What Do You Do When the RIGHT Word is a BAD Word?

Use the bad word?

I’m trying to write a blog post about a problem I’ve seen that makes the people with this problem seem….well, like assholes.

I can list a bunch of equally “bad” words here, but since I know some of my clients read this, I thought I’d keep it as close to PG rated as I could.

And that’s the problem. I want a word that isn’t one of those “bad” words. I want a word that’s perfectly acceptable in polite company.

Restrained by Niceties

The closest almost polite word I can come up with is jerk, and even that has connotations that are questionable. Besides, it’s not strong enough. These people are beyond jerks. They’re…well, what?

It’s unfortunate that certain words, on their own, should be considered so objectionable that we simply don’t utter them in polite company. George Carlin riffed on this in his famous “The Seven Words” routine. (If you have never seen this routine or haven’t seen it in a while, watch this video. It’s more than just a list of bad words. Carlin was a genius when it came to language.) The reluctance to use “bad” words just makes it difficult for people to express themselves accurately. The word I want is asshole, but I don’t think it’s right to use it because it might offend someone. So I scratch around for the right word and only come up with more of the same.

The Meaning I Want to Convey

Asshole, DefinedThe Thesaurus in my Mac, which I don’t use very often, was no help. It didn’t even include asshole (although the Dictionary did, as shown here).

When I looked up jerk, the synonyms were just as mild as jerk is. Ass was only included because it referred to an animal as well, but it also included the secondary meaning with these wimpy synonyms:

idiot, dolt, simpleton, imbecile; dimwit, halfwit, dummy, dum-dum, loon, jackass, cretin, jerk, fathead, blockhead, jughead, boob, bozo, buffoon, numbskull, numbnuts, lummox, dunce, moron, meatball, doofus, ninny, nincompoop, dipstick, lamebrain, chump, peabrain, thickhead, dumb-ass, wooden-head, pinhead, airhead, birdbrain; nitwit, twit, turkey, goofball, putz; dated tomfool, muttonhead

The word I want doesn’t mean stupid because of some kind of mental deficiency, as these words suggest. It means stupid and offensive because of a mean streak and/or complete lack of regard for other people. That’s what an asshole is, isn’t it?

How about Dick?

Phil Plait used the word dick recently in a speech he gave to a mixed crowd at a skeptics event in Las Vegas this summer. (Highly recommended folks; it’ll help you understand how to be more convincing when trying to make a point.) It might be the least offensive of the words I’ve been able to come up with. But like sucks, I have difficulty using it — partially because I’ve had friends named Dick. (Poor guys.)

What do you, dear reader, think? Is dick okay? Not quite as strong as I want, but the meaning is pretty much there.

Any suggestions? I can’t write the blog post until I have the right word and I do want to get it written. What do you think?

6 thoughts on “What Do You Do When the RIGHT Word is a BAD Word?

  1. I have to admit, Maria, that I was absolutely floored last week when you actually used the f word. Let me first say that I think you are one of the finest writers I have ever had the privilege to read. When I am on the road flying as a glorified bus driver, I look forward to each new day when I can read about your new adventures in Washington state, or elsewhere.
    In your article about suicide, I believe, you actually used the f word and I was blown away. I know suicide is a frustrating subject to write about, especially when you write about a friend who has succeeded in doing it and yet has apparently forgotten about the impact on family and friends.
    You are such a classy lady who tells it like it is and I so admire you for not tolerating b.s.. Yet, people do look up to you because you are one of those unique people who possess the gift of easily relating a story or thought into reading that is easy to follow. It is for that reason that I suggest you rein in the use of such language. (gads, I cant believe I am the one to suggest this!)


  2. @Jiim Ferman
    Jim, you can’t be reading very closely. I’ve dropped the f-bomb more than just once in this blog.

    The purpose of this post is to get suggestions for a better word than the one I think fits perfectly — that just happens to be a impolite word.

    I’ll likely go with “jerk,” since it’ll appear in the post title.

  3. You want to use the current most popular expletive but feeling a teensy bit tentative. Without knowing “the problem” it’s hard to pick the basest. I vote for “clueless cretin(s) but perhaps a “YOU FILL IN THE BLANK” will get you off the hook. I mean this tongue in cheek. Looking forward to your solution to this conundrum. And now that you have us all waiting with baited breath………..

  4. I think the most important point of this post is the simple fact that we shy away from some words just because they have been labeled “bad.” Words that are bad today, were in common usage in the past — read some of Mark Twain’s classics for a liberal sprinkling of the “N-word” as an adjective NOT meant to be derogatory at all. The George Carlin link above explains all that — but I can only assume most readers here have avoided watching the video because they only think of Carlin as a foul-mouthed comedian. The man was a master of the English language and this bit, although often cited as an excuse to say “bad words” in public, is more of a look at why some words are considered “bad” and others aren’t.

    Anyone with an interest in the English language owes it to themselves to watch it. The link above is the full 10-minute video — not the 15 seconds most people have seen/heard over and over.

  5. George Carlin was a genius with his material. He died too soon.
    John Stewart and Stephen Colbert to my mind are of a similar vein. What they do, they do brilliantly. If the material isn’t up to snuff, the overuse of the “f” word gets extremely boring and clicking off is a relief.
    Each of us decides our personal tolerance level but now that I am trudging through my eightieth year I can’t imagine letting myself be thrown off balance by sounds coming from other peoples mouths. Shakespeare said it best, “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” If it stirs up uncomfortable vibes in your psyche that’s a warning sign to either proceed with caution or desist, isn’t it?

What do you think?