Social Question

anonymom's avatar

Why do some people use offensive words, even after they know they are offensive?

Asked by anonymom (78points) February 19th, 2010

While reading through some questions here, I noticed that people sometimes continue to use a word that others have specifically said they find offensive. I’ve seen examples of this in day to day life, too.

Words like retarded, fag, and slut are very distressing to some people. I understand that not everyone feels that same level of distress, but, once you know that other people are offended, why continue to use them? Is the goal to be hurtful? Is there some deeper motive?

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71 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

The question is really a bit vague. Often it will be deliberately used with the intention of offending, at other times it will just be that particular person’s normal language. It is pointless to expect others to not use a word or phrase simply because it offends you. I take offence at the word “empowered” but I don’t ask others to stop using it – I just mentally lower their IQ a few points in my estimation of them.

dpworkin's avatar

Is the word “fuck” offensive? How about “aborigine”? Who gets to decide these things. Other than the site’s guidelines, why should I give a shit if someone finds certain words that I use offensive?

ChaosCross's avatar

Some people don’t care what others think, so they say what they want to get the reaction they want. Mostly a question on morals I suppose.

DominicX's avatar

It depends on how they’re being used. If A and B are having a conversation and B finds one of the words A uses to be offensive, then I think the right thing to do would be for A to stop using that word. A would probably want to stop using it in order to continue the conversation because B may not want to talk to them if they keep using that word. But if A and B are having a conversation (and both are fine with the terms being used) and along comes C criticizing A for using that word, even though they’re not even part of the conversation, then I think that’s just too bad.

dpworkin's avatar

@ChaosCross “Morals”? Now there’s an offensive word. Some people think that Homosexuals are immoral. Some people think that bankers are immoral, or Pentagon arms suppliers. Who gets to pick, you?

Vunessuh's avatar

I’m not too fond of retarded or fag either, but I don’t cringe when I see people use them. I figure if they continue to use them after being told to stop, they’re either A) ignorant. B) a douche. or C) both.

Slut isn’t offensive to me. Only words like retard , faggot or gay that are used in place of describing something they think is stupid. But again, I don’t get offended, I just figure that person is rather ignorant.
It depends a great deal on how the word is used too.

Personally, I’m a fan of c__t.
But I only use it around company who I know won’t get offended and just laugh instead.

Other days I’m in a mood where I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. No one is forcing you to read my content. If you don’t like it, stop reading and move on. If someone gets distressed over a word they’ve read over the internet, then that’s just sad.

susanc's avatar

I use bad words – not the ones you cited, but others – because thought I had to prove to my instant family – a man and 4 teenaged boys – that I was as tough as they were. Which, of course, wasn’t tough. They were using hard language for exactly the same reason. Now I’ve got the habit.

dpworkin's avatar

@susanc When you say bad words, I assume you mean like fatso, Kike, Chink, Jap, Cholo? Gook? Those kind of bad words?

anonymom's avatar

The way I see it happening (on Fluther, not so much in face to face stuff) is like this: Say 20 people are having a conversation. 2 or 3 people use such a word, and several people chime in to say “that’s offensive” or “there are better ways to say that”. The 2 or 3 people using the word basically ignore that, and go right on using it. It seems deliberately hurtful. That’s the part I’m trying to understand. If there’s another word or phrase to use instead, one that doesn’t upset anyone, why not use it?

anonymom's avatar

I mean, even if the word was something ridiculous… if you know it’s upsetting multiple people, why not just change it?

jerv's avatar

@dpworkin Belgium :P

I think it’s partly because telling somebody that the way they talk is offensive is itself taken as offensive.

davidbetterman's avatar

For the fuckin’ shock value!

YARNLADY's avatar

It seems to me that people who use words that are offensive to others are exercising their right to be as offensive as they want to be. Usually they are trying to get the point across that words don’t really mean anything anyway so it doesn’t matter.

I don’t happen to agree with that point of view, but I have learned to tolerate it.

