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The use of specific words can carry a great impact in modern society. Words such as Oprah’s words at the Golden Globes can inspire people, but they can also cause discourse and incite anger. For instance, many people were recently offended over the president’s use of the word “shithole” to describe a region. However, words and language, have always been a point of focus for the American sitcom South Park. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators, especially love to focus on taboo subject. For example, on June 20th, 2001, some variation of the word “shit” was uttered 162 times and written 38 times in a span of about 20 minutes. The duo also likes to discuss words contested not only because they’re vulgar, but also because they carry some negative connotation. This is exactly what happens in season 13, episode 12, “The F Word.” “The F Word” revolves around the four main characters, all fourth grade boys, as they attempt to change the meaning of a word. It starts with their town, South Park, being invaded by a gang of bikers who loudly rev their motorcycles and interrupt weddings and other events. It culminates in the children getting so annoyed that one of them calls the bikers “fags.” The children of the town all begin to call the bikers fags, and they paint messages that read “get out fags!” This sets off a few different reactions. First, the bikers react in denial – they resist the idea of being called fags. Next, two outspoken gay members of the town see this as an opportunity and campaign with the children to call bikers fags instead of calling homosexuals fags. Finally, the heterosexual adults of the town are horrified at their children’s frequent use of fag and implore them to stop it. The reactions begin the argument around which the episode revolves. How are words defined? The children argue that “fag” is already commonly used to describe an annoying person, so it’s okay to call the loud and obnoxious bikers fags. However, the adults have it ingrained as a derogatory word towards homosexuals. After much arguing on both sides, and continued annoyances on behalf of the bikers, the town accept fag to mean an annoying person that typically owns a Harley-Davidson. However, it doesn’t stop there. A political figure condemns South Park, arguing that they still can’t change the meaning. In reaction, the 4 children campaign Webster, the online dictionary, to change what is viewed as the official meaning of the word, and the episode ends with a dictionary definition of the word fag. However, the episode didn’t resonate with everybody. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) criticized the episode for keeping fag as a hateful slur. On the other hand, some defended the episode for causing people to think about the meaning of words. These reactions and the episode delve into how the meanings of words are determined and how words affect the world, and it allows for a few knowledge questions to be derived from it.How is the meaning of a word established?  This is something the bikers struggle with in the episode when they look up fag in a dictionary only to see its meaning has changed multiple times is the past. The town of South Park also debates this as the adults know fag to refer to a homosexual while the children only know it as an inconsiderate biker. One argument is that words have fixed, unchanging meanings. This is the argument of the adults and GLAAD, who resist changing the word fag. The adults don’t think it’s possible to change a word, and therefore, they don’t want their children saying this curse word. GLAAD sees fag as always referring to homosexuals, so South Park changing its meaning to a loud and inconsiderate person doesn’t help. This viewpoint has validity because if meanings are completely malleable, then what base is there to society? It would be nigh-impossible to communicate without a set of rules for language. However, their argument is proved wrong by the world. The word fag itself is shown to have changed meanings multiple times, and new words, phrases, and meanings are frequently born in the modern world, such as “binge-watch” and “lit”. Initially, the children’s argument appears to rely on the idea that meaning is determined by the intent of the speaker. A common defense in the real world, it relies on the instinctive feeling that if I’m not trying to be offensive, then I can’t possibly be offensive, and anything that happens past that point is purely coincidental. Directly opposite that argument lies the idea that words are determined offensive by the victim of the words. Since the person receiving the words is the one offended by them, the victim’s interpretation should determine how offensive a word is. However, as the episode progresses, neither of these arguments are prevalent. The children realize that both arguments are flawed – in order for communication to occur, there has to be some level of pre-existing knowledge between the speaker and listener, whether it be as friends, teacher-student, or two anonymous forum accounts. As a result, both arguments don’t capture the whole process of communication, leaving them as flawed explanations for how the meaning of a word is established. The children make their argument based on the idea that fag has already shifted in meaning – while some may still use it to insult homosexuals, it’s commonly used to describe a biker. There’s a severable connection between words and objects, and a group’s conventional use of a word is most important to its meaning. The issue lies in the use of group. Different groups can see a word in different ways, so is there one, finite meaning of a word, or do the groups speak different languages? Another question that should be asked is what is the role of authority in the creation and use of language? In “The F Word,” a politician contests South Park’s use of fag, claiming that its meaning can’t be changed. The children are only able to win the argument by using authorities, Webster’s dictionary in this case, to officially change the meaning of the word fag. One could argue that contemporary use isn’t enough to determine meaning; instead, contemporary use should drive people to officially change the meaning as to prevent arguments and put the debate in the hands of those more trustworthy and accurate. However, it can be argued that authority in language isn’t the same as authority in politics. If a group is using fag as an insult to homosexuals, it’s unlikely that a dictionary would make them change their use of the word, but they would pay more taxes if ordered to. One has to wonder if there’s a way to universally change meanings, and if there is, is a single vocabulary ideal? A final question, Is there any value in the simplification of language?, debates whether changing meanings or vocabulary itself is valuable or has any universal possibilities. It’s an Orwellian question – in 1984, Newspeak is so bare-boned that it’s difficult for people to fathom freedom or rebellion.  In “The F Word,” the children argue that fag should be changed because by having a word that only refers to homosexuals, it only increases the differences between them and heterosexuals.. If fag is changed to mean a broader term, the differences between sexualities would diminish. Still, those who have read 1984 may protest this. The reduction of vocabulary appears to only limit a person’s expression, not aid society. The issue with that argument is that reduction can just as easily be progressive as regressive. Some concepts such as fag we’re better off without, and without the vocabulary to describe those concepts, we may begin to forget them. On November 4th, 2009, Trey Parker and Matt Stone argued that the meaning of fag should be changed. “The F Word” helps us think about how and why language becomes accepted in society. It’s more likely that meanings are determined by conventional use, but there are some who stick to authority and their dictionary definitions. In addition, there are good reasons to change a language – we should rid ourselves of meanings that divide us. The children of South Park teach the adults of the show, and those watching the show, about the malleability of language.

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