Although However, the listener’s reception outweighs the

Although it is possible to change the meaning of
a word as proposed by Marcus Schulzke, it is a difficult task to change the
meaning of the word that has established itself with a harmful meaning.
Schulzke affirms that words do have the power to change meaning through his
example of the genealogical connection, however, he fails to recognize that
harmful words always keep their negative attributes.  The problematic job of changing a cruel word
is also a result of the listener being more exposed to wounding words, where
the listener has a better determining factor for the definition of a word,
rather than the listener and speaker be equal.

Once a word has
developed its negative meaning, the exchange of words leaves the listener open
to interpretation, leaving them exposed to any possible harsh language. When
people exchange words, Schulzke describes that meaning depends on both the speaker’s
intention and the listeners reception. Stating that they both have an equal
magnitude in the determination of meanings. However, the listener’s reception
outweighs the speaker’s intention. The listener is vulnerable to harsh words
even though the speaker may not be intending to be unkind. The speaker does not
know how the listener will receive the word, therefore leaving the understanding
up to the listener. Once a word becomes discourteous, the listener will not
know whether the speaker meant it to insult or not. The listener will often assume
the word to be negative and insulting. This is portrayed in the episode when
Big Gay Al and Mr. Slave see the graffiti and assume that the signs are
intended for them although they were for the bikers. Schulzke calls upon Steven
Pinker who explains that “the arbitrary sign works because speaker and listener
can call upon identical entries in their mental dictionaries” (Schulzke 28).
However, there could be times when mental dictionaries are not identical, not
all two people are the same, or they could have similar mental dictionaries,
but the negative meaning is the one that they comprehend.

Schulzke argues that the goal of the episode was to
separate the word fag from its prescribed
definition. He implies that if one does not like the meaning of the word, one
can simply change the word through using it differently. He calls upon many
linguistic theorists to support his claim. He explains that the genealogical
aspect of words is explicitly integrated into the episode. Schulzke is correct
that the genealogical connection states that a word is capable of changing
meaning, that a word and its definition are conditional, and it does not always
reflect the present state correctly (Schulzke 29). The scene in the episode
that portrays this theory is when the bikers go to the library and check out
the dictionary. They trace the definition of the word fag and find it has changed over many centuries. However, notice
that the meaning of the word fag has
always been offensive. One biker says in the episode that, “Fag was used as an
insult to women, then poor people, then old people” (Schulzke 29). Over
centuries the word has always been used as an insult to others. The word has
never developed a denotation or even connotation that is not insulting.  When the listener receives a precarious word,
the message they receive will be negative even if the speaker’s intention isn’t
to be insulting.

In his article, “Contentious Language: South Park and the Transformation
of Meaning”, Schulzke explores the language of the South Park Episode of “The F Word.” In this episode the children/people of South Park are disturbed
by a group of Harley riders during a nice day. Cartman, one of the main children,
tells them they are “fags” for disturbing the peace. The rest of the town then begins
to refer to the bikers by the same name. The boys try to drive the riders out
of South Park and change the meaning of the word fag to loud, obnoxious Harley Riders. Another conflict arises when
graffiti, intended for the bikers, states “Fags get out.” This alarms the
homosexual characters of the story, Big Gay Al and Mr. Slave, because they
interpret it as homophobia. The boys admit to spray painting the sign and
explain to the city government officials the word fag is not intended as an insult to homosexuals, but in reference
to “an inconsiderate douchebag”, as Stan, another main child, explains
it. I agree with Schulzke’s argument that it is possible to dissociate a word
from its meaning. However, once a word has developed a derogatory meaning, it
is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the process of associating word
with a new meaning to continue.


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