Are ‘bad words’ really that bad?

Recently, dancehall artiste Spice made a plea to the Jamaican Government to look into the possibility of decriminalising ‘bad words’ or what we call obscenities. She said that it is foolish to lock people up for the very same thing that makes us so unique and sought after worldwide. Her argument is that our language, including the so-called profanities, is part of our cultural identity. As such, she said that it should be celebrated and not vilified as something bad or derogatory.

Spice, who was in Belgium attending a music festival that had the same name as a very popular Jamaican expletive which ends with ‘fabric’, sparked a huge debate on both sides, as many people came out in support of her stance while others, including the church, wanted her to hold her position because bad words have no place in a decent, polite society.

Dancehall artiste Spice

So, what exactly are ‘bad words? As the academics explained it, our obscene words originated back in Mother Africa and survived the transatlantic trade while gaining new and more powerful meaning as it refers to the female anatomy and its function. Long before sanitary napkins, women used cloth for their menses, and so after use, these had to be washed. It is from referencing the bloody menstrual cloth that our bad words originated, and all of the major ones stem from a connotation associated with female genitalia. This is why it is so offensive to some. But, for others, this is liberating and empowering since it speaks to the power of the female anatomy and sexuality.

Opposition Senator Dr Andre Haughton recently added his voice to the removal of the ban, especially at stage shows and places of adult entertainment, as he, too, sees it as having cultural relevance that is unjustly demonised. A dancehall environment, he feels, is the space in which artistes should be able to express themselves and be as colourful in their creativity as possible.

Dr Andre Haughton

The anti-profanity law harkens back to 1834 and was established by the colonial government because they felt threatened by the African ex-slaves who used words they could not comprehend. The fact that the law is still on the books is an issue for many who believe that the law is outdated and out of place in a society in which freedom of expression should be accepted.

Ironically, its illegality, unfortunately, led to the killing of a pregnant woman in St Thomas a few years ago because she dared to defy a policeman by cutting some choice Jamaican curse words.

However, gender affairs specialist Dr Glenda Simms, in weighing in on the matter some time ago, said that we should not romanticise the use of expletives since its genesis is steeped heavily and negatively in slavery and misogyny. These words, she shared, are tools used to humiliate the females in our society, and as such, should not be employed in any conversation at all, no matter how casual or cultural.

The lines have been drawn and re-drawn for years. Which side do you stand on? 

— Written by C.W.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of BUZZ or its employees.