Gentle Readers will be aware that Your Humble Blogger has an interest in and an affection for the profanity of our English Language. Ah, profanity. It’s the turmeric in the grammatical spice rack. Adverbs are the garlic powder, presumably, as there amongst the Best People a bizarre proscription against using more than the slightest amount, which led to a startling lack of tastiness in the resulting recipe. Prepositional phrases would be the cinnamon. No reason, I just like cinnamon. And the subjunctive mood would have to be the saffron, rarer and more valuable than gold. The passive voice would be … um, something that you don’t really notice, but it’s there anyway. OK, Your Humble Blogger isn’t a good cook. And I wasn’t talking about spices, anyway! I don’t even know what you’re on about. Spices.
What I was talking about was profanity.
Digression: The FCC says that “Profane language” includes those words that are so highly offensive that their mere utterance in the context presented may, in legal terms, amount to a “nuisance.” This is no help at all. I mean, I understand that the FCC can’t give a full and comprehensive list of all words and contexts. Still. And of course they won’t view things in advance to give a prior judgment, which would very likely be found unconstitutional. Stations are on their own. An excellent way to harass any station found to be unfriendly to the powers that be, right? End digression.
So, the word bitch. I hate it. I almost never use it. As a noun, I mean. I occasionally use it as a verb, and I sometimes describe a tone of voice or anecdote or story as bitchy. But I don’t describe people as bitches. Part of this is a general reluctance; I would rather describe an action profanely than a person. On the other hand, I do occasionally describe a person as a dick or an asshole or a fuckhead or more rarely a fuck. I think that’s a small amount of the profanity I use (I am far more likely to use intensifiers), but I do it. So that can’t be the whole reason I dislike the usage, although I do think it contributes.
Mostly, it was brought to my attention that the word was misogynist. Or, more accurately, that it has been largely used in a context of misogyny. I’ve grown to think of it as a slur, more like sheenie or sheygetz than shithead. And although I love the English language in all its fecund outrageousness, I don’t actually use slurs, nor anyone should. In my opinion. These days. There was a time when I leant toward the Lenny Bruce angle that if we used all the words all the time in public, they would lose their slurrishness. I’m less optimistic these days. On the other hand, I do think that the (public) use of an outrageous slur can be a positive thing, if it’s done just right. The song “Colored Spade” from Hair, for instance, or the Word Association skit. I don’t think I would try it, myself, and I think if anybody had asked me whether it was a good idea, I probably would have advised against it even in those cases. I’m risk-averse, when it comes to slurs.
But back to bitch. It’s become more and more common (it seems to me) in the last ten years. I overhear the word in conversation between men, between women, and in mixed groups, used in its generic sense as well as referring to a particular person. So here’s what I want to know: is it a slur? Is it a cuss? What’s going on with it?
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,