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College of Arts & Sciences
Cocky Talk USC Slang Dictionary

Why is Slang Taboo?

Slang words or phrases are typically not standard in one’s language, but are accepted in certain social settings, even slang that is taboo. Words like shit, fuck, goddamnit, bitch, and fugly (just to name a few) are all considered vulgar, taboo, or profane. We all know that these words are seen this way, but have we ever really stopped to wonder why? Turns out there are many different reasons for this. First, a word can gradually become degraded, necessitating another euphemism to take its place (Linda Ogbevoen). Second, it depends on the context of the word or phrase and who you use it around. Some of these words might be okay to use with close friends or a significant other, but not in front of a parent or a boss. Why then, do we use them if they are inappropriate or vulgar? One reason we might use profanity is because it frees us of the feeling being angry or frustrated.

Saying a profane word or phrase may not only be an expression of agony, but also a means to get rid of it (John Grohol).  Another reason we might use profanity is to express our social identity. The idea here is that these vulgarities can be used to ascribe an identity to someone or establish a social identity within a group especially in dorms and campus life where slang use promotes informal sociability (Tony Grice). Perhaps we use swear words, vulgarities, and curses because they can color things in ways which their genteel synonyms cannot, and deliver a punch which only a fist can match (Tony Grice). Or perhaps we say them because their stigma makes them more appealing. 

Keep this information in mind while you read the words that are used around USC’s campus. You may find some offensive, but they reflect the reality of slang use and college life.