Instead of banging my head against the wall trying to ingest all of this stuff on thought experiments in personal identity, I’m opting to post on something I’m noticing as I’ve gotten older – my compatriots censor themselves more and more, but in a futile manner, in my opinion. I recognize there’s a time and a place for everything, but there are a few things that I’m going to try to bring out – namely, the most popular method of self-censorship really isn’t censoring because the spirit of the word is still there. Ultimately, if you want to censor yourself, you ought to adopt a different vocabulary rather than one of these two methods.
Method 1 (The Asterisk Method) – Remove 1 letter (generally the first vowel) and insert an asterisk as a replacement. Examples of this include: b*tch, n*gga, f*ck, sh*t, etc. A few things come to mind when reading these words – 1) Are they really censored? 2) Why is it the vowel that’s commonly removed? Nobody ever does *igga or bi*ch or fu*k. 3) What’s really the point, seeing as I know what word you’re using?
I don’t think this is successful self-censorship. The idea is that you don’t want to offend or (and probably more important) you don’t want your internet self to make you look bad when it’s job time. So instead of cursing to offend or make yourself look bad, you figure, “Hey – I’ll drop a letter and insert an asterisk! That’s not cursing!” While it’s not spelling out the whole word, I’m pretty sure you can guess what word “f*ck” is. And I’m pretty sure you know it’s a curse word. So are you using a curse word? Maybe not technically, but it strikes me as foolish to write out a word and omit a letter and think you aren’t transgressing in the same way you’d use the original word. I don’t see any difference between “f*ck” and “fuck,” in other words. There’s nothing different there.
But for the sake of argument, we’ll grant that there’s a difference between “f*ck” and “fuck,” somehow. I still say you’re using the spirit of the word “fuck,” which may well be as offensive as saying the word itself. This also goes for common moves like b!tch and sh!t. In essence, you’re still saying (well, typing) the word. It might be a perceived weaker version, but the spirit you’re drawing from is the same. “F*ck” might not be exactly the same as “fuck,” but when we read “f*ck,” we don’t read literally “f*ck” – we make the connection that this means “fuck.” We’re able to make that connection because the spirit of the curse word remains – you want to say fuck, but you feel some sort of societal pressure to avoid using the actual word, so you’ll use a word that’s close enough in spelling and of the same spirit such that clearly, whoever you’re censoring the word from will notice that you aren’t cursing because f*ck, b!tch, and n*gga are all not the same as fuck, bitch, and nigga. I’m sorry, but if you draw from the spirit of the word or even think a small modification via omission means you aren’t cursing, it doesn’t add up.
(What’s worse (and this is a pet peeve of mine) is a lack of consistency. I saw my cousin’s Facebook status say, “Real niggas f*ck with me and I don’t f*ck with the rest!” How in the hell does fuck deserve a censoring but nigga doesn’t? Be consistent!)
Before I get into the second common (and unsuccessful) method of internet self-censorship I see, I can already hear the rebuttals to my initial claim. “We HAVE to censor ourselves – companies are watching! But I wanna be able to speak my mind!” I feel for you. Truly, I do. If one were to take the time to look through ALL of my Facebook statuses from college alone, you’d find some mighty ignorant (what a surprise), probably offensive statuses. Hell, I used to run a monthly list on my “About Me” of the Top Ten Most Ignorant Things I Said (for the record, if I was still doing that, tonight’s conversation with a good friend of mine would have made #1 (Stoopid Sundays) and probably #4 (Ghetto sex ed). But I recognize there are certain people checking my Facebook (who aren’t my parents) who probably will make comments about them and maybe even charge me up off the internet about them. My guess is those of us who do choose to self-censor in method 1’s manner are in a similar boat. I recognize the social constraints clamping you down, but I also wish to point this out to you – if your employer really believes that “f*ck” isn’t the same as “fuck” and that because you dropped a vowel and put in an asterisk, it’s fine – you may want to question the intelligence of your employer.
Also, before I do Method 2, I’d like to recognize the extreme version of the Asterisk Method with the absolutely amazing Ni99@, where you replace some letters with numbers and symbols. It’s like using an older calculator and if you punch in the right set of numbers, I think you can make “asshole.” Wouldn’t you get in trouble in school for that? Why wouldn’t you get in “trouble” (whatever that is) 15 years later for Ni99@?
Onto Method 2, which I admit is the one that irks me more than Method 1 – the misspelling of the curse word as a way around it. We’ll call this the Misspell Method. An older version of this is “shyt” instead of “shit,” and a more recent one – “bish” instead of “bitch.” I don’t know exactly why this really irks me – possibly because I’m seeing adults use “bish” like it’s actually not meaning “bitch.” The same complaint from above stays the same – when you look up the definition of a “bish,” it’s not any different from “bitch.” You might’ve changed the spelling of the word to a phonetic spelling of a drunk man calling someone a bitch, but it’s still the same damn word in meaning. That’s what I mean when I say that you haven’t gotten around what you’re attempting to get around, you self-censoring person. The words you use still have the same meanings. This bish/bitch distinction came up during Lent. A friend of mine gave up profanity for Lent. But she would continue to use “bish” like it’s not a curse word. I had to ask – what is the difference between “bish” and “bitch” if you’re not supposed to be cursing?
That question is the driving force behind this post – what’s the difference between f*ck and fuck, shyt/sh!t and shit, b!tch/bish and bitch if the goal is to censor yourself? I don’t see one, to be honest. At best, the practical response is that these modifications are accepted as viable methods of self-censorship, but I don’t buy that answer. Though they’re accepted, it doesn’t mean they’re successful as actual self-censorship – just that at the moment, this is the minimal amount needed to protect yourself. But just because you’re using the minimal amount doesn’t mean it’ll work all the time. It’s analogous to using a condom – it’s the minimum needed to protect yourself, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be in trouble just because you used one.
Actual self-censorship would be due to you actually opting to avoid using these curse words and their derivatives and other profane alternatives entirely. Where “hell” and “damn” are the strongest words you use. But it’s clear that most of us (myself included) aren’t willing to scale that far back. And I can’t say I blame you – curse words color language. It adds a…spice of sorts to it. “Darn” just doesn’t have the same kind of umph that “Damn” does. And “frickin” doesn’t have the same kind of punch “fuckin” does. These are the reasons many of us use these words – not because we don’t have an alternative, but because the alternative doesn’t provide the same level of impact that these words do, and that’s the level we’re desiring to demonstrate. If I’m ever the unfortunate victim of a hammer-falling-on-toe incident, I doubt I’ll yell out, “Con-sarn-it!” No, you’re much more likely to hear, “Goddamnit!” I imagine many of you would respond in kind.
All of this is to say that if you want to censor yourself, omit the words from your language (to keep in the sex analogy, the safest way to stay out of trouble is to abstain). But since you’re technically using the words anyway when you type out “f*ck/b*tch/n*gga/sh*t,” you might as well get the enjoyment of their use rather than trying to temper yourself.