Radioactive Words

There are always radioactive words in any society.  Some are mostly forbidden, some are completely forbidden, some are conditionally forbidden, and some are secretly encouraged, so that people can show what brave rebels they are. At the moment the n-word is both conditionally forbidden, in that black people can say it, but otherwise absolutely forbidden, in that no others can say it under any circumstances.  There is protest over this, that the rules have gone entirely outside any sense of reason, in that it cannot be quoted in a context and cannot be uttered even to condemn it.  This is why I use the word radioactive, rather than sticking with the more usual term forbidden. One cannot even approach the word or handle it in any way unless one has the proper protections. If this seems unreasonable, remember that it was ever thus.  Of course it’s unreasonable.  So what? Live with the unreasonableness, because that is what language does, everywhere, at all times.

Those whose objections are unreasonable, who declare we cannot even quote from Huckleberry Finn, however important the book was in improving the way the culture thought about black people, might have bad reasons for the insistence.  It may indicate an imbalance in them that suggests they will always be miserable unless they have a change of attitude. Yet this is not new. They are responding emotively that if we do not follow the rule, it is evidence that we just don’t understand how serious this is.  If we protest that we indeed do, they will shake their heads.  If you really understood, you would not do this. They are always among us, and keeping some words radioactive might be good for us, however ridiculous each individual case might be.

There is something similar from my childhood, and many years previous. Many people refused to use Christ’s name as an exclamation, and considered any reference to God intending to damn anyone as not only impolite and discouraged, but unsafe. Even euphemisms were discouraged. As evidence of this, I will not, even now, put the word “damn” directly after the word “God,” even in the context of quoting or deploring the phrase. Preachers would use the words “damn,” “damned,” “damnation,” and talk about how God would indeed damn some people, but they would always sneak some words in between, as I did there. It’s automatic, and I see no need to change it.The commandments were very strict about using the Lord’s name in vain, and that seemed to be one of the agreed-upon meanings.  One did not put the words together because it had the sense of being a curse on someone, a spiritual burden that was real and would have to be attended to eventually. That rational discussion might undermine this thought was irrelevant.  Why take the risk? The phrase was radioactive.  It was not prohibited because it was filthy or base or showed poor breeding or manners, but because there was something dangerous about it.

That started changing over a century ago, and I think few of us would still regard the phrase as absolutely radioactive. I do, but I imagine that’s rare and becoming rarer.

The Indo-Europeans would not say the name of the bear, referring to the animal as “the brown one,” or “the honey eater.” Honey was *medhu, from which we get our word mead and the Russian word for bear, medved. The other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam, also have serious rules about making the name of God radioactive, not to be handled in any way. Even now Jews will use a hyphen and write G-d, though even Orthodox scholars will dismiss this as unnecessary. Sometimes it is good to follow at a distance and not touch some object, or to take off our shoes because we are on holy ground, even if we have mistakenly picked the wrong object or the wrong ground.

11 thoughts on “Radioactive Words”

  1. Sadly, the term “radioactive” itself is an example of the concept. When Curie discovered or published the data about the concept — energy coming from essentially nowhere — there was, understandably, a lot of denial and push back. When the reality set in the pendulum swung the other way and everybody was avid to have some radioactive magic in their lives — radium dial watches being the arch type. But along about the time the War, the Bomb, and Fallout became part of the culture, ANY degree of radioactivity became completely and utterly intolerable. Hormesis? Literally- forget it! Threshholds? NO WAY. NO SAFE DOSE. And disposing of waste progressed from task to problem to crisis to a curse upon all generations to come…

    Not that the curse keeps us from having smoke detectors in our homes and low-light sights on our firearms.

  2. Radioactive material can release energy in two ways. If you put it in a structure with appropriate controls and shielding it will generate enormous useful power. If you put it in a structure deliberately designed to create an uncontrolled reaction you get enormous destructive power.

    The people who avoid the use of the name of a powerful animal, or use – instead of o’s, or the appropriate number of words between ‘God’ and ‘damm’ often aren’t simply avoiding the use of those words. They use those words in particular ways and particular settings where they wish to invoke the power inherent and implied for useful purposes. They recognize that using the words in an uncontrolled fashion runs a risk of invoking the power in a destructive way.

    Have the people who appointed themselves the police of this particular radioactive word shown themselves to be similarly concerned with making sure that the power of this word is not used for destructive purposes, or have they deliberately weaponized this word for use against their opponents?

  3. Radioactive words … among the right. Covid19 is right up there: “lets not talk about it”.

    So its 130,000 new cases, and 1,321 deaths today. Its steadily getting worse and you are just doing nothing. A quarter million dead, and you are heading for a half million dead in a few months. Doing nothing useful in so much of the country, almost assures a humanitarian crisis as your medical system melts down. In Canada its not quite as bad, but its not good in any way at all.

