Some people can pull off any kind of urban slang without a trace of irony or self-deprecating awkwardness. I cannot. You won’t hear me saying fer shizzle and I’ve never been able to pull off a “You go, girl!”
You’ll also never hear me call a friend “dawg” or “beotch.” At least not unless it’s wrapped in 20 layers of sarcastic mocking and followed with the kind of expression that prompts moms around the world to warn about faces freezing like that.
One expression that always jumps out at me is the affectionate “beotch” among friends. Mispronounce an insult, and bam! affectionate term for a good friend. Like magic, the word becomes its opposite. (Well, not that beotch means male dog, but lets stick to the slang here.)
Of course, depending on the context and tone, beotch can still be an insult. Confused yet? That’s the thing about conversing in slang. Words are slippery. You need context, tone or emoticons to tell you whether you’ve been insulted or called a term of endearment.
In Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty tells Alice that he makes words mean whatever he wants them to mean. When he makes a word have a complicated meaning, he pays it extra. Think of the multiple meanings we assign to our swear words. If Humpty Dumpty’s word payment philosophy were true in our society, only celebrities and televangelists would be able to swear.
How do swear words get such complicated usage rules? From the earliest playground days, kids are taught which words are “bad words”. This, of course, makes them want to use them all the more. Most of these bad words are okay to use in certain situations, but not in others. And then there are the words that are so bad they get reduced to just a letter: the F word, the N word, etc.
Which gives a word more power: forbidding it to the point of calling it the F word, or just using it and getting on with life?
Clearly people want words to have power. You aren’t allowed to call just anyone “beotch”, no matter how you pronounce it. Say it to a good friend and it’s affectionate. Randomly calling everyone at work a beotch just might end with a trip to unemployment.
We may say we want world peace, but our language says otherwise. Affectionate insults and complicated rules for swearing etiquette give entirely too many opportunities for conflict. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will get you ostracized. And to make it even crazier, we bleep bad words out of songs and movies, as if that somehow changes the overall meaning.
Take a movie like Fight Club: Brilliant film with dark themes that are clearly inappropriate for children (due to their lack of experience and maturity). Basic cable channels are allowed to show the movie with nearly all its violence and sex, as long as they edit out the swear words. How does that make sense?
But getting back to the affectionate beotch. I’m not knocking the term. Use it. Don’t use it. Whatever. People just need to do their best to navigate the shifting waters and try to not take it all too seriously. Words are just words, and people are more like Humpty Dumpty than they realize.