History of Swear Words (2021) s01e03 Episode Script


Welcome, bitches,
to the History of Swear Words.
It felt kinda weird
saying that word, "bitch,"
since I aspire to be the utmost gentleman.
Thankfully, there are
so many ways to say the b-word
without directly insulting a woman.
For instance, I could say,
"I know we all like to bitch
and moan about air travel.
But if you think about it,
airplanes are totally bitchin'!"
- Fly!
- I can't!
Fly, bitch!
[sighing] Still, we can't deny
that the b-word holds great power,
and with it comes great responsibility.
"Bitch" is a slur.
I said, "Biiiiitch!
I'm the man of the house."
It's used of women
because they're uncontrollable,
they're too loud, they're too opinionated.
No one's ever
called me a bitch to my face.
You bitch!
Probably behind my back.
I think it can be a really hurtful,
misogynistic, damaging word.
You called your wife a bitch?
[woman] Darryl? Where are those guys?
I would advise any straight man
to never call a woman a bitch.
I don't use that word. I say "the b-word."
It's a way to disempower,
but it's also a way to empower.
Yeah, I call myself a bitch.
My female friends can call me a bitch.
Even my grandma
can call me a bitch, if she wants to.
But if a guy calls me a bitch,
I'mma burn his motherfucking house down.
Join me on a journey
as we explore the word,
its origin and its impact.
[cat meows]
[Nicolas] "Bitch."
It can be sexist, racist,
empowering, offensive, funny.
This word does it all.
People use the word "bitch" nowadays
for a bunch of different reasons.
It's used still as a slur against women.
So it's used to denigrate women.
You goddamn bitch!
It's used to bring women down to size.
She wants to be some
immature little bitch and blow everybody.
It's still used to refer
to a malicious or domineering woman.
What kind of cold, heartless bitch
would do that to someone they love?
My name's Mireille Miller-Young,
and I'm a professor
of feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara.
And my specialty is sexuality and race.
"Bitch" is used
to really disempower women.
When you say someone's a bitch,
you're trying to take their power away,
and their voice away,
trying to make them shut up.
Women hate to be called "bitch"
because it is just so dismissive.
And it's actually punishing us
for speaking up for ourselves.
If a woman is addressed as a bitch,
that's obviously defamatory.
When addressed to a male…
You're a filthy bitch
and I bust your balls.
…it is defaming that male.
"You are bad.
But also, the way that you're bad
is in a way that is female-like."
So it's insulting the male
and it's insulting women in general.
Because to be female is to be bad.
So, basically, it's a shotgun word.
It hits everyone.
When you hear the word "bitch,"
what comes to mind?
Okay, maybe don't say her name out loud.
And hey, maybe it's not even a woman.
Men can be bitches too,
when we want to emasculate them.
But how did this word become
the English language's
most frequent gendered insult?
[Kory] "Bitch" is a really old word.
It was first used around 1000 A.D.
So it's about a thousand years old.
It comes from an Old English word,
"bicce," which means the female dog.
There was a time
when we were all growing up,
when we would go around and,
any time we'd meet a lady dog,
we'd be like, "Look at that bitch."
And be like,
"You can't send me to jail for that!
That's just the meaning of the word!"
I like dogs.
So it doesn't bother me. "Bitch" is fine.
My dog's a bitch.
Literally. It's a female dog.
But I never call her that.
I call her a cunt.
[Nicolas] However,
the evolution from dog to woman
is just the beginning
of this, uh, complex story.
In the history of "bitch,"
we think that it largely
was transported from dogs to humans
through the idea of dogs in heat.
You really start seeing it
taking on a new meaning
around 1400s.
That sense of a dog in heat,
you add in wordplay,
you add in sort of this in-joke,
and it's really easy to…
to see then how "bitch" gets applied
to women that are thought
to be lewd or immoral
or who want sex too much.
And from there, it grows
and gains this other meaning
to refer to a woman who is uncontrollable,
too loud, too forceful, too opinionated.
So "bitch" does spike in use
through the suffrage movement
during the 20th century,
and then later
during second-wave feminism.
So through the '60s and '70s,
you see this huge bump.
And you do see the word "bitch"
applied specifically to feminists
because it's like, "You said
it's fine for us to call you bitches."
