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It really intrigues me how certain words become taboos, while some other (with the same meaning, mind you) remain acceptable in our civil society.
How is it that a certain word “sh!#” is a strict No-No, while “crap” is still acceptable? How about “Damn it” v/s “Darn it”. Both are just words formed by a combination of alphabets – in the latter example above it’s just one letter replaced with another!
Then, we have euphemisms for almost everything that may not sound so good to the ears or to the sensitive parts of our brain. Some of the euphemisms are needed to reduce the shock factor associated with certain events – our heart being so prone to such. So, we have phrases like “Passed away” or “is no more” instead of a crisp and straight “died”. So far so good, but then we take it a little too far with the literary exhibitionism of being good. If you’re good at heart you would use the right language as they say.
Well, obviously it is for the need for us to be accepted in the circles that we want to belong to. Broader the circle, more generally accepted the behavior needs to be. If you want to be popular with everyone in the world, better be clean as white (and that also explains why every popular celebrity has as many hate sites as fan sites – What one may like others may hate). And the so-called-right language and good mannerisms make for a good facade. So, that explains why Euphemisms exist.
However, this turns upside down when one goes to a bar with a set of friends (smaller and specific circle). The behavior that is the minimum acceptable behavior outside the bar (that circle) can easily make you a laughing stock! The need for acceptability forces you to be something else. White is suddenly Grey, people doubt who you really are if you’re actually behaving (and may be you are!) all white!!
Okay, after that slight digression, I come back to the taboos. The taboos differ from place to place, age to age, gender to gender, and so on. We don’t have a reason to believe that sex was a taboo in ancient times, then it became a big one, and now it’s somersaulting into gaining a widespread & general acceptability as well – not everywhere but still in general. Certain things have always been sinful though – infidelity and theft, for instance.
But, not every taboo is equivalent to a sin and that’s where I get intrigued. It’s just the words and their usage that really intrigues me. We hear those “beeps” on TV and see these “wild” characters like #$% in print so often for things as mundane as someone talking about need to take a natural call. That’s so natural, why does it become a taboo? And again, why is it that “taking pi$$” is not acceptable while “answering a natural call is”?
#1 by Ketan on April 11, 2010 - 2:19 pm
Thanks for bringing me to this post!
Well, to begin with I cannot help but mention, the current post deals with those euphemisms where the basic meaning of what we want to convey does not nor is there any loss of information.
I will try to deal with the individual taboos you have mentioned. Am not justifying their being considered taboos, but just speculating their genesis.
1. Piss v/s nature’s call. Maybe this’ something to do with our avoiding direct references to the act of urinating or defecating. This in turn is because of public shaming during childhood as part of toilet training. Urinating & defecating are thus made more & more private affairs. Children grow up seeing adults in varying degrees of nudity, except for genitals & breasts in case of females. Act of sex is intimately associated with the same body parts that thus remain covered. This could be one of the reasons surrounding taboo status of sex. Will return to other possibilities later.
In that sense “nature’s call” seems to take our attention away from the actual act of pissing. Plus, I suspect few males feel saying so will make them look creative or humorous! 😉
2. death v/s “no more”. The word ‘dying’ signifies a process, which is intrinsically considered to be undesirable or painful. Whereas saying “no more” signifies the current state of nonexistence. It would come as less jolting to the relatives of deceased.
3. Sex. Extremely complex to speculate why it is a taboo!
a. Increased productivity in society.
b. Religious heads in society would want to make people feel guilty. Simplest thing to do was to make most pleasurable act a taboo!
c. Making it a taboo ensured greater fidelity. Imagine something that is not a taboo, why would people indulge in it only as a pair? But why fidelity should be a virtue is difficult to answer. Probably, helped maintain family structure & better nurture for children by making the male partner responsible to the family.
d. Prevented incest.
e. By making it a taboo, people would engage in it, only in private places, & others won’t get turned on – again would lead to greater efficiency in society.
f. The act of sex requires a certain kind of loss of control as well as composure. In general, such states make people feel vulnerable.
As to other issues like behavior in bar you only have answered them.
Some synonyms must have become socioeconomic class markers.
#2 by Ashish Bhagwat on April 11, 2010 - 2:57 pm
I tend to agree with the literal and societal reasoning brought forward by you. However, the intriguing part here is not to understand why certain “Acts” and “references” ended up as Taboos. There are multitude of such reasons.
The intrigue originates from the PoV that these are just words formed by few letters. So, why do “sh!|” and “crap” not have the same connotation? What about Damn v/s Darn. In subtitles you would see one replaced with another with no change of meaning or substance….