The effect of 'bad words'

Letters to the Editor

The effect of 'bad words'

Friday, February 21, 2020

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Dear Editor,

There are certain norms in our culture that we just adopt as generations pass without questioning them. In my book Coloring Culture I examine a few.

One idea that was adopted in the Jamaican culture without contest for centuries was the Jamaican 'bad word'.

Most cultures and languages have them. However, in Jamaica, the bad words were designed to shame or make everything about the woman look bad, including mothers, motherhood, her vagina, and the things women use for sanitary purposes.

Variations of Jamaican bad words, whether abbreviated, prefixed, or suffixed as languages tend to do, ironically put the human female genitalia on front street to degrade them.

These words are said to be bad based solely on their female affiliation and are connected to weakness and lack of favour.

There are no bad words that come from assuming the same about men, maybe they could pass on television without censorship. Think about the possible combinations; they don't sound bad to say it in the Jamaican lingua, and the Jamaicans who are reading this won't even find it as offensive as they did when they read the female-oriented ones. They may find it hilarious.

Why? Because to many in Jamaica the worst thing for a man to be is “like a woman”. Women have adopted this as a curse upon themselves and other genders too. So “acting like a girl” or “running like a girl” is the most degrading thing you can say to a man in Jamaica, other than a reference to one's mother.

Having “girlie” behaviour is shameful. It is viewed as weak and simply not enough to match up to the imposing, manly, and machismo behaviour expected according to our idiosyncratic practices.

A society built on shame will produce insecure people, and insecurity prevents people from living out their true potential.

Unfulfilled people become uncultured and violent.

J R Watkis

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