Let me preface this post by saying that I understand the reasoning behind the conventional usage of the term ‘bad words’. For the majority of the population, it is simply easier to say that certain words are ‘bad’, ‘off limits’, ‘curse words’, etc…
However, in reality, there is no such thing as a ‘bad word’. There are only situations where the use of certain words is not simply not socially appropriate.
When you think about words, they are only letters (if read or written), movements (of mouth, hands, or other body parts), and/or sounds. We give these words meaning in order to express ideas. The words themselves are not inherently bad, the ideas behind them can just be considered offensive to certain people in certain situations.
Why is this distinction important enough for me to devote a post to it? Because I often work with people who are very literal in their interpretation of the world. Good is good and bad is bad. These are constants that they can rely on, and it helps them to navigate through sticky situations by knowing what to avoid. However, telling these people that certain words are ‘bad’ or ‘off limits’ can result in confusion when they hear people using these words on television, read it in book, or encounter it out in the real world in situations where it’s acceptable to use those words.
This does not mean that people should not be informed that certain words are not appropriate for certain situations. You can even say that it is a ‘bad word’ to use in that situation and brainstorm the who/what/when/where/why of situations to determine what is and is not bad word in the context.
Case in point: after being told that certain words were ‘bad words’ my son started to punish, shun, and tell on anyone who used them. T.V. shows could not use the word ‘stupid’ because it was a ‘bad word’. In conversation, we could not describe an act as one done out of ‘stupidity’ without him trying to send us to our rooms. He would argue with the television. This is what prompted us to change the way we approached the subject. We taught him instead that calling other people ‘stupid’ was not appropriate; but saying that the stupid toaster burnt his sandwich again was perfectly fine. And we’ve approached all of the big bad curse words in the same way.
With his newfound freedom to say these ‘forbidden’ words, he initially looked for every opportunity to do so. ‘Stupid fly’, ‘stupid game’, ‘stupid bus’, ‘stupid-stupid-stupid’. He still needs reminders to pay attention to his situation and figure out if he’s allowed to say a ‘bad word’ or if he needs to either remove himself from the situation or rephrase what he wanted to say to be socially acceptable to the people around him. But there has been progress and his thinking on these subjects is less rigid than it has been in the past.