When my Mom was teaching school, she had a standard consequence for students who cussed: she would give them a list of more appropriate words they could have used, and have them copy the definitions from a dictionary. Cussing, she said, was the sign of an inadequate vocabulary. Along those same lines, each time she heard me cuss she would say to me, “You have a better vocabulary than that – use it!”
Dr. Amy Laura Hall invited a number of women (including myself) to join in conversation about the word b**** – can it be reclaimed as a positive word by feminists, and if so, ought it to be? You can find that conversation on her blog, Profligate Grace.
I enjoyed reading the various responses, finding the resonances and the variations in our feelings about the word. I especially enjoyed Amanda Joan Mackay Smith’s discussion of “mudball words” – on the imprecision of words like b****. In her case for rejecting the word on linguistic grounds, I finally understood what my Mom had been telling me years ago. While it will take a great deal of effort to excise cussing from my speech altogether, I can begin with finding more helpful and precise words to replace the b-word in my vocabulary!