Jeruba's avatar

Some people enjoy offending.
Some don’t care.
Some think they can teach others not to be offended by getting them used to the objectionable words.
Some like having you announce your vulnerable spot because it gives them a feeling of power to make you react.
Some think people who get offended are being petty and ought to be punished.
Some don’t believe anyone is really able to get offended over a combination of letters or sounds.
etc., etc.
Really, there’s no limit to the number of reasons. What good would it do to know them all?

faye's avatar

You used retarded in your query so I assume you to be referring some to me. I grew up when my brother and my friend’s brother were called retarded in a medical way. It is not a bad term unless used as a slur. And I do not. Nor am I going to change all my speech year to year. Then again probably nothing to do with me. I am offended by people saying, “he/she has down’s”.

davidbetterman's avatar

Retard was long ago poo pooed as a slur. Challenged took its place 25 years ago.

jerv's avatar

@faye I use it all the time. Of course, I use different (and kinder) words to refer to those who are actually medically diagnosed with mental deficiencies/abnormalities. I think that @davidbetterman is correct that “retarded” has pretty much lost any medical meaning, so when I use that word in reference to anything other than motor timing, I intend offense, and make that clear since there is usually an F-bomb or reference to bestiality in the same sentence.

faye's avatar

Go, jerv! I’m not a big tyrant about flauting political correctness but will, given a chance

TheJoker's avatar

I would like to say it’s probably down to issues of free speech etc… However it’ll just be because people are generally lazy & a little unpleasant.

Nullo's avatar

Some people like to be offensive, and some people don’t care if they’re offensive, and some people are too set in their ways to change.

ninjacolin's avatar

myself, the reason i don’t stop using certain words is because i believe their usage to be artistically relevant.

as for the term “that’s gay”.. i don’t use it often at all but i do find it descriptively appropriate for many things.

TheJoker's avatar

@ninjacolin I’m inclined to agree…. there are things in this world that are quite simply ‘gay’

TheJoker's avatar

@Nullo Hahahaha, exactly what I meant :)

Cruiser's avatar

Words are the most powerful weapon in the world capable of solving and starting all of life’s problems and you need to ask why? Try simply to understand the users intent and it all becomes painfully clear. The employment of obviously derogatory and or inflammatory words is usually a clear sign of that persons ignorance.

anonymom's avatar

I sincerely wasn’t targeting any particular person, @faye. I did see that Family Guy question, but you’re far from the only person I’ve seen or heard use that word.

As far as changing your speech from year to year, though, I do have a thought on that. When I was growing up, people still frequently used the “N” word. Most people certainly don’t say that anymore. So why do we cling to some words, but not others?

Silhouette's avatar

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me. I wouldn’t dream of telling another person to change their vocabulary just to make myself feel more comfortable. They’re words, pretty easy to ignore.

filmfann's avatar

I would like to apologize for mentioning Ann Coultier yesterday. I realize this is deeply offensive to many sensitive people, and I will try to restrain myself.

Just_Justine's avatar

I think in life you just got to accept somewhere that loads of people are ignorant. No matter how much education, exposure, new experiences they simply stay the same. I can’t change them, they can’t change me. I try and ignore those types and eventually I think they do just “go away”.

slick44's avatar


BoBo1946's avatar

The real world and the internet are two different worlds. If you are offended by these words, probably be best that you stay off Q & A sites.

Most people don’t get upset with “words” unless it is a personal attack, that would be different.

john65pennington's avatar

They have a very low IQ. and, they have the “Bubba Syndrome”.

stratman37's avatar

Jerry Seinfeld once said that using profanity (in comedy) was like cheating.

Trillian's avatar

If you get out of bed in the morning, chances are that you’re going to see or hear something that “offends” you. Get over it.

CMaz's avatar

Because it is an offensive word. That is the reason to use it. To get attention or a rise out of someone.

wundayatta's avatar

Because there is a lot of discourtesy in our world. Also, it’s cultural. Some people don’t know it offends anyone else. For some it’s ideological. They think others should get over their use of a word. Some are opposed to political correctness—or what they perceive to be political correctness.

dpworkin's avatar

I’m sorry, but who are any of you to define “offensive” for me? That is more offensive than some word or other.

CMaz's avatar

@dpworkin – So you are being defensive of the word “offensive”? :-)

dpworkin's avatar

I don’t even know what it means, nor do I think anyone else does.

susanc's avatar

@dpworkin – the worst thing of that nature that I ever called anyone was
when someone made me very angry in Bali and I said, “You.. you.. Balinese!” Needless to say, the person was not very offended at all. Puzzled, yes.

Bad words I learned/decided to use in my rough male family were Fuckin’, Goddammit,
and Asshole. None of us say these things to each other any more, because we grew up.
We continue to use the word Fuckinidiot in traffic. Well, Fuckinasshole also.

tinyfaery's avatar

Because sometimes no other word will suffice. As long as it follows the guidelines I don’t care.

