Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Something Nasty

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 08 Sep 2000

Language is contextual. Many of those words may have lost their universal bite, but with the right tone, inflection and situation, they can still hit just as hard as they ever did (fights continue to start with the phrase "What did you say about my mother?" no matter how many times we laugh at "Your mama's so fat . . ." jokes ). In reality and in fiction. And that's not a bad thing, at least in fiction. It sometimes serves a very necessary role.

What bothers me is its gratuitous use to appear hip or street. Anthony pointed out a very important distinction between narrative voice and dialog. Nasty words could be well put in characters' mouth to express anything from friendship to anger depending upon context. They may even be very effectively used in portraying a character as a phony, someone not nearly as hip as they would have you think, just as the misuse of a high-falutin' word may expose a social climber. It's fine, just part of the story, if I think a character is a phony. It's another thing entirely if I believe the narrator is.

And for the record, Richard Pryor later disowned his use of the N word
(the word still holds great negative power for me that I can't say it, won't even type it in my own voice). Still, he didn't pull any of his old recordings that featured it. And Chris Rock does some very interesting, and funny, riffs on the word in Bring the Pain.


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