First, how can some be more offensive than others (including those targeting the same group)? And second, why can some of us use slurs without being offensive while others of us cannot? The proposal that slurs are expressions whose occurrences are prohibited purports to explain these features better than views that invoke the content of the word, i.e. their meaning. In fact, appeals to meaning don’t seem to be capable of coherently accommodating either of these features.
Recall his campaign for senator was derailed by his “playful” reference to an Indian American campaign worker for the opposition. His stated intention (sincere or not) wasn’t enough to change perceptions of his chosen expression’s significance.
However, we should reject this view because it too fails to explain the relevant data. First, the view as stated claims the inference instituted by the slur says all members of the targeted group exhibit the negative property. But we can imagine a bigot who, after being presented with evidence that the victim of his slur does not exhibit the negative property associated with the term, still applies the word to his target. And secondly, for any given slur, what is the specific assumption one is licensed to infer? Here is a homework assignment: take a slur and try to figure out what everyone who hears it would infer. It is doubtful you will come up with a single idea that everyone who knows the term shares.
One final challenge for the advocate of a content-based explanation: paraphrases of what a slur supposedly means do not match in offense.