  4. Well that is upsetting. We are doing all we can to kill old folks by shoving chicom flu patients into nursing homes. That is doing something.
    And we are breaking the backs of half the small businesses in the country by locking them down so they cannot conduct business. That is doing something.
    And leaving sick elderly people to die alone, apart from their loved ones. That is doing something.
    All these ideas prominently featured among the left’s idea of doing something.

    I am not sure how much more doing I can stand.

    I wonder when the use of language of the radioactive sort will be a legitimate, court accepted excuse for murder? If our speech is violence, and their violence is speech,it would seem we are well on that path.

  5. AVI, you seem to approve of PC-squad contemporary taboo on words that were normal and part of everyday language when Twain wrote his book. And you compare it with religious prohibition on using “damn” and “god” in uninterrupted sequence. Do you think these two authorities are equal?

    For an atheist, both instances sound as irrational superstition – and it explain something in the attitude of the Left: they think themselves high priests, inventing rituals in their Church of PC.

  6. So, Pen Gun, you’ll be flying in to Montreal this weekend? Toronto? Quebec City?

    The places in Canada most like America have similar numbers. The places in Europe most like America have similar numbers.

    @ Tatyana – I said nowhere that I approved, only that it will always occur and it is best to understand the phenomenon in that way. What was normal in Twain’s day is forbidden now. What was forbidden in my day is normal now. The underlying reasons are usually based on a half-truth.

  7. No, you didn’t directly say you approved, but your choice of supportive examples say that, by association – since you approve of not superstition of not saying out loud “god damned”.
    What half-truth is in both your examples? There is none.

  8. “So, Pen Gun, you’ll be flying in to Montreal this weekend? Toronto? Quebec City?” No. I only visit Parksville, the closest town, and my local stores if I like the conditions. Understanding physics at an elementary level I can make it hard for any virus to get to me.

    “The places in Canada most like America have similar numbers. The places in Europe most like America have similar numbers.” That’s not actually true, but the numbers are not that far apart.

  9. }}} So its 130,000 new cases, and 1,321 deaths today. Its steadily getting worse and you are just doing nothing.

    It’s not “steadily getting worse”, you lackwit imbecile. Stop calling yourself PenGun. You are an idiot PaRRot.

    It is impossible to stop the spread of a disease. All you can “do” is add to the pain. You make people poorer by destroying the economy, you make them more depressed and alone and fill them with anxiety by locking them down. Oh, and you kill lots and lots of babies by taking away the people struggling to care for them and making them stay in lockdowns.

    This is from May, but the point remains: Actions are not taken in a vacuum. Every choice has consequences which a rational, intelligent person considers as a factor in making choices**.
    Unicef warns lockdown could kill more than Covid-19 as model predicts 1.2 million child deaths

    The ONLY people who should be taking significant steps are higher-risk individuals — specifically, those over 55, 65, 75 (depending on personal risk levels) and people with exacerbating pleural conditions — asthma, etc. — and any other particular “high risk” factors doctors have connected/leading to having more serious complications…

    The fact is, that CASES have skyrocketed with the onset of WINTER and the “Flu season”, which favors the transmission and spread of CV as well.

    However, these are the provisional death figures for the last 10 weeks by the CDC:


    The last two are presumed unreliable and low because “provisional”, i.e., not all cases identified or confirmed, this usually takes a couple weeks to get most of them into the data.

    Note that the number of deaths per week is fairly constant, increasing by small percentage points if at all… even as the CASE count has skyrocketed from 7,597,104 to 11,969,343 in that same time frame — a 60% increase The fatalities per case are not significantly rising.

    No one gives a fuck about the case count if they know anything (which excludes the Merdia and PaRRot). What they care about is the CFR and the CHR. I’ve already made the case for the CFR being constant (and have plenty more stats and graphs that show nothing overly concerning is happening). The case for or against the CHR being of concern is left to the reader. I’ve generally found it difficult to get any kind of Hospitalization stats, though I ack I haven’t looked for them lately.

    Q.E.D. You don’t know what the fuck you’re squawking about, PaRRot.


    ** The point here being that one has to make common sense considerations with regards to solutions, e.g.,

    Cat has fleas.
    Heat kills fleas.
    Ergo, throw cat into furnace to kill fleas.

    There’s an unspecified secondary event that occurs if you apply the above, which is that the cat is killed in the furnace along with the fleas. You need to not just make choices based on primary concerns, but also to consider what are the secondary and tertiary consequences of the choice.

  10. “It is impossible to stop the spread of a disease.”

    The numbers today. America 180,222 new cases and 1987 deaths. China 12 new cases and no deaths.

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