How Language Offends

"Why are slurs so offensive? And why are some more offensive than others?" asks Rutgers professor of philosophy and cognitive science Ernie Lepore.

How can words fluctuate both in their status as slurs and in their power to offend? Members of targeted groups themselves are not always offended by slurs ─ consider the uses of appropriated or reclaimed slurs among African-Americans and gay people. The consensus answer among philosophers to the first question is that slurs, as a matter of convention, signal negative attitudes towards targeted groups. Those who pursue this answer are committed to the view that slurs carry offensive content or meaning; they disagree only over the mechanisms of implementation.