"Words Gone Sour?"

In Bill Kabasenche, Michael O'Rourke & Matthew Slater (eds.), Reference and Referring: Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, Volume 10. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pp. 385-405 (2012)
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Abstract
In this paper, I highlight some important implications of a non-individualistic account of derogatory words. I do so by critically examining an intriguing claim of Jennifer Hornsby‘s: that derogatory words – words that, as she puts it, ―apply to people, and that are commonly understood to convey hatred and contempt‖ – are useless for us. In their stead, she maintains, we employ neutral counterparts: words ―that apply to the same people, but whose uses do not convey these things. I argue that Hornsby‘s distinctions – between derogatory words and neutral counterparts, and them (speakers who have use for the former) and us (who do not) – is not sustainable. I begin by considering examples that suggest that some of the words that some of us have use for are indeed derogatory. I then offer reasons for thinking that words that would presumably be identified as acceptable counterparts to derogatory words are not, in general, neutral.
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