Semantic Satiation & “The Seven Words that Can’t be Repeated”*

By

In 1972 George Carlin listed the seven words that can’t be repeated on TV. Do any really exist today?  Have you ever noticed if you repeat a word often enough it loses its meaning and becomes pure sound?  That if you hear a word often enough it loses its shock value?  That some words, in different contexts can have multiple meanings?  That one word can offend or titillate (love that word), show admiration or disbelief, describe objects or qualities to be admired?  All that meaning rolled up in one word! 

Let’s look at the definition of one word.  This word’s definition is: 

Top quality, unwavering courage, resolve, toughness, standing up to a bully, to drive a hard bargain, to refuse to sell out for less than what was asked, Chutzpah, moxie, boldness, audacity, nerve, spine, gall, backbone, strength of will, heart, spunk, endurance, staying power and complete nonsense.

What an excellent definition!  Must be an excellent word right?  Perhaps not, at one time a child would be punished for saying it.  These days however its usage is quite common.

Let’s share a few clues as to what the word is:

96,000,000 black ones (made of high density polypropylene & carbon black) are being used as a shade cover over the LA Reservoir to prevent bromate (a carcinogen) from forming.  They are used at airports, on ponds, and mine tailings, to prevent birds from landing, for algae control, as an insulator, and to reduce evaporation by 80-90%.

One of their primary uses when made of metal is to easily remix liquids that separate easily like paints and nail polish.  Precision ones are used in electrical devices and appliances due to electrical conductivity and low friction.

We live on a bright blue one. You can purchase one from Baccarat for $2,205, buy 500 rubber ones for $38.99 or find one on the internet depicting the Milky Way in 3D for around $15.

Pawn shops used to hang them in threes outside to advertise, there is a saloon named after them in Maryland, and a pit full of plastic ones is not considered a trap but is instead considered a fun place to play.

Made of fruit and served at a party they can be quite tasty.

Those made of iron are considered superior to brass ones (unless you are a steampunk robot) and brass ones with no holes are considered superior to ones with holes unless you are bowling, but those made of steel are considered the best.  Why not those made of platinum, gold, tungsten or titanium instead?  Platinum and gold are, after all, not just precious metals but strong as well, and chromium rates strongest scientifically but somehow having chrome ones just doesn’t quite live up to the informal meaning of the word.

Cinderella and debutantes have them but the closest most come to attending one is the prom.

You can juggle them, stand on them, sit on them if you like a challenge, or play with them.  Sports wouldn’t be the same without them.

And the word is… you guessed it… balls. 

With repetition words tend to lose their meaning, their shock value and not only do they become quite commonly used they make their user appear quite common.  Honestly, wouldn’t you rather be described as tough, courageous, or bold?  Wouldn’t you rather people thought of you as having strength of will, backbone, or staying power? That people admired you because you stood up to a bully or refused to sell out, that you have heart?

…or would you rather people said you have balls? 

Would you rather be thought of as common or quite uncommon?  The choice is ours in the language that we use every day.  In my humble opinion, a person with the ability to articulate with intelligence and eloquence is much to be admired, and far classier than any who have lost the ability to see the difference.

by A. M. Mitchell ©