NPR Spotlights “The Fa-Word”

Linton Weeks at NPR Digital News recently explored the use of “faggot” as an epithet:

Is the Fa-word the new N-word?

What is the Fa-word, you ask? It’s a six-letter, two-syllable term that starts with the letters fa and rhymes with maggot. It’s not to be confused with the F-word.

In April, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was fined $100,000 by the NBA for calling a referee the Fa-word. In May, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls was fined $50,000 by the league for hurling the anti-gay slur at a fan.

These are just recent incidents in a tumultuous timeline…

The Internet has given vent to people who spew forth harsh, hate-filled language. But it has also provided a forum for serious discussion of the causes and effects of weaponic words.

On Facebook, for instance, you can find the issue debated on a page titled: “What is your take on the word ‘faggot’?”

From this one gay man’s perspective, it’s heartwarming to read the supportive comments on that Facebook page.

From a fair and accurate coverage perspective, the article provides this important point:

Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard University’s law school and author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, has given a lot of thought to hate language. “Faggot can be used as viciously or facetiously or ironically or tenderly as nigger,” says Kennedy. “Obviously they have different histories. But they are each verbal symbols and can be deployed or revalued or reinterpreted like any other symbol including the Confederate flag or the swastika.”

He adds, “In a bow to history, I will say that using any of these symbols is presumptively bad. But only presumptively. They can all be put to other uses. Context is all important.”

The use of the word “faggot” in the media is a constant subject on this blog (and undoubtedly will continue to be into the foreseeable future).

For the sake of clarity, we use it in context. For all of its negative qualities, we do our best to avoid using it otherwise. Is that policy working? Let us know!


2 Responses

  1. What is notable about the use of the word faggot by Bryant and Noah is how easy it was for them to use it. They were on national television with an audience of, I presume, millions and they did not hesitate to reach for that slur. Both quickly apologized so, again I presume, they are generally men of good will and felt that, in retrospect, they should not have done what they did. And yet they did it.

    It speaks to our status in America that two public figures, two leading sports stars, would immediately reach for faggot when they want to take harsh verbal shot at someone else. In their world, at that moment, we are the worst thing that a person can be.

    And this disproves the thesis that faggot can be “revalued or reinterpreted” or that its meaning can change with context. There may come a time when that will be true, but that time is not now.

    • Duncan Osborne, I agree with you that faggot cannot be revalued or reinterpreted and should not be excused by anyone. It certainly should not be used within the glbt community.

      I came across an article at called “Confessions of a Blog Addict. Or Why I Love to Hate and” Here is the url:

      The article mentions your interview with David Blankenhorn. I’d appreciate any reaction you might have to the article or any more thoughts you might have about Blankenhorn in light of the way his op-ed about Protecting Marriage to Protect Children echoes Anita Bryant’s organization in the 1970s. Perhaps you could post a reply here?

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