Are some words ‘unusable’ or taboo? Why?

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Are some words we have in our toolbox as writers really “unusable”? Why are some words considered to be taboo or maybe reserved for “mature” audiences?

There really are no fixed answers to those and similar questions about word usage. From one culture to another, from one time to another, words fall into and rise out of that linguistic “black hole” we call profanity and/or obscenity. There are no protective goggles or helmets, no safety products you can use to surround yourself, your writing vocabulary, or your readers so that some words will no longer be dangerous or taboo.

Why do we surround words with such limitations. They’re “only” words, right? Simply shapes on a page or computer screen, with no actual power to leap out and hurt us.

Of course that’s true, but that’s simply not the whole picture. Words are granted power to help or harm us based on a world of social/cultural/linquistic powers we give them. This goes way beyond the simple distinctions we make between the definition of a word and the connotation of a word. It gets deep into why we think and behave the way we do as a society, and how that thinking and behavior is invested in the words we use.

So be very careful when you write. Be aware of the way you choose words based not only on definition, but especially on their social/cultural context. Once you know something of that, you are free to use the power of words to communicate, to help, even to offend and hurt — all of which sometimes fall to us as writers.

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