Over time, the definition of "bitch"
expanded to include
basically any woman we don't like.
A sexist slur.
It's not that complicated
to avoid being called a bitch.
All you have to do is…
Well, don't… smile, don't… talk.
Don't be too pretty. Don't ask
for a manager at a restaurant.
Don't turn a guy down.
Don't walk down the street
with confidence.
Don't hold a job.
Don't stay at home with your kids.
Don't be loud. Don't be quiet.
Don'tbe mean.
Don't stand up for yourself.
Be a congresswoman.
Don't be a congresswoman.
Don't stand up.
Don't sit down.
Don't drive. Don't frown. Am I a poet?
A female dog."
No mention of how 99.99%
of the people use the word.
I mean, what year is this from?
1885? No. It's from 2015.
That's right.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary
didn't label the word "bitch" offensive
until the same year
it added the word "twerk."
The job of every lexicographer
isn't just to enter new words.
It's to also to make sure that words
that are already in the dictionary
have as many meanings
as we currently use them with.
When I was working at Merriam-Webster,
I noticed that the entry for "bitch"
in one of our dictionaries had no labels.
It just said that the word "bitch"
meant "a female dog"
and "a domineering woman."
So it didn't say that "bitch"
was an offensive word.
It didn't say that it was
a disapproving or disparaging word.
So that really is kind of what sent me
down the rabbit hole of… of "bitch,"
and how did it end up
not having a label in the dictionary?
It now does. I put one in.
It was high time the dictionary
recognized "bitch" for its true meaning.
For over a thousand years,
we've been using it
to bitch about humans we don't like.
So, let's honor and remember
some of our…
Bygone bitches! ♪
Nefertiti, queen of Kemet.
14th century B.C.
Famous queen bitch.
Known as one of the most despised women
in human history.
Elizabeth Báthory. Famous crazy bitch.
A real Hungarian noblewoman
who killed more people
than Bram Stoker's fictional Dracula.
But you don't see her bragging about it.
Lizzie Borden.
Famous axe-murdering bitch
who was acquitted.
That's kinda bitchin'.
Anna Wintour.
Legendary editor of Vogue.
Ice-cold bitch.
[Kory] "Bitch" is one of the few slurs
that is undergoing
the process of reclamation.
Reclaiming of language
seeks to empower women
through their experiences
of repression and discrimination.
My friends are allowed to call me a bitch,
if they do it in, like, a loving way.
If I got, like, a promotion or something,
and someone's like, "This bitch, yay!"
I remember the first time I called
a group of women "bitches" from the stage.
Someone told me,
"Just call them bitches. They'll love it."
And I was like, "No, they won't."
And they did.
"Yo, my bitches."
"Yeah. Bitches, make some noise!"
I know that when I was finding
my sense of feminism,
I was like, "I'll never use
the word 'bitch' again,
and I'll never let anyone use
the word 'bitch' or call someone a bitch."
Um, and now
it's one of the words I use most.
[London] It's powerful, it's feminist,
it's sexy, it's quick, it's snappy.
You can put things before and after it
to make it better or worse.
We need "bitch."
It's so important to the English language.
Don't get rid of "bitch."
You call yourself a bitch…
- I'm a bitch.
- I'm a bad bitch.
I am a bitch.
…people who see you
and hear you will think,
"I guess it's not
such a bad word after all."
You don't get called a bitch as a woman
unless you're making a man realize
that he's a little bitch.
You are such a bitch.
I think that
there's a certain weird magic to slurs,
that make it so that
only people in that targeted group
have the right to play with it
and try to make it into something else.
"Bitch" has seen a little bit of uneven,
not-quite-negative use
in the 20th century.
Ernest Hemingway used it of his mom
to refer to her strength.
For Hemingway, "bitch" was a way
of separating men from the women.
Sort of say, "Men are these people,
and women can be bitches."
But it can also be that combination
of the… the sacred and profane.
It could be a bitch goddess.
It became almost a proprietary thing
for him,
and he would use it
as his way of acknowledging your presence,
that you had power,
that you inflamed him in some way.
A bitch is a bitch.
He was so attached to the idea of
giving the ascendancy to the ideal
of American masculinity,
that nothing else
could live up to it, I mean
And by that,
white male American masculinity.
So anything else was,
at best, second-rate.
If you were lucky,
you were a bitch goddess.
"Bitch" got paired with "goddess,"
so you would see "bitch goddess" used
to refer to anything changeable
and uncontrollable.
Um, Fate was often called a bitch goddess.
But these uses were also done by men.
By the people who use "bitch" as a slur.
So it's not really reclamation.
It is setting up a usage pattern
that reclamation can go off of.
[Nicolas] Some of the earliest examples
of women empowering themselves
using the word "bitch" was in music.
Curse words are something
that we've been using
in the Black community for generations.
In street corners, in the jazz clubs.
I mean, even going back
to, like, the '20s and '30s,
it was a sanctuary where people
could say what they wanted to say.
And part of people saying
what they wanted to say
was women using the "bitch" word
and really embracing their sexuality.
And a great example of that
is Lucille Bogan.
They know I'm a bitch from Baltimore ♪
Anybody who's a real blues fan
knows who she is
and has sung some of her songs.
In fact, the last line
of The Rolling Stones' song "Start Me Up,"
"You make a dead man come,"
is a tribute to Lucille Bogan's song
"When the Cows Come Home."
You can fuck my cock or suck my cock
Baby, until the cows come home ♪
You actually felt like you wanted
to have a cigarette
after you heard a Lucille Bogan song.
I mean, she completely owned who she was,
let you know who she was,
let you know what she could do.
If you suck my pussy, baby
I'll suck your dick ♪
- I'll do it to you, honey ♪
- [laughing]
- Till I make you shit ♪
- Oh!
- What year is this from?
- Oh, baby ♪
This is like listening
to my grandma do porn.
This would make Cardi B blush!
If "bitch" meant promiscuous,
- this lady was a bitch!
- Do it to me, Papa ♪
Break me in until tomorrow come ♪
"Bitch" really begins this reclamation
in earnest in the 1960s.
So, 1968, Jo Freeman publishes
The Bitch Manifesto,
about what it means to be a bitch
and what it means to live into bitchhood.
What you start seeing in the '90s
and in the 2000s
is "bitch" being used positively
in TV and in music.
Meredith Brooks' song "Bitch"
was, like, so exciting.
"I'm a bitch, I'm a lover,
I'm a child, I'm a mother,
I'm a sinner, I'm a saint,
I'm your hell, I'm your dream,
I'm nothing in between."
"Bitch" is an intelligent song.
It's not something
I would have written when I was 19.
You got to say the word
and your parents couldn't get mad,
"'Cause it's in the song, Mom and Dad!"
If you don't wanna be called a bitch,
definitely don't listen
to rap or rock from the '90s.
The majority of rap music
in the '90s on through the 2000s
was really male-oriented.
I think hip-hop gets way too much lenience
when it comes
to using that kind of language.
Any song with Snoop Dogg,
any song with Tupac.
"Smack my bitch up…"
[laughs] Why did I think of that one?
That one's brutal.
I don't… I don't condone that song!
It's a horrible song, it's a bad song!
Men use the word "bitch"
to kind of claim their power over women.
And, in that way, it's often misogynistic.
A lot of hip-hop lyrics
can really be demeaning.
You know, the b-word, uh… at times,
is definitely, you know, demeaning.
I feel like people who normally
would not allow that type of talk
in… in any other media
or any other kind of conversation
are okay with it in hip-hop.
That okayness makes me uncomfortable
in some ways.
Because I wonder if there's not
some underlying racism to that okayness.
I'm definitely not, you know,
the type of guy that demeans women.
And I think that sometimes
you just need to chalk it up as hip-hop.
I think it's something that I'd…
I'd like to challenge people not to do.
Women pretty early on in hip-hop…
stake the claim for themselves.
There's a call to reclaim "bitch"
among feminist rap in the mid '90s.
That sort of pushes it forward.
Earliest memory of "bitch" is,
of course, Queen Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y."
She has this really strong lyric
that just says,
"Who you callin' a bitch?"
I'm like, "Yeah." I was so young,
but I'm like, "That ain't right."
Since Queen Latifah through the present,
we see the use of "bitch" evolve.
I honestly like when someone
who's angry with me calls me a bitch
because it means I stood up for myself.
Took a DNA test, turns out
I'm 100% that bitch ♪
Lizzo says she's "100% that bitch."
