The opposite of polite talk is insulting talk. Insults are
names and attributions designed to hurt others, to arouse anger and ultimately
to start fights. Children are often taught:” Sticks and stones will break my
bones, but names will never hurt me.” While the intention is to alleviate some
of the suffering a child feels when others hurl insults, the statement is not
true. “Names” can be harmful and are often remembered for years; whereas
pleasant experiences are forgotten.
You could ask why insults are potent as expressions of
aggression and as triggers for fights. Proud males, for example, so reject
insults that a scrappy fight, a formal duel, or a declaration of war follows
insult. If you are a skilled peace maker, you learned to deflect insults
and inhibit anger. But even the most skilled pacifist will still be hurt by
insults and will require strategies of self-defense that do not depend on anger
An important meaning of an insult is: ”I don’t like you and
intend to do you harm.”
The term “profanity” originated with religious authorities
to describe words and expressions not approved by the church. Blasphemous
language opposes the authority of the church. Insults are often expressed with
profanity, using words and gesture that are rude and disrespectful.
Synonyms for profane speech are cussing cursing, swearing, obscenity, dirty
words. Words that refer to the anus, feces and sexual organs are often used as
insults. Disrespectful words that refer to ethnic origins, religion, and
occupation are also used as insults. Referring to people as animals with low
status is insulting.
Offensive and Taboo Words
The meaning of every word is context dependent and every
local group has rules about good words and bad words. Social status determines
the tolerance for offensive words. High status usually requires strict language
discipline; any deviation from polite speech will lead to rejection. If you are
a stranger entering a new group, it is a good idea to learn and use polite
speech, avoiding words that would offend.
Fuck is the most used and most versatile English swear
word, used as a noun, verb, adjective and adverb. The verb, fuck, refers to
sexual intercourse. Even polite girls in the heat of passion will say “fuck me”
to their lover, but in other contexts may never use the word. I have
occasionally kept the company of working men who often say fuck; the frequency
of fuck in their conversations can be as high as every third word. Most of the
fuck words are simply part of the prosody of their languages, but there is an
underlying hostility to the whole approach to communication. One man who becomes
annoyed with another will shout “fuck you” with his index finger raised, an
obvious insult. He may walk away with a disgusted look, repeating fuck many
times as he disappears into the distance. Fuck is not acceptable in polite
conversation and is taboo in respectable newspapers and on television.
Some taboo words describe objects of disgust that are not
mentioned in polite talk: feces, urine, vomit, menstrual blood, pus are high on
the list of disgusting things. Street words for sexual parts and acts are
usually taboo, even when proper terms are seldom used and casual terms are
common and numerous. Ethnic slurs express the human tendency to discriminate
against others that are different.
Discrimination is multifaceted, begins with insults
and extends into fights which are sometimes lethal.
One reason to reject vulgar words in civil society is to
suppress the tendency to fight and kill.
You could argue that trading insults is a substitute for
actual fighting and may be permissible, but the tendency for verbal battles to
escalate is real and dangerous.