Context Provides Meaning. Without it, Words are Powerless

Hello, I am a great big huge faggot, and I am proud of it 😉

You could say that I belong to the subsection of LGBTq activists who’re reclaiming the word ‘faggot’ as a positive term, a way to strengthen our identification within the community.. and even that wouldn’t be technically correct. We don’t even necessarily need to reclaim the word because guess what? In the English language, words can have more than one meaning!

Furthermore, there is this little thing called “context”. Words are inherently meaningless; on their own they are nothing more than a bunch of sounds that come out of people’s mouths. Once a speaker and an audience agree upon a definition and give them meaning, then and only then does language and communication happen and they start to wield a power greater than the sword.

Take the word “orange”. It can mean both a color or a fruit. If I simply said the word “orange” without any context, it would be impossible for the audience to know whether I was talking about the color or the fruit.

An even better example of this is the word “crane”. A crane is a bird. A crane is also a mechanical device used in construction. If I just said the word “crane” without any context, which one am I referring to?

In the same way, a ‘date’ can be a day on the calendar or something you eat or a plan to meet up with someone. ‘Engaged’ can mean planning to marry someone or that you’re busy doing something. ‘Foil’ can mean something you wrap leftovers in or it can mean to ruin someone’s plans. The English language is tricky like that. There are hundreds, if not thousands of examples of this in our language. In fact, there are even a couple cases (such as ‘egregious’ or ‘nonplussed’ where a word has two different definitions that are the exact opposite of one another).

See how words can have more than one meaning in our language? They can even have meanings which are in no way related whatsoever.

See how important context is?

Deciding to ban a word and not an idea is like banning the letter “a” because someone once used it to hurt someone.

Words can’t be homophobic. Ideas can be homophobic. People can be homophobic. Contexts can be homophobic. Meanings can be homophobic. But words, just words, without meaning, context, or people, cannot be homophobic.
Now let us examine this word “faggot”.

In the English language, “faggot” currently has 5 accepted definitions:

(1) A bundle of sticks tied together.
(2) A homosexual person, particularly a man.
(3) An insult, particularly an annoying or inconsiderate person.
(4) The cast off end of a smoked cigarette.
(5) A meatball made from pork.

None of these definitions have anything to do with one another. Trying to make the argument that “faggot” is intrinsically homophobic because one of its other definitions is an insult is as absurd as suggesting there is some intrinsic link between a bundle of sticks and a pork meatball.

Definition 2 refers to homosexuality, and is completely neutral. It has nothing to do with being an insult.
Definition 3 is an insult, and has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation.

(definitions 1, 4 and 5 refer to different things, and have nothing to do with either homosexuality or insulting people)

To further my point, just think of how many times you’ve heard someone use the word “faggot” to insult something that wasn’t even close to being related to homosexuality in any way (I should note that this exact same trend happened to the word “gay”, where once upon a time it meant ‘happy’, and then it meant ‘homosexual’, and then it became a random insult used ubiquitously to mean anything the speaker wished to insult for whatever reason, regardless of sexual orientation).

The most extreme example I can think of to demonstrate this is a Facebook post I saw on my feed.
A friend of mine tagged his girlfriend and wrote on his wall about how much she meant to him and how in love they were.
One of his friends commented to say “lol, you faggot”.

I saw that and sarcastically responded “yes, because there is nothing more gay than the love between a man and a woman.”

To try to clarify and restate my point in another way: if there were some intrinsic link between “faggot/gay” as an insult and homosexuality, people would not be using these words to insult heterosexuals or inanimate objects that are incapable of even having a sexual orientation.

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