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He’s One Bad Mutha…Shut Yo’ Mouth!

By June 8, 2011No Comments

By Joyce Yin
New Organizing Project blogger 


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If you know me, you know that I put a lot of weight and importance behind words. I almost never say anything without first thinking it through and filtering what I’m about to say depending on who I’m talking to, content, context, etc. Tiring? Maybe a little. But I do it because I, like all human beings whether they are aware of it or not, have experienced just how much power and influence words can have on a person/community. What you say matters to a person no matter how well you know them. What you say is a reflection of your beliefs and value systems. What you say is a representation of who you are.

So, needless to say, I think about words and semantics quite a bit. Last year, I wrote a blog post about, ‘bitch,’ a word I’ve taken out of my lexicon because I personally still feel like it’s more hurtful than empowering. This time around, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word, ‘motherf-—-.’ Now let’s think about this for a second: what exactly does this word mean? Literally. Well, if you dissect the word, then it literally means to f— someone’s mother. Classy, huh?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to judge anyone around their use of obscenities. I’ve been known to drop the f- bomb a fair amount in my time. But I try to stay away from swears/disses that are rooted in sexism (‘bitch’), ableism (‘retarded’) or any kind of -isms. I think it’s important that we stop and think about why we use certain words in particular situations and what it means when we do choose to use a specific word as opposed to another.

So, back to ‘motherf—–.’ As a relatively new swear word, it was difficult to find much background information about the phrase. I did stumble upon a book devoted entirely to exploring the history and significance of the word, “The Compleat Motherfucker: A History of the Mother of All Dirty Words” by Jim Dawson. From what I could gather from skimming through parts of the book, the word may have originated as far back as the Greeks but the word and the meaning we know today actually began formulating within the African American community during slavery.

As time has gone on, the word has come to be used by just about everyone regardless of your race, ethnicity, gender, etc. I, however, have chosen to stop using it, even though I admittedly used it a fair amount back in the day. I thought about well, what exactly is the more figurative meaning behind this phrase? Why does it hold so much weight? And then I thought about why are ‘yo’ mama’ and ‘yo’ mama so fat….’ jokes such popular ammunition when it comes to dissing someone else? Why are we always targeting the mother and not the father? My own conclusion that I came to is that our society holds mothers in a very high regard (well, certain mothers, that is); they are the ones that give you life and they are the ones that ensure that the circle of life continues. So for someone to come out and insult her in any way is one of the most offensive things you can say. And with ‘motherf—–,’ you’re not only insulting someone’s mother, you’re talking about having sex with her and that is probably the worst thing you could say about someone’s mom.

Think about it: sex is still very much used as a commodity, especially in regards to women’s bodies, and it is one of the most personal ways you can attack someone. So when a person, men in particular, say ‘motherf—– towards someone, to me it means they’re figuratively using women’s bodies to reaffirm their own masculinity, authority and/or power. While that may not necessarily be what someone means when they use the phrase presently, that’s the underlying notion they are perpetuating. ‘Motherf—–’ has grown to be used in many different contexts nowadays, but the inherent meaning is still the same: you’re indirectly using women’s bodies to sound cool, diss someone, complain about something, etc. Think about that.

Am I looking too deeply into the word? Perhaps. But words come from somewhere. They arise from, influence and perpetuate belief systems and ways of thinking about things. Many of us have the power to pick and choose what we say, so why not exercise that power and at the very least, think a little more carefully about the words we use before calling someone a ‘badass motherf—–.’