Ernest Lepore

Professor of Philosophy
Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science

Slurring Words

Increasingly philosophers (and linguists) are turning their attention to the surprisingly little explored lexical category of slurs. These are expressions that target groups on the basis of race, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status and sundry other demographics. In academic discussion, it’s easy to convince oneself (we confess on occasions we have) that particular uses of slurs are inoffensive. This discussion wouldn’t exist otherwise. As a safeguard against inurement, you should always ask how a targeted member, perhaps overhearing you, would react to your usage. You may find that what seems suitable is most definitely not. As many celebrities, including recently the radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, have learned, almost no speakers can opt to use a slur non-offensively.

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