If she said she was 100% a bitch,
that would be a negative thing,
because being a bitch is bad,
but being that bitch is good.
Okay, so my DNA test
for that bitch came back,
and I am 92% that bitch,
and I am eight percent empathetic,
nice, and caring,
and sweet, and so charming.
I am 50% that bitch. That's great.
I am 30% some whore.
And 20% Cherokee.
Oh, my God, I had no idea! Fun!
The reclamation of the word
also happens for gay men,
who take a word
traditionally used to hurt them
and turn it into a way of fostering
community and friendship.
I was called a bitch growing up so much.
It was a workaround for a lot of people
who didn't want to call me a faggot.
In the homosexual male community,
in… over the last 40 years,
it's taken on a special status
where it's a joking term of affection
for another homosexual male.
It is… sort of like, "I recognize you."
Like, "We had the same, like, shit
growing up together.
You were called a bitch
like I was called a bitch."
In terms of my gay friends,
a lot of these are gay men
who absolutely worship women,
and, like, all their idols are women.
All of my best friends are bitches. Like,
"Hey, bitch, you did an amazing job."
"Bitch, your workplace is elevated
because you show up every day, bitch."
There's nothing better
than a gay man calling you a bitch.
The word "bitch" has been
on an interesting journey
as feminism has progressed.
There's, like, you know, internal debate
of how it can be reclaimed.
I have a boy and a girl,
and they both use "bitch" all the time.
Like, "Bitch!" And it's just
what they call their friends.
For me, it's still a bad word,
and something you don't call women.
It does disturb an older generation
that feels that
they had to fight for respect,
and that there's something
ultimately disrespectful
about the word "bitch."
I don't think we can ever fully reclaim
the word "bitch," unfortunately,
because it's a man's world.
We may think we've reclaimed it,
but then they'll have a little man group
and say it to their friends.
But people like Lizzo and myself are doing
their best to make it sound good. [laughs]
So, where do we land
with the word "bitch"?
Are we allowed to use it or not?
Can someone please just clear this up?
The reclamation deals with
an area of linguistics called semiotics.
And that is really,
what's the intention of the speaker
and what's the reception of the hearer?
"Bitch" can mean one thing
when spoken by one person,
in one context,
to one particular listener,
and it can mean a totally opposite thing
when spoken by that same person,
in the same context, to a second listener.
I may say to one of my closest friends,
like, "Bitch, I gotta tell you something,"
you know?
But if a woman who I don't know
comes up just wanting to, like, gossip
and she's like, "Bitch, I wanna"
I'm gonna immediately be like,
"I don't I don't know you."
It's a word that we can use
for each other,
and we can be empowered by it,
but it's not a word that men
will ever be able to freely call us
and have it be like, "Oh, thanks, John!"
It seems to me that "bitch" isn't a word.
It's a moment, an experience.
Other swear words
like "shit," "fuck," "damn,"
are reactionary and universal.
But "bitch" can be used like a weapon.
And it's personal.
I do still use the word "bitch,"
though I use it
a whole lot less than I used to.
You know, language is pattern,
and if you have learned the pattern
of "bitch" being used
as a slur against women,
it takes a lot of conscious effort
to unlearn that pattern,
even if you're a recipient of that slur.
Instead of using the word "bitch,"
I'd rather refer to women as "queens."
But I do recognize
that "bitch" hits different.
If you on a plane
and people start fighting,
you gotta be like,
"Bitch, they was fightin'."
You can't be like,
"Queen, they was fightin'."
It just It doesn't go.
You know what I'm saying?
You gotta show some discernment.
If I ever have a daughter someday,
I would much rather her identify
as a bitch than a nice girl.
I mean, I guess the ultimate goal
is for her to be a nice bitch.
Like Malala.
On my group thread with, like, 11 gay men,
seven of which hate me
and three of which are close friends,
will I continue to use the word?
Yeah, probably.
The word "bitch" has gone on a journey.
From meaning a female dog…
to then, like, a slutty woman,
and now to a great woman like myself.
I like it! It's gone on a journey.
It's really…
It's it's grown. It's growth.
You know what that is? That's growth.
Good for you, bitch!
You started off as a dog,
and now look at you, you're Cardi B.
Good for you! [laughs]
Previous EpisodeNext Episode