Skip to content

Is Shut Up a Bad Word?

October 24, 2016
If it’s good enough for the United States Army, it should be good enough for the rest of us. (image via Wikimedia)

If it’s good enough for the United States Army, it should be good enough for the rest of us. (image via Wikimedia)

Saying “Shut up!” used to be simple.  Decades ago, if you told somebody to shut up, the other person would either quiet down, cuss you out, or start throwing punches.  Today, you might get told that saying “Shut up” is wrong, that it’s somehow inappropriate or mean or offensive.  Somebody might even tell you that shut up is a bad word.

Maybe there’s something to that.  I’d never say “Shut up” to a stranger.  “Shut up” is something you say only to somebody you know.  If you say “Shut up” to a stranger, you should be ready to get into a fight.  I punch like a girl, so I never say “Shut up” to strangers.

Shut up might technically be a phrase instead of a word, but that’s a technicality most people don’t care about.  If you add other words to shut up, however, then it becomes a phrase.  Shut the f*** up is a phrase.  Shut your mouth is a phrase.  Shut your pie hole is a phrase.  But shut up is considered a word, even if it really isn’t.

Shut up is not a cuss word like sh*t or f*ck.  You can’t say sh*t or f*ck without offending somebody.  Shut up involves more context.  You can say “shut up” in a friendly way and people won’t care.  Even if you say “sh*t” in a friendly way, somebody will be offended.

Shut up can escalate a conflict more quickly than profanity.  Shut up often causes the person talking to get louder, to proclaim that he/she will NOT be silenced.  Saying “Shut up” can cause another person to use profanity in response.  Saying “shut up” can often backfire.  Because of this, I don’t recommend saying “Shut up” in most situations.

In some ways, shut up might be the gateway word to profanity.  A child who says “Shut up” may also learn to rely on profanity later in life because that person never developed the language and interpersonal skills to control emotions and use appropriate vocabulary.  I have no proof to back that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

My daughter has a teacher who tells her students to shut up a lot.  At the beginning of the school year, the teacher started off as polite, but now she goes straight to “Shut up!”  I had teachers who said “Shut up.”  We knew at that point something bad would happen to us if we didn’t quiet down.  After the teacher said “Shut up,” we’d get something like a detention or a zero on the assignment if we didn’t settle down.  That “Shut up!” was a warning that the teacher had reached his/her breaking point.

I’d rather have a teacher tell me to shut up than have a teacher who gives detentions all the time.  Maybe a teacher shouldn’t allow the class to get to the point of shut up, but ideally doesn’t work in reality.  Kids need a warning, and “Shut up!” is as clear as it gets.

If a teacher says “Shut the f*ck up” as a warning, then there might be some issues.

Maybe teachers and parents shouldn’t say “Shut up,” but if you’re going to say “Shut up,” say it to a kid.  Kids need to be taught that their opinions don’t mean as much as an adult’s opinion (It’s legally true because they can’t vote until they’re 18).  Plus, kids talk too much and don’t usually respond to “Please be quiet” or “Maybe this isn’t the appropriate time to discuss this.”  Some kids don’t respond to politeness and subtlety.  Some kids need to be told to shut up.

Saying “shut up” is nothing new.  The dictionary claims that the first known usage was in 1814.  The dictionary didn’t say what the result of the first usage was though.  I’d like to know if the person being told to shut up understood what he/she was being told to do.  And once the person being told to shut up understood what was being said, how did that person respond?  I guess I’ll never know.  I can’t find a video of this conversation on YouTube, so maybe it didn’t really happen.

I’ve heard people say that telling somebody to shut up is mean and wrong, but telling somebody NOT to say “Shut up” is almost as bad as saying “Shut up.”   I try to be careful when I use my shut ups, but I’d never tell somebody not to say shut up.  It’s not my place in society to do that.

But if you’re the type of person who says “Shut up” and somebody ever tells you NOT to say “Shut up” because it’s mean or inappropriate, you have the perfect immediate built-in response:

“Shut up.”

*****

When I was a kid, I was punished for saying the word crap.

It ticked me off so much that I wrote this ebook, Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!

Now available on the Amazon Kindle!

And here is the true story of my one moment of high school glory!

Now available on Amazon!

Now only 99 cents each on the Amazon Kindle!

From → Etymology

7 Comments
  1. Ah, I remember the good days in Grade 4 when I felt my blood drain from this silly prank my friend told me about reporting me to the teacher for using the ‘word’ “shut up” – I hadn’t, but I definitely felt that fear haha.

    And yes, I hear all historic documents are fallible if they are not available on Youtube. The streamline of technology these days. How lucky are we.

  2. How about, “Shut up, Donald.”

  3. Appreciate the way you have made an effort to describe how to use and avoid the word “Shut Up”. in daily conversations.

  4. I use “shut up” a lot and with all good [warning like] intentions. However, I’m now left with only TWO friends. Damn the society!!

  5. Funny how ‘shut up’ definitely is offensive – it’s an attempt at verbal muzzling I suppose and as we all think we’re amazing, that everything we say (however misguided, misinformed or backward) has equal validity to anything anyone else has ever said, then it’s seen as an abuse of our human rights. Or something.
    You’re right – a teacher saying ‘shut up’ is about to go to the dark place. And if they say ‘shut the f**k up’ they’re already past that point and about to reach for the automatic they have taped under their desk.
    Great analysis as always 🙂

  6. Surely if you ‘punch like a girl’ you would not do to badly? Don’t use the phrase like a girl in that context it is wrong.

  7. Tim permalink

    I remember in the 8th grade telling a girl (a friend from church) to shut up but not in a mean way. She cupped her mouth with her hand & told me that I said a bad word. That was the 1st time I had ever heard that! After reading this article, it reminds me of 2 weeks ago when I got into an arguement with a co-worker (my wife’s cousin) & I told him to shut up and he returned the word as a phrase with the F bomb in the middle. I reckon saying be quiet would take a little more effort to use the profanity in the middle. My wife told me to shut up once and 3 days later she asked me why I wasn’t talking to her. I reminded her that she told me to shut up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: