***I might have to caution you guys about excessive expletives in this article, but I’m not sure about it… You’ll know what I mean when you read on***
Some people talk to their friends about sports, while others may choose to converse about political matters. Abortion is a hot topic these days, so is gun control, as well as the subject of same-sex attraction. While all of those things are interesting to discuss, I recently found myself in a somewhat heated argument with some friends about the nature of the word “dick”. One might think that there’s not much to discuss about the word “dick”, but this dialogue lasted a few good hours and no mutual conclusion was made to the undying question:
Is “Dick” a swear word?
I took the position that I, at the time, felt was the obvious one. Yes, yes, “dick” is clearly a swear word. I based my stance, not on what I personally felt about the word “dick”, but on what I thought that the general population would say if they were asked. We will go into details later about my own thoughts about swearing, but I thought most adults would answer the question with something like “well… sometimes ‘dick’ could be a swear word”, and that was enough for me to say “yes”. It’s definitely a vulgar name for a penis, slacking off, and meanie faces (i.e. jerks, also see “ass”). Additionally, it was pretty plain to me that we shouldn’t say “dick” around little children or grandparents, in church, and especially not repeatedly on articles over the internet. To my surprise, a close friend of mine (who is generally more conservatively minded, if that matters) completely disagreed with me and speculated that “dick” is, in fact, not a swear word. They charged that there is a big difference between vulgar words and what people would call a swear word.The conversation eventually dwindled as we inevitably found out that we disagreed on the definition of “swearing”, and I think we even avoided calling each other “dicks” in the process. Perhaps that would have been swearing.
Without actually going out and collecting data about people's’ thoughts about “dick”, our argument couldn’t be resolved, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong. After years of experience of evaluating myself, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t fundamentally understand the idea of “swearing” and similar culturally fueled notions. I will admit that the problem very well could be a deficiency in my own brain. Consider this anecdotal evidence that will back that up:
Early on in elementary school, I remember sitting in class as the teach put a clear, plastic sheet on the overhead that had a picture of a cup, with a wavy line through the exact middle of it.
“Today we are going to learn about optimism and pessimism”, the teacher announced. “We will go around the room and you will tell me whether you think the glass is half full or half empty and that will decide whether you are an optimist or a pessimist”.
When called on, my first classmate exclaimed “Half full!”, and was deemed an optimist by the teacher. The next student was labelled a pessimist, since they saw the glass as half empty. As the rest of the class was seemingly effortlessly able to decide what they thought about the level of content in the cup, I found the concept very troubling. I didn’t get it at all. Normally, I had the reputation in class of being the “smart kid” and was usually willing to bail other students out when they were lost, but I didn’t know this answer. What made it worse was that no other student seemed to be confused in the slightest about it. They just picked one, and that was it. How?! There were only two options, and I couldn’t get a clue from the teacher interacting with the other classmates since she wasn’t saying whether they were right or wrong. I was horrified knowing that I was eventually going to be called on, and sure enough, the moment came.
“Next is… Justin H.”
“............. I don’t know.”
“What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?”
“I don’t know what it is? What is in the cup?”
“... I still don’t know”
“What? Why not?”
“What is the water for?”
“What does it mat… Drinking. It’s for you to drink”
(I don’t remember this myself, but some of my old classmates that were there recall that the teacher seemed to be getting irritated with me at this point.)
“How thirsty am I?”
“*Sigh*... Very thirsty”
“Then that is not enough water. I am a pessimist.”
“No, it doesn’t work like that, Justin. Let’s say that you’re not very thirsty and you don’t really need the water. Would you say that it is half full or half empty?”
“Well, then that’s plenty of water for me. I am an optimist.”
Call the 8 year-old Justin a pragmatist, but I honestly did not grasp how someone could just instantly choose the answer to that question without knowing more information. Even after the teacher pulled me aside after class to help me, I couldn’t make sense out of it. For months, I was frustrated that I didn’t understand the cup conundrum. When I finally learned the concept of optimism vs. pessimism and how it was an expression of how one’s outlook is, I still didn’t see how it mattered and how it effected reality. Additionally, I found it silly that people would just accept their outlook, even if was contrary to what was realistic or beneficial, in some cases. Eventually, I figured out that even though I didn’t relate with how people were in that regard, I knew how to deal with them while they lived in ignorance. To bring this full circle, there are many concepts like this that I cannot relate to on some fundamental level, and swearing falls into that category.
Is “dick” a swear word? I don’t personally connect with the line of thinking that “dick” is innately a swear word. Unquestionably, “dick” can be used as a swearing word, but then again, so can any other word. I can say “dick” a hundred times while maintaining a neutral expression to someone who doesn’t speak English or has never heard the word before, and it would mean nothing. I could also say “apple”, feeling complete disdain or disgust while looking someone who doesn’t speak a lick of English in the eyes. They surely wouldn’t think “apple” is a normally delicious and healthy fruit that they see growing on trees. Can “dick” be used in a neutral way? There’s debatebly around 15 neutral uses in this article alone. Also, I’d think that most Richards would hope so. And, of course, my dear friend thinks so (they also think that most everyone else would say “dick” is not a swear word, to which I still disagree. Yes, I say that because I hope you’re reading this).
If you started reading this hoping that you’d get actual good information. I have provided some reliable resources below. Don’t ever say I’m not helpful.
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