What are the rudest words you know? For many people they would come back with a word containing four letters. And it’s funny how, if you were to create a top ten list of the rudest words, those four letter words would fill that list with maybe one twelve letter word making the cut.
Now I’m not going to mentioned any of these words because that’s not the intent of this post. The intent of this post is not to offend or be offensive in any way. This post, like many that I write is merely being put out there as an idea, or food for thought. What I write is never the end of the discussion, it’s often the beginning.
And speaking of intent, that’s exactly what determines whether a word is rude or not. How we use words, how we surround them with other words, how we emphasise them, and how we say them all contributes to the way the word is meant to be taken.
Now I’ll admit up front that my title might come across as a little click-baity, and as I started writing this very sentence I went back and added the word “please” to the title rather than suck the reader in by omitting the word. I have felt that the word “please” can be amongst the rudest words in the world for a long time and I can’t believe that it has taken me almost quarter of a century to write this down. But here I am writing it, and here you are reading this and thinking “what the fuck are you on about?”
Okay, okay. Calm down. I’ll get to it. But seeing that you introduced one of those rude four letter words into this, I’m going to back-flip on my original suggestion that I won’t mention any of those four letters words in this post. “*I* mentioned the word ‘fuck’?” I hear your ask. Yes, you did. Scroll back up to the end of the last paragraph. Sure I wrote it, but you were thinking it. Be honest. You were.
I’m not the first person to point out that “fuck” is probably the most versatile word in the English language and used in certain context, the word is quite delightful. If you don’t believe me, watching this short video. And I promise I will get on in explaining how “please” is a rude word very soon…
Although they aren’t as versatile, other four letter words that are deemed rude can be positive and friendly when used in to describe happy things. You can do your own research on that. I mean I was going to go into detail, but I couldn’t be fucked doing it. You see, that word is just so versatile, and it’s pretty much used half the time and a positive or non-offensive word to who the intended audience is.
Back when I first left school and tried my hand at becoming a trainee manager in the retail sector, I worked for one of Australia’s largest discount department chain stores that closed its doors in 1994 after 24 years of trading. The store, like many that are in existence today had women’s, men’s and children’s fashion departments, electrical items and home-wares, bedding and bathroom linen, and of course, a toy department. In my second year as a trainee manager I was given the toy department to run, and it was within this hostile environment that I learned how the word “please” could be a rude word.
Using the word when asking for something is considered good manners. There is not really a requirement to say it, but within our culture, it forms part of our etiquette and falls somewhere between two of the types of manners that Dr Val Curtis BSc MSc PhD suggested in her book Don’t Look, Don’t Touch – The Science Behind Revulsion. In her book she states the three types of manner are Hygiene Manners, Courtesy Manners and Cultural Norm Manners and I believe that the word “please” falls into the courtesy manner type, but based on it being a cultural norm.
For those who were brought up on the “Mind your Ps and Qs” idiom you might be wondering why I am suggesting that “please” is not really a requirement. Let me give you an example of this. If I was to ask the question,
“Could you pass me the pepper?”
is it really less polite than adding the word “please” and asking,
“Could you pass me the pepper, please?”
It’s not. The word “please” does not make the second sentence any more pleasing (excuse the pun) to the ear, especially when you consider the alternatives. Instead of asking politely in example one, even without “please” being used, one could easily give an abrupt demand and say,
“Pass me the pepper.”
And if asking the question rather than making a demand via a statement is the more polite thing to do (and it is), and adding the word “please” bumps up the politeness points, surely throwing in an adjective, might negate any good that the supposed polite word would do…
“Could you pass me the fucking pepper, please?”
Sure, that last example is kind of like moving the goal posts to suit my argument, but let me tell you how the word “please” got onto my list of words that you can consider rude. As I wrote earlier, I was in charge of a toy department inside a large department store, and as a result, I spend quite a bit of time on the shop floor in that department. Let me play out some dialogue that I heard not just once, but plenty of times while being in the toy department.
“Mum, can I have this <insert name of toy>, please?”
“But I said ‘please'”
Please has now gone from a word used for politeness to a word used as a means of getting one’s way, especially when pointing out that the word has been used. Basically, a demand. I had a girlfriend many years ago around the same time that I worked in retail. I can’t remember the actual situation but I do remember having something that she wanted and I wasn’t prepared to give it up, even if she was batting her eyes at me.
“Can I have your last <insert something extremely delicious that I planned on eating myself>, please?”
“Nope, it’s mine…”
“Pretty please with sugar on top…”
So all of a sudden, the word becomes demanding, and demands are quite rude. And “please” sits there with all those other words you really wish you hadn’t said in front of your kids.
And the absence of the word from and otherwise polite request takes on a whole new dimension to this.
Child – “Could you pass me the pepper?”
Parent – “You know a ‘please’ would be nice?
That response is just not necessary. Okay, it is if you like being a troll or an arse. If your child has asked nicely and isn’t demanding, just pass the pepper. Just do it.
I’m remind of this scene from Pulp Fiction.
So what do you think? Please leave a response below. Go on… I did say please.