Have you ever worked with someone or made a friend who spoke a different language?
In high school and college, I worked in a few restaurant kitchens. Almost immediately, I asked some my Spanish-speaking co-workers to teach me the most inappropriate words and phrases in their mother tongue.
What is it about the words we’re not supposed to say that make them irresistible to not only learn but to repeat? While I’ve previously focused on expletives, today I want to zoom out and discuss “taboo” language in general.
I’m sure you’ve played the party game called Taboo. In it, you’re trying to get your team to guess a word, but you can’t describe that word using any of the words on the list that are commonly associated with that word.
And, of course, someone on the other team is hovering over your shoulder with that terrible pink and turquoise buzzer, eager to press the button as soon as you utter a forbidden word.
Taboo language refers to words we shouldn’t say or write in polite society. Taboo words include expletives, obscenities, unmentionable body parts and the stuff that comes out of those unmentionable body parts.
Taboo language also includes blatant misuse of religious terms (i.e., “hell,” “damn” and others). Finally, we can chalk up inappropriate name-calling, often associated with animal names (i.e., “cow” and the female word for dog) to taboo language.
We can probably fathom more types of taboo language, and it’s difficult to round them up into the same linguistic penalty box. Just imagine anything you wouldn’t say to your grandma without blushing — that’s taboo language. I suppose you could have one of those wild card grandmas who lost her filter years ago and cusses like a sailor, but let’s picture a saintly, proper grandmother in this situation.
You probably have friends with whom you can let down your phonetic hair, so to speak. You can let down your guard, drop your walls and simply let loose with this type of friend. We all need this type of friend … the type of person who won’t judge us for stringing together a colorful combination of cuss words. This type of person is usually not your grandma.
In polite society, whether it is at work, a place of worship, a funeral or during a Miss America pageant interview, certain language is just plain off-limits. Would you say the word or phrase in front of Grandma? If you answered “no,” you’re likely dealing with taboo language.