A dispute has popped up on an internet group I frequent as to what linguistic expressions are and are not disparaging to various groups and who is and is not responsible for the hurt feelings that may resulf from their use.One of the most famous disparaging expressions in the USA is "nigger" of course; others are "fag," "kike," "bull dyke," "greaser," "geezer," etc. Blacks, who commonly use "nigger" in reference to refer to each other with impunity, don't much like hearing it from Whites, especially in contexts in which it can only be taken negatively. And, while gay men may use "fag" with each other, they don't much like hearing it from straight men, especially in contexts in which it can only be taken negatively. This phenomenon of in-group use of slurs is an example of a common phenomeon in which negative expressions (including taboo language) are used by intimates to express solidarity. The key word here is "intimates." The average redneck is unlikely to be an intimate of a middle class Black man. Whoops! I used a slur against, well, hillbillies. Damn! Did it again.
One person took the view, in regard to a negative reference to lesbians, that he didn't think it was all that disparaging. This brings up the question as to who does and does not have the right to decide what is and is not disparaging to a particular group. Does everyone get a vote or to just those in the group it is applied to? In my opinion, it has to be the group targeted by the expression. The members of that group are the only ones who know whether or not it engenders hurt feelings.
The second issue that came up in m recent discussion of the use of disparaging references to minority groups is that nothing that should be done about such references because the people to whom these references are directed are responsible for how they react. I was blown away by this defense. Certainly, we are responsbile for how we react to things that happen to us that we don't like such as being passed over for a promotion or being told one's spouse wants a divorce or suffering a debilitating injury and such other calamities. And, if we are smart, we will learn to cope with racial, ethnic, and other similar sorts of slurs. However, this doeesn't let the boor who makes such slurs off the hook.The persons wishing to let the boors off the hook several times cited the old retort, "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will ever hurt me." I suspect that most of us had mothers who gave us this to use as a retort to use to those making fun of us. This ancient old platitude persists despite the fact that it is transparently false. In fact, proof of its being false is the very fact that it is used. If words truly didn't hurt me, then I would have no need for such a retort.