You might wonder why we’ve chosen the pugilistic moniker “Fighting Words” to air our views.
The best answer, perhaps, is that progress and communication are enhanced by the head-on confrontation of ideas and the arguments that ensue. Indeed, the most powerful and effective Fighting Words are aimed at concepts, not people, as we will do in this section of International Business Times.
The phrase “fighting words” has carried a negative connotation ever since the 1942 Supreme Court decision that defined the term painted it in a pejorative light. The case involved Walter Chaplinsky, a Jehovah’s Witness who stood on a Rochester, N.H., street angering fellow citizens by declaring their religions “a racket.” A disturbance arose, and when an on-duty cop tried to pull him from the scene for safety, he compounded his troubles by calling a city marshal a “goddamned fascist.”
Chaplinsky was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison under a New Hampshire statute “prohibiting the use of offensive or annoying words” against another person in public. He appealed and the case made its way to the Supreme Court, which is when the term fighting words made its debut.
Rejecting the notion that the New Hampshire statute violated Chaplinsky’s First Amendment rights, the court wrote: “If the time may ever come when the words ‘damned Fascist’ will cease to be generally regarded as ‘fighting words’ when applied face-to-face to an average American, this is not the time.”
Maybe not, or maybe that decision has outlived its usefulness. But either way, then, or now, is always the right time to attack ideas, to try to tear them down with better logic and conclusions, to make them stand up or fall against the onslaught of other ideas. And while we can’t promise our words won’t offend, we can at least say we are within our right to say them -- and you are well in your right to agree or disagree with them.