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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.”

From → Etymology

  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.

    • Anonymous permalink

      Girls dont punch as hard as guys though.

      • Anonymous permalink

        Some can. I still don’t like how that author referred punching “like a girl”. That is very offensive to me.

  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.

  8. Maria permalink

    I like your post but I think you should avoid sentences such as “I punch like a girl”. Some girls might punch harder than men. This kind of comment is sexist and we should avoid using them

    • Anonymous permalink

      Girls dont punch as hard as guys though.

      • Anonymous permalink

        Just because YOU are sexist doesn’t mean the others are. Many girls punch harder than boys.

    • Anonymous permalink

      Yes. I agree. I am a girl and think that that reference was very sexist.

  9. Eva permalink

    I am a really hard puncher and I am a girl. I beat up so many boys and then the boys run away from me crying.

  10. Anonymous permalink

    my sis thinks shut up is a bad word. she said its a cuss word. idk why but i find that dumb

  11. Massey Kanan permalink

    It can be very rude, bad, arrogant, and hurtful, of course, depending on the situation is…

    If a person, even a child, is trying to explain his or her point and you said shut up…
    This human being can interpret it in so many ways:

    as you removing his or her right to talk or explain
    as you saying your opinion doesn’t matter
    as you saying mine is the only right answer here
    as you saying freedom of speech does not apply to you
    and so on… depending on the situation.

    Just a reminder, in this country, a lot of lives loss, fighting for this similar rights.

  12. Emma Smith permalink

    I didn’t like that in the beginning of your article you wrote, “I punch like a girl.” That is very sexist and offensive to me as girls can punch and kick very well, thank you very much. I studied martial arts and have seen that one of the girls in my class managed to beat up a boy three years older than her, and she wasn’t even very burly or muscular.

  13. Anonymous permalink

    Sit down and shut up

  14. Anonymous permalink

    I disagree. First of all children’s opinions should matter, just as their feelings do. Saying that just because they can’t legally vote makes their opinions invalid is a definite way of raising a child with low self-esteem and lack of self-belief. Of course child’s brain is different than an adult one, and many concepts children simply can’t comprehend just yet. Their brains are developing after all and their decision making capacity is also undeveloped. Hence why they are not equipped to vote. Though looking at governments of late, I sometimes wonder whether the supposed adults are mentally equipped to vote. Jokes aside. I myself dislike the term ‘shut up’. Not only is it disrespectful (and yes children are human beings too believe it or not, who do deserve respect as well as disciple and guidance), but the term ‘shut up’ can also aggravate people. There’re so many other words or actions that could work just as well, if not better. For me ‘shut up’ is a from of profanity, as you said you wouldn’t say it to a stranger. You wouldn’t say it to your boss, doctor or an elder, or a person somehow in higher social rank. You wouldn’t use it on a person you respect, which for me makes this term highly insulting. And saying it to a child, only teaches them fear and disrespect (that chestnut will usually manifest in teenage years, unless they fear you too much to say it, but then you’ll have whole lot of other issues to deal with). Punching like a girl, is again disrespectful as many pointed out. It applies that girls are less than. Some girls can’t punch well, but so do some men ( your example included). Some girls are great at punching, just as some men, or boys. Again even referring to an adult female as a girl can be condescending, since she’s not a girl anymore. Yet, we don’t do that to men as much as society.

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