The words that we consider vulgar and obscene in English mostly deal with products or functions of the human body. Some others focus on certain undesirable aspects of the human condition, or blasphemous uses of sacred terms. However, there is one word which eclipses all of these, in that it does not refer to a bodily function or waste, nor is it irreverent, nor is it an insult focused on a single aspect of a person.
That word is the N-word. But isn’t that an example of what I just said, an insult focused on a single aspect–skin color? Not at all. Rather than to merely label a person by something the speaker judges wrong, this word carries with it a connotation of not merely being impure or second class, but actually less than human. Especially when we consider the historical context of the word, its use clearly is meant to imply that someone is little more than an animal.
That’s why it’s the worst word in the English language. Nothing else carries such a damning indictment–a clear conviction that a person is not just flawed but entirely worthless. Nothing could be more offensive, and the seriousness of that definition should give us all pause that in recent years this word has made such a strong comeback in our culture.