Linton Weeks at NPR Digital News recently explored the use of “faggot” as an epithet:

Is the Fa-word the new N-word?

What is the Fa-word, you ask? It’s a six-letter, two-syllable term that starts with the letters fa and rhymes with maggot. It’s not to be confused with the F-word.

In April, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was fined $100,000 by the NBA for calling a referee the Fa-word. In May, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls was fined $50,000 by the league for hurling the anti-gay slur at a fan.

These are just recent incidents in a tumultuous timeline…

The Internet has given vent to people who spew forth harsh, hate-filled language. But it has also provided a forum for serious discussion of the causes and effects of weaponic words.

On Facebook, for instance, you can find the issue debated on a page titled: “What is your take on the word ‘faggot’?”

From this one gay man’s perspective, it’s heartwarming to read the supportive comments on that Facebook page.

From a fair and accurate coverage perspective, the article provides this important point:

Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard University’s law school and author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, has given a lot of thought to hate language. “Faggot can be used as viciously or facetiously or ironically or tenderly as nigger,” says Kennedy. “Obviously they have different histories. But they are each verbal symbols and can be deployed or revalued or reinterpreted like any other symbol including the Confederate flag or the swastika.”

He adds, “In a bow to history, I will say that using any of these symbols is presumptively bad. But only presumptively. They can all be put to other uses. Context is all important.”

The use of the word “faggot” in the media is a constant subject on this blog (and undoubtedly will continue to be into the foreseeable future).

For the sake of clarity, we use it in context. For all of its negative qualities, we do our best to avoid using it otherwise. Is that policy working? Let us know!