Listening to all this wonderfulness that is Kelly Carlin’s Waking from the American Dream and various George Carlin and learning American Sign Language (ASL) has me looking at the English language in a whole new way.

English is such an overcomplicated language! In ASL, for example, one sign can have the same meaning as 5 different words. But there may be three signs for one word, but it has so many meanings. For example, like. You can like something, or that shirt is just like one I wore the other day. One word, two meanings, two signs. On the other hand, great, amazing, and wonderful all use the same sign.

When did English get so complicated?

It actually makes learning ASL interesting. It takes a while for you to understand that when you’re translating into ASL, you don’t translate the exact words so much as the concept. My instructor can sign a sentence for a test and everyone in the room can write down a different, and correct, answer. I do feel for the people who take ASL because they think it’s a simple language of gestures. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

But I’ll go on about ASL later. Back to English.

Everyone probably knows George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” bit. Right? Say them with me now: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. But my favortie part of that track off of Class Clown actually happens before then.

I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They’re my work, they’re my play, they’re my passion. Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid; then we assign a word to a thought and we’re stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words.
I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal, it is a matter of how you pick them.

He says so much with those few sentences. So many people have issues with certain words. They don’t want you to use that word. Fag. Nigger. Retarded. Those are just a few that pop into my head. But, the thing that people have a problem with is not the word, but the meaning behind them. Why they’re being used. The majority of the time, if someone straight is saying “Fag”, it’s with hostility in their voice. Same goes for the other two. But there are gay people and black people out there who use those words. They’re “taking them back”. Well, why not let the rest of us use them the same way you do?

Retarded is the word I remember being told never to use when I was growing up. And it wasn’t that I couldn’t say, for example, that Forrest Gump is retarded, if I was simply stating the fact. He is. He is mentally retarded. It is a medical term. Mental Retardation is used when someone is diagonsed early in their life. I wasn’t allowed to use it to call someone retarted when they were being annoying or stupid or idiotic. Yet, stupid and idiot are words that people used to use to describe people who we now refer to as mentally retarded or developmentally disabled. It’s all in the context.

And that is the problem. So many people in America today do not have a proper context for so many words. Retard is simply another way of saying something was stunted or slowed in growth. Nigger comes from Negro which comes from the French word for the color black. In Britain, a fag is a cigarette. Fag is short for faggot which used to mean a bundle of twigs. How did these become words that we use to be mean to each other? Seriously. We all need to start looking into the meanings and roots of words that we use without thinking. If we all started to be more aware of the words we use, the world would be a better place.


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