paid to copy edit would totally make me so happy… combining a job and a compulsion: sweet! 🙂

  3. pavlov112 said,

    But… but… focusing on your objectionable language allows me to avoid considering your even more objectionable point. How can you possibly have a valid point if you use dirty words to make it?

    Lewis Black has it right when he says that there are no such things as dirty words, but ways that adults talk to one another. (Of course, he’s got it right about many other things, too, but I digress…)

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