Word Choice, Boundaries, and Finding Ways to Communicate


My use of the word “slut” in the teaser for my latest Last Impressions podcast has resulted in some burbling across the hot springs of social media.  The word choice was not careless, but meaningful, including the hope for continued conversation.  That being the case, I wouldn’t have used it if I hadn’t considered the decision from multiple angles.

The first consideration is context.  The word has a single usage on my own Web site, which carries over to a handful of social media accounts.  This wasn’t a proclamation in a public place or a forum convened for some other purpose.  Although one can’t help what others share on the Internet, anybody coming across “slut” from my accounts has chosen to encounter words from me.

The second consideration is the target.  In this case, the description applied to a rich and famous actress.  Not only does Scarlett Johansson have no reason to care who I am, but she inarguably has much more social power than I do.  Progressives and feminists, of all people, should understand that relative standing is absolutely relevant to the language that one uses.  Oddly, though, believers in identity politics tend to deny the very equality they proclaim when they insist that some nobody like me has a mysterious power that transcends even fame and riches because I’m a man.

The most important consideration, of course, is the meaning of my podcast, which was about setting social boundaries with the benefit of others first in mind — to help them transcend their animal natures to full, rewarding humanity.  In that case, as part of a teaser, “slut” is perfect because it was a word people used, socially, to set boundaries for others, ostensibly for their own betterment.

To be sure, its connotation changed.  The reason it’s become a bit of a hot-button word is the abuse of the word.  Those using “slut” weren’t willing the good of the other person, trying to use language to shape them positively; rather, they were asserting superiority, typically over those of lower social standing.  The intention wasn’t to help the person to turn away from unhealthy behavior, but to label them as ineligible for social elevation.

With the complete flip of cultural standards over the past few decades, the word has become an emblem of “sexual liberation.” (For a quick synopsis, see the “Word Story” on the Dictionary.com definition.)  This relates to another key point in my podcast, namely that promiscuity isn’t liberation at all, but a reversion to animal instincts.

And, of course, another factor I considered when deciding to use the word, “slut,” was the possible reaction.  I mentioned, for example, people who attack me for just about anything, for whom no mundane statement of mine is truly innocent because the very fact that I speak is an affront to them.  These are the same censorious scolds whispering and huffing about my use of this word.

I ended the podcast talking about the necessity of finding ways to interact with other people to prioritize their good.  We now live in a harsh world with seemingly unbreachable walls between us, and sometimes one must approach a boundary in order to reach across, even if only with words.

Among the more curious reactions to my word choice came from a young woman on Twitter.  First she attempted to shame me, saying that she finds it “concerning” that I’d ever kissed my mother while she was alive.  When I initiated reasoned discussion, she blocked me.

As a final point, I write thousands of words a day, and this was a single usage of a single word. To be sure, “slut” is more provocative than most of the terms I use throughout a day, and it’s possible some of my reasoning behind its usage was incorrect.  But if we’re going to communicate in today’s polarized environment — in which we’re (perhaps literally) living in different worlds — we have to be willing to experiment and take risks.