CMaz's avatar

The guidelines?

tinyfaery's avatar

On fluther.

CMaz's avatar

Got ya! :-)

Nullo's avatar

Sometimes people are offended by perfectly harmless concepts that they’ve decided that they don’t like. Sarah Palin, for example, is innocuous. And yet just mentioning her will drive about half the Internet into a frothing rage.


CMaz's avatar

I just froth.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@dpworkin why should you give a shit about saying offensive words? simple, because they hurt people..if you want to hurt others, fine by me but don’t expect to be considered a decent human being…who gets to decide? people that matter to you, people that you care about…if you think I’m your friend and I tell you not to call my best friend a ‘faggot’ and you give two shits about me and my friendship, that’s why you won’t use the word…I’m sure you can ask your partner who’s probably experienced some of these offensive words for herself why others shouldn’t use them

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Because they don’t remember or deny the times something offensive was said about them…because they don’t care and are only to glad to be ‘rebellious’ and say ‘oh you’re soooo PC’ when questioned as to their usage…because it’s great to be a douchebag, isn’t it?

Berserker's avatar

Swearing has its place. It can be used for emphasis, when nothing else will do. Surprise, anger or even awe. Liking it or not, it’s now part of our language.

I’m not opposed to older forms of expressions like “Zounds!” or “by the gods/by the seven hells”, either. Swearing has its history and its artistic value. It doesn’t always have to be “offending”. If that’s all you wanna see, then fine, but at least consider the intent behind the words, because that’s what counts. If I say the word “retarded”, no matter how illegitimately placed, I’m not making allusion to anyone with a mental disorder.

If I want to be offending, you’ll know. If all I’m doing is upsetting one’s sense of security and peace, then that’s not my problem.

Do I lack class? Yes. But just because someone is being politically correct and uses a carefully worded vocabulary doesn’t mean they have any more than I do. Far from it. It’s just pretentious really, because someone may say things which are offending to me, but just because they don’t swear or use offensive words, it’s, by them, considered alright. Bullshit.

Of course there isn’t just fuck, bitch, cunt or shit…words like retarded, racial slurs or derogatory wording…I do slightly agree that they could be held back if they really offend someone, considering the wide variety or reasons that the word gay or retarded might borrow, especially when not used in their proper contest, but all that for the sake of convenience, rather than empathy and consideration.
Oh so sorry.

But that’s just it…the variety of uses and reasons why these words are thrown around so much. I would think that the intent behind the wording is what would be offending and hurtful. If someone calls me a pathetic lowlife, I would be just as hurt as if they just called me a retarded bitch. Words are words, they don’t matter much to me, it’s what carries them that’s important.

Just because you use certain words doesn’t make someone a Nazi, a racist or insensitive. In those cases it’s your actions that count. Now one might say that upholding certain ideas is just as bad, but I don’t see that it’s any worse than church picnic goers who never swore or never got drunk once in their lives and are convinced that humanity should be eradicated ecxept for them because they’re right and the rest is wrong.
All that with a smile.

Okay that’s a completely lame example, but I mean, people only seem to notice what sticks out, swearing. I suppose it’s a way to uphold this concept we call morality, but the truth is, swearing and a poor choice of wording is nowhere near as hazardous as intent and the way people conceal their poison.
Morality is complex, despite its evident surface, and it makes me sick that people use its underbelly to thwart the concept itself.

So that’s just my opinion on the matter Equips Flame Shield but as for people keeping on being offensive when they know it’s hurting someone, I guess they’re just assholes. I swear all day long, but never against anyone. It’s just part of my vocabulary. If someone really is offended like everyone on Answerbag I might tone it down outta convenience and to avoid a fight, but really, people who complain about having their feelings hurt or who think I’m not being politically correct enough need to get out of the house and witness the true atrocities of our world. Then tell me if I’m being offending.

fathippo's avatar

i say things like fuck and cunt n’ all mainly because it is cathartic and if i didn’t i’d gradually, maybe over years, i’d have so much retained rage and frustration loose it and burn the house down or something similar =P And it emphasises things…
Also it describes people I’m not all that infatuated with (i have someone in mind =P)

But i don’t really call people things (eg. directly to them) unless they’re really close to me and we do it to eachother kind of thing, (or i get in a proper rage) and then, i don’t really call them fags and jews etc because of what it means, it’s not really an insult to be something some people just are, and are no less for; it is just another things, kind of… =)

dpworkin's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Why personalize it? I was referring to the oft-seen practice of other Flutherites instructing me as to how to post. My private life takes care of itself quite nicely, thank you.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@dpworkin I wasn’t personalising it to be offensive – just to give you a perspective or something that you can relate to quickly. You just sounded so bitter in your response, I wanted to understand

Jeruba's avatar

@dpworkin, “It’s offensive” means “I had some sort of negative reaction to it, and now I will think up a reason for that, preferably one that puts you in the wrong so I am in a better position to make a demand or seek a concession from you, which I deserve if for no other reason than that I have greater moral sensitivity than you. I am one up and you are one down.”

