SHOULD WE 'SYMBOLICALLY' BAN THE WORDS BITCH AND HO? - REPORT FROM NEW YORK
16th August, 2007
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A New York City lawmaker is pushing to symbolically ban the words, 'bitch' and 'ho' to discourage their use in rap and pop music and among young people. Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, D-Brooklyn, suggested the non-enforceable ban, designed after a similar ban of the word nigger was passed by the New York City Council in March.
Apart from the fact that I'm not convinced about the idea of a symbolic ban, I don't think there is anything unique about the word bitch, when contextualised amongst other insulting words that relate particularly to a social certain grouping.
Words gain meaning as a result of the way they are used - this applies to both the word bitch and the word nigger, which has already been banned. All are acceptable in certain contexts but considered to be abominations in other contexts.
Coincidentally, both examples are insults that have been linguistically reclaimed by elements of the groups they apply to, in the same way that prominent gay men, like William Burroughs, reclaimed the word queer in the last century.
However, my real problem is that the process of language development will manage itself - it doesn't require intervention on a legislative level, even symbolically. If the word were universally regarded as abhorrent it simply wouldn't be used. At present, its common social use demonstrates that at present it isn't thought of in this way.
Of course, changing the way we speak changes the way we think. Without insulting words we would find it much harder to argue and fight for instance. I'm positively in favour of biasing people against violence and abusive behaviour towards women. However, I intuitively believe that language will win out against our attempts to control it.