by Herb Geraghty
What exactly are bad words?
The first things that probably come to your mind are a couple of four letter expletives. While
those kind of words are certainly rude to say in a number of contexts, they really aren’t so bad,
and they’re not my focus here. The “bad words” I’m talking about are the ones that seek to
These often take the form of slurs. Slurs are used by people with certain privilege to intentionally
other and dehumanize those below them on the social hierarchy.
What is perhaps even more insidious than these intentionally dehumanizing slurs though, is
language that dehumanizes unintentionally -- This is because even well-meaning people may get
caught up in it.
But let’s take a step back -- why does this matter? Who cares if our words dehumanize? Aren’t
they just words?
Well it matters for two reasons. The first is that the words we use shape our perceptions. By
using dehumanizing language, we negatively shape the way we view groups of people. We begin
to view them as “subhuman”. As studies have shown, when we view someone as less than us, it
creates a psychological separation which makes it easier to commit violence or to permit
violence against them. (1)
Consider history. What are ways that whole groups of people have been subjugated under the
law? Examples that spring to mind include: slavery, the Holocaust, genocide of the indigenous
peoples of the Americas. In all of these cases and more; before mass violence could be
perpetrated against these groups, dehumanization had to occur. When we examine some of the
different ways human beings have been dehumanized, certain parallels become apparent.
The Nazis referred to the Jewish people as “parasites” and other animals -- a rhetorical move that
American media condemned while then turning around and themselves calling the Japanese
“yellow vermin” to justify things like immoral internment camps, desecration of Japanese
soldiers’ bodies, and even eventually the mass murder of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (2)
In fact, two days after hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were killed by the
American military with the atomic bombs, our President, Democrat Harry S. Truman, defended
the decision when he said, "the only language they seem to understand is the one we have been
using to bombard them. When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him like a beast. It
is most regrettable but nevertheless true.” (3)
Flash forward to today, how many of us have heard pro-choice people say that, “the fetus is just
a parasite on a pregnant woman’s body”? Or despite the mountains of evidence that immigrants
actually contribute to and improve the economy (4), have heard them referred to as parasites or
dangerous animals; this is similar to the invention of the term “welfare queens” to paint poor
typically black mothers as undeserving burdens, parasitic on the system.
There is a common thread -- instead of viewing people as human beings first, there is often
incentive to see them as only tools for financial gain or loss.
This is abundantly clear when one looks at the abortion industrial complex, who claim to be
necessary because they’re there to help people facing crisis pregnancies; when in reality,