Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Rudest Word in America

When people think about rude words, they usually focus on their raw power to cause offense. This tends to prioritise the usual suspects like n***er and  c**t. (Although in the case of n***er, Americans don't get offended by the word in general, just when a white person says it - nobody blinks at its use in gangster rap)

But let me suggest an alternative measure of how rude a word is. It's based on squeamishness of people in using it. So in this view, the real test is the extent to which ordinary people will avoid using the word when it's actually appropriate, and reach for a synonym (especially a euphemistic synonym) instead.

So based on this metric, let me suggest the following word:


It's amazing the lengths people here go to in order to avoid using the word. In Australia, it's common for people to ask 'Where are the toilets?.' Not here. They go to the 'bathroom'. This is used regardless of whether the room is a combined bathroom/toilet (such as in a house) or whether it's obvious that there's only a toilet (e.g. in a restaurant).  This sometimes gets modified to the 'washroom', as if to emphasise even further that it's the bodily cleaning aspects of the 'bathroom' that they're after, rather than the toilet. They use the 'restroom', as if they're going for a relaxing sit down and chill out. Occasionally, it's referred to as the 'little boys/girls room', whatever that means.As for the purpose of their visit, it's to 'use the facilities'. Or 'wash their hands'. Or 'powder their nose'.

The only time that people use the word at all is when they're unavoidably  forced to refer to the mechanics of the device ('The toilet is broken/clogged'). And even then, oblique references to the 'bathroom being out of order' are common.

And yet I bet everybody would claim that they're perfectly fine using it. They just, you know... don't really want to.


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