Tonight’s World Have Your Say featured a discussion with Reginald D Hunter over the title of his current show. Many are understandably outraged and offended by his self-referential use of what the BBC primly calls “the N word”. It is a big taboo, it means a lot to people.

Some say that the negative connotations are so overwhelming, and the historical context so inescapable, that the word can never be used responsibly.

Hunter has a different view. He thinks that the word derives its power from its taboo status. When a word cannot be uttered, it becomes powerful and that power is a destructive, hurtful power. By using the word, examining it, facing it, he thinks that black people can overcome its power. No word should have such power. Moreover, he said, taking the word away and preventing it from being said will not stop racism. Plenty of racists would never dream of saying That Word. The word comes from the problem, not the other way around.

[For more, read this Wikipedia article!]

It reminded me a little of You Know Who, or He Who Must Not Be Named in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books. The shadowy figure of evil is so powerful and frightening that the people dare not speak his name, fearing that to do so will increase his power. In fact, as Harry Potter and some other few in the book realise, “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself”*. By speaking his name, the fear can lessen and so can the power of the object of that fear.

[* If I remember right, it was kick-ass token-girl Hermione who said that.]

But, in real life, are there any other words that are quite so taboo as “the N word”?

The callers on Have Your Say all seemed to think not. Several of them suggested that no word in the English language had the same offensive power.

Well, I can think of one, and I’ll be blogging about it next week…

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