In 2009, philologists estimate that the number of words in the English language will reach the 1,000,000 mark. To celebrate that event, I am retiring a word from my usage and adopting another.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that words only have the power given to them by those that speak and hear them. In a vacuum, words become innocuous. I’ve come to find that rehearsal halls are usually the kind of Petri dish that can sustain any word that needs to be said. After all, if you’re reading from a script you can’t avoid saying the four letter words. Seven little words you can never say on radio are just the tip of the iceberg. Those are a no brainer when it comes to testing the Petri dish of language that is the acting rehearsal hall. For a while the C-Bomb made people nervous, but among acting circles it has lost enough of its strength to be brought into the room. Only one word still gives us pause.
The game of patterns is name a category and everyone has to give an example. Examples given already were dago, frog, kike, spic, wop, and yid. There’s a hand-clapping pattern and the game usually continues without missing a beat, but when I name the first racial slur that pops into my head the whole games grinds to a halt. I tried to keep saying it to take the edge off and learned that it doesn’t work. The edge doesn’t come off of nigger no matter how many times you use it. In fact, you’re probably surprised that I put the word in print. The sight of the word probably made you pause. I’ve always wondered why that is.
I won’t get into the debate over whether or not I should be able to use the word. It just gave me room for thought that in a safe space that word still has the power to create danger. Six letters, two syllable, and perhaps the most powerful word in the English language. To illustrate the point, here are the mild-mannered ladies of the view in a major row:
Again, I don’t necessarilly agree with anyone except for Whoopi when she says, “You have to listen. You have to hear, ‘This is why I’m using the word, and this is what I mean by it.'”
…but really it’s just to illustrate the staying power of that word, and it’s fun to see middle-aged women in a catfight. Suffice it to say, that’s the word I am retiring. You can’t force a word to be something it’s not, so I won’t even try.
In exchange I’m taking back the phrase I don’t give a dam, which is offensive to those who do not tolerate swearing. “But, Jason!” I can hear you asking. “In a post about philology, how can you misspell such a common American idiom?” Well, that’s why I feel good about bringing it back. This phrase isn’t a swear at all, except when misspelled or misunderstood. A dam is actually an Indian coin, the precursor for the rupee. One rupee is worth about two cents.
Much like the American “Here’s my two cents.” which implies that one’s opinion isn’t worth much, to “not give a dam” is to say that one wouldn’t even give one’s smallest coin to help out whatever matter was being discussed.
…and frankly, my dear, when it comes to the proper usage of words…I do give a dam.