Merriam-Webster defines profanity as "offensive language," an "offensive word."
I'll buy that.
I would also buy a profanity dictionary that included only swear words, and I'd like to see the "N-word" in it.
How is this most disgusting and deplorable word not considered profanity? We have the classics: The "F-word," the "S-word" and some others, but there is not a word more demeaning, more terrifying, than the "N-word."
I could do an experiment with swear words here, but it would likely get me fired. What I could do is spell out these words and see which one would get me in the hottest water. Even it was acceptable in some circles to print the "N-Word" I just don't think I could do it.
I won't do the experiment because I like my job, but think about it: Which word do you think is the most shameful? You're right. It's the "N-word."
By a landslide. You can't rinse that word away with soap. And the king daddy of racial slurs has been tossed around the national media quite often already these past few months.
We have Donald Sterling. We have Cliven Bundy. And we have our good friend Robert Copeland, the police commissioner of Wolfeboro, N.H., who in March was overheard in a bistro referring to President Barack Obama as an "effing" (can I write that?) "N-word." Gosh, being safe and watching what I print sure is hard with this damn, ...um, I mean, darn topic.
Electing a black president really showed how far this country has come in race relations. Copeland set us back with one sentence.
There are many elderly white men I love, admire and respect - my dad, for instance. What Copeland has reminded us of, however, is that there are a lot of old, white men out there who land somewhere between pocket lint and dog vomit on the humanity scale. There is no defending the Sterlings, Bundys and Copelands of the world, but we have to live with them. I don't know who would win this battle of the rambling racists, but wouldn't it be nice if we could recall people the way we recall food every two weeks?
On the other hand, perhaps we should be thanking these twits for reminding us just how ugly that word can be and just how far we still have to go to achieve full racial equality in our so-called melting pot of a country.
The "F-word" is so bad it's commonly referred to as a bomb. What does that make the "N-word"? A nuclear bomb? Unlike other swear words in the dictionary, there really is no alternate definition of the "F-word" that could be considered acceptable, either today or long ago. In the 1700s, the British use the word "fag" to describe a tiring or unwelcome task - kind of like reading my columns. Today, as state after state pass gay marriage laws, we know how disparaging that word is, and anyone who chooses to use it doesn't deserve our attention.
So why isn't it a swear word?
Maybe defining profane language is only a useful tool we implement for our kids' sake and to keep them from getting used to saying bad words. We're right to put the fear of God in them and tell them to never say this word or that word - at home, in school, everywhere. By the time we're adults we already know what words are bad, yet we still use them - after we get cut off in traffic, after we stub our toe, after our team loses again, etc. So in that respect, I have to say that, to me, the "N-word" is worse, far worse, than any recognized swear word in our lexicon, because I can't ever remember having a conversation that included it.
And I know I never will.