What’s so bad about bad words?

  • Wednesday, March 12th, 2014


Every Jamaican child knows certain words are off limit growing up. We would whisper them amongst ourselves and if a friend made you angry, you would chip two at them but in my time, we did not dare let any adult hear us as we wanted them to believe we didn’t know of their existence. Poor soul them.

Yes there were words we could not say in polite company and these were called ‘bad words’. Now don’t ask me why they were considered bad as we loved them as they rolled so fluently off our tongues when we threw them at each other and I don’t ever recall seeing someone die or get hurt from one. Indeed ‘rass’ and ‘blood’ were joined by the material you found in a store – cloth, only it wasn’t spelt the same and it sure didn’t sound the same or have the same meaning. No this one was ‘claat’ and it was all powerful as it could start or end a conversation; bruk fight; put someone in their place and if you stubbed your toe or hit your head it would come rushing up to relieve the hurt and give vent to the frustration of it all.

Yes these were powerful and at times soothing words dependent on the situation. I was told that the whole origin dated back to slavery when women were seeing their ‘monthly’ and used cloth. This of course is the precursor to sanitary napkins which are mid 20th century invention as back in my granny days, you used cloth when you were seeing your period and then had to turn around and wash them out and they had better be white like baby nappy! I m so glad I was born in the 70s!

there's no word like a curse word!

Back to the slavery thing. So in using strips of cloth during menses it must have been a messy or ‘bloody’ affair hence the term ‘bloodcloth’. In making it a derogatory term they have basically used women’s menses and their private parts as an insult hence the ‘bombo’, ‘rass’, ‘blood’etc . I don’t know how true it is or if I even told it right but I remember it being something similar to that. So me get it, so me sell it!

As I mentioned before, you would not dare let an adult ketch you blurting it out or else you would get your ass beat or if you were like my brother who had not filter, you would get your mouth washed out with carbolic soap by my mother! I was a smart kid, I never swore around adults as I knew the consequences as back in the 70s and 80s, you didn’t just get beat by your parents, you could get whopped by ANY adult and you couldn’t do anything about it. It was the ‘it takes a village’ days and the villagers didn’t play.

Now all my life I have been hearing just how bad these words are and how decent people don’t swear or use bad words especially the upper Saint Andrew housewives but truth be told while most of us don’t use them daily, we have all used them at some stage or in some situation and lets face it, nothing expresses how you feel sometimes or sums up a situation better than a choice ‘bad wud’.

For example if you found your man cheating in the bed you done pay fah wid some cayliss gyal, tell me that it will be Standard English you will be chatting? Hell no! You will flip out and either before or after you get the bottle of kerosene oil, you will give it to both of them properly and not in any dainty voice either.

giving you a piece of my mind

Or…if you driving and someone swings across two lanes in front of you, nearly causing you to mash up your ‘Betsy’, the string of ‘claat’ you will be spewing don’t sell at Pings, Pablos and Fabrics de Younis. And if you come home unexpectedly and find your teenaged son in your living room smoking weed with a bunch of his friends a nuh ‘My Gosh” you will be saying when you grab him up and start shaking him, reminding him that you brought him into this world so you can tek him out…even if you would end up a rub a little stretch a Fort Agusta fi it!

Bad words can be used in any sentence at any place, beginning, middle or end as they are extremely adaptive. They can be nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs. For example: “this rass man a come down the street drunk” is an adjective as it described the man. “You hear all this rass a play a me head mek me caa sleep in peace?!” is a noun; mek she come a me yard  mek a rass har teday! is a verb etc.

Indeed the ‘claats’ and all its derivatives are colourful and expressive and makes us Jamaican because wherever you go around the world be it France, Alaska, Finland, Australia and parts in between, if you pass a store and hear a man sey ‘$20 fi wha? you too rassclaat teif! You tink me a idiot or sump’n?!” You know yep, that an outraged yardie!

I really thinking its time it is decriminalised. Seriously, we have more pressing issues in this nation to worry about like crime and corruption than if two women arguing happen to use a ‘bad word’. They are only considered bad because they make polite society uncomfortable. Yes, I agree that there is a time and place for everything including bad words, but criminalising them hasn’t made them go away and believe me they ain’t going no where anytime soon.