Being subjected to a fair amount of hip-hop music at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has me thinking about language and its usage.
Hip-hop comes out of urban black culture, the inner-city ghettos of the United States. It is folk music in the true sense of the term (which has been expropriated to usually mean relatively mild singer-songwriters wielding an acoustic guitar). Part of its expression, a rebellion against the predominately Caucasian establishment, is the frequent use of profanity to shock and confront.
I maintain that really doesn’t work. There is no longer any shock value in the words; society has changed. The words may still not be acceptable in church, or business, but their power to cause offense has been greatly reduced.
Yet every rapper and hip-hop artist makes liberal use of certain words, probably because it makes them appear controversial and contemporary, at least in the eyes of the average 13-year-old.
The words we find offensive vary from culture to culture. As a society changes (I would have said evolves, but that implies progression) the words deemed offensive can also change.
In my youth swearing had religious connotations. That is no longer the case in our post-Christian society. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is no longer risqué when no-one believes in God. Our “swearing” now deals with excrement and various sexual acts, especially ones still considered taboo. I suspect that fifty years from now the offensive words will be a completely different set than the ones we have today. But there will be something that can’t be said in polite company, we seem to require that vocal relief.
Canada is a bilingual country, so I have been exposed to French-language profanity also. Much of it still seems to be to be religiously based, despite French Canada (Quebec) being perhaps the most secular area of this post-Christian nation.
Maybe profanity hasn’t evolved as quickly there because the church was so dominant in that society for so long. It is so culturally based – unless you are a French Roman Catholic I don’t think exclaiming “chalice of my tabernacle” (a direct translation of one of the most popular curse phrases) really has much effect.
So what if “orange” was a swear word? The entire hip-hop industry would wither and die. Rap is all about the rhyme, and I have heard some very creative rhymes with English (and French) swear words. But there is no word that rhymes with orange.