Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Faggot!

There is a spot on our brain called Broca's area. It's on the posterior side of our frontal lobe, right above the temporal lobe, and it's about the size of a silver dollar. Broca's area is responsible for allowing us to express our thoughts in the form of speech (there is a different area that we use to understand speech). When Broca's area is injured by a stroke or trauma, the affected person is unable to speak, even though they may be able to comprehend what other people are saying to them.

Often people who are unable to speak because of brain damage are still able to use profanity. This means that profane speech is separate from speech in general, and is processed in a different part of the brain.

Studies on stoke victims and people with Tourette Syndrome have lead scientists to believe that profanity is processed in the basal ganglia, which is located deep in the brain in the Limbic System, also called the "primitive brain" because we share this brain structure with our earliest ancestors, such as lizards. The Limbic System is responsible for our most primal emotions: fear, lust, anger, and so on.

When I was a child, I thought that people could decide not to be offended by offensive words, and thus take the power away from those words. I was sometimes called "honky" or "cracker," but I just laughed. I didn't find the words offensive at all.

To an extent, certain groups have tried to take the power from a word by using it themselves; African Americans are one obvious example. Gay people also use the words "fag" or "faggot."

But these words still rise to the level of hateful profanity when spoken in the manner they were originally intended: as slurs against a minority group.

The implications of "the n-word" are still so raw in our language that I'm not even comfortable using the word in this post. This word is associated with lynchings, church bombings, and the horrifying torture and murder of a boy named Emmit Till. We have actually seen the pictures of Emmit Till's disfigured face, we have seen pictures of the strange fruit that hung from Southern trees, there are still people alive today who witnessed these atrocities first-hand.

It is a word of hate, violence, and murder.

The word "faggot" also speaks from our primal brain, but the true meaning of the word is buried so deep in our history that, although we can feel the hate, violence, and murder the word expresses, we have forgotten the original context of the word.

One clue remains in our modern language: the British call cigarettes "fags."

In Theory and the Premodern Text, Paul Strohm draws a straight line between the language of violence that eventually culminates into actual violence with the example of the word "faggot." A faggot is a bundle of sticks gathered for firewood. The Lollards were a heretical sect of Christianity in Britain in the mid-14th century. Like most heretical groups, the Lollards were ostracized and demonized; in particular, they were called "faggots," as in "bundles of firewood." Within a generation of being referred to as firewood their leaders were, not surprisingly, burned at the stake for treason against the church and the government.

To this day, although we may not remember the origin, the word "faggot" resonates deep in the most primal parts of our brain.

It is a word of hate, a word of violence. It is a dehumanizing word meant to justify the destruction of those who are different.

After all, they are not people.

They are merely firewood.

5 comments:

Gerald Lavey said...

Thiis is excellent, Heather. Just getting caught up to it. Did you post on FB? If not, you should. You deserve a wider audience. Keep writing - you have a gift.

Heather Annastasia Siladi said...

I cherish your every word, Jerry. Please get well soon. <3

WhyNot said...

Very interesting article, thank you.

"One clue remains in our modern language: the British call cigarettes "fags.""

Lol, not only so in England but in Australia too. I remember a kinda funny story which happened many many years ago while living there down-under: I was chatting with an on-line American girlfriend (using ICQ), and at some stage I needed a cigarette real bad.

Because I was married to an Aussie girl who was asthmatic, there was absolutely no smoking in the house, so I "told" the girlfriend something like "back in five, just need to have a quick fag".

Famous last words, lol. When I got back from outside, I was faced with a horrified and abusive message from my girlfriend. Can't remember what insults she hurled at me, but they were pretty potent and seemed to be etched on the screen forever.

Ah the joys of differences between variations of a language depending on where it is spoken.

Heather Annastasia Siladi said...

Thanks for stopping by, Why Not! Yeah, I had always wondered why cigarettes were called fags until I took a linguistics class. My favorite cousin, who was gay, just loved to call cigarettes fags, mostly because of the reaction he got from people.

Heather Annastasia Siladi said...

Thanks for stopping by, Why Not! Yeah, I had always wondered why cigarettes were called fags until I took a linguistics class. My favorite cousin, who was gay, just loved to call cigarettes fags, mostly because of the reaction he got from people.