“I don’t like it” or “I am offended” is an honest statement of personal feeling. “It is offensive” is a presumptuous one, speaking in universal terms and presuming an absolute and objective standard of which I am the arbiter and not you, you benighted boor.

dpworkin's avatar

I am bitter about strangers about whom I know nothing availing themselves of the privilege of correcting my personal style here on Fluther. I’ll gladly listen to a correction from you or Auggie or Jan or Jeruba. Not so much Joe Blow the Teabagger who objects to my saying “fuck”.

Trillian's avatar

@Jeruba Nicely broken down, and I like the reference to the fact that people feel entitled to compensation for something you said…what a crock that is, and I hate that so many people buy into that. But even the “I’m offended” seems ridiculous to me. there are too many people out there who seem to be just looking for something to be offended about. As if they had nothing better to do.

faye's avatar

Teabagger—how did they pick that name?? I always want to giggle like a little girl. sorry, off topic.

dpworkin's avatar

They missed the double-entendre because they were focused on the (irrelevant) Boston “Tea Party”.

CMaz's avatar

“because it’s great to be a douchebag, isn’t it?”

YES IT IS! :-)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ChazMaz whatever floats your boat

CMaz's avatar

You got that right. ;-)

Silhouette's avatar

@Symbeline Brilliant answer.

Jeruba's avatar

The problem I see with your answer, @Symbeline, is that you can’t really know someone’s intent. You’d have to be a mind-reader. From the outside, the best indication you have of their intent is their behavior, and that includes their use of words.

I really like your point about perverting the meaning of morality by using it as a tool or weapon in opposition to its own principles.

Berserker's avatar

@Jeruba Yeah, I certainly won’t deny wording, but I do find that body language, facial expressions and tone of voice can indicate just as much as words themselves.
Might just be me though. Being shy and introverted when I was younger kinda gave me a knack for communicative substitutes.
Doesn’t mean my perception thereof is always right though, and as I mentioned that swearing can be a lot more intricate than just using it for insulting people, I do recognize the power of words.

evandad's avatar

How the fuck should I know?

Adagio's avatar

@anonymom if you know it’s upsetting multiple people, why not just change it?
If someone feels offended by a particular word they would do well to remember their own right of choice to exit the conversation. Our own choices are the only ones under our control.

anonymom's avatar

Thank you all for your answers. I just want to reiterate… I wasn’t saying that I was the one offended. Just looking for an explanation as to why people continue to use these words after they’ve been made aware of the fact that many people find it hurtful. By the way, cussing doesn’t offend me. Not one fucking bit. =D

MarvinPowell's avatar

“Why do some people use offensive words, even after they know they are offensive?”

Because people don’t live their lives to appease and conform to others’ wishes. People have the free will to behave however they want, and only the user can decide if their own words are “offensive” or not.

In other words, no one else has the right to tell you how you’re allowed to live, what you’re allowed to say, and how you’re allowed to express yourself. The world doesn’t revolve around people who get “offended.” That’s one person’s personal issue, not the rest of humanity’s.

If one person gets offended by my words, why the blue fuck should I care? Unless they were very close to me and it deeply hurt them (not that I would ever be friends with anyone so soft and emotionally frail to begin with.) If 50 people get upset by it, I’ll CONSIDER changing it. But no one person gets to decide for me how I’m allowed to express myself. Sure some people might be “hurt” by it. But if one word can hurt someone so much (including words like nigger, chink, fag, dyke, retard, gay, etc.) then they need to seriously toughen up and face reality. No one owes you courtesy or whatever you’d deem to be “respect.” That’s what makes it nice when you get it. But no one has to do SHIT for you or your ‘feelings.’ You don’t like it? Tough. That’s the cost of free will.

tinyfaery's avatar

Or you can be nice to people and be a part of a new world where we care for others. Just sayin’.

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