Quite some time ago I wrote about taboo words and euphemisms, and what they can tell us about a society. The gist is that a taboo word is one which causes offense, for whatever reason. If you identify the taboo words in a languge, you can find some of the more sensitive parts of a society.
The power of the taboo word was demonstrated quite forcefully in the recent Senate race in Virginia. The Republican candidate slipped up and used a racial epithet in a speech. The race in Virginia was close enough — decided by fewer than 8,000 votes — that the candidate’s loss can certainly be attributed to the outrage caused by that taboo word. And the balance of power in the Senate was close enough that the single Republican loss led to a switchover in Senate control, so that now, for the first time in twelve years, the Democrats control the Senate.
Read up on all the juicy linguistic details here. (Warning: the article contains the taboo word in question, as well as some even less savory ones.)
..oft evil will shall evil mar…