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Reader Discretion Is Advised


noun: An uncontrollable or obsessive use of obscene language.
From Greek copro- (dung) + -lalia (chatter, babbling), from lalein (to
talk). A related word is coprolite.


Over the past 4 decades, as our culture’s interest in etiquette and polite society waned, there has been a corresponding increase in the use of verbal vulgarity to express oneself.  I’m old enough to remember when all commonly known expletives and vulgar words were censored from television broadcasts by a censor board. One could not say “fart” on national TV yet   now it is quite common to hear “ass” and all its derivatives uttered with any attempt to bleep it out.

We’ve become a society in which our cultural disdain for caring about what offend others  is manifested in an utterly careless yet often deliberate manner of speaking that draws from the depths of the obscene .    We have toads spewing from our mouths with no care at all whether those around us are repelled by the assault on our ears.   The ability to restrain oneself from verbal diarrhea, to present one’s disdain in a devastatingly cool, sophisticated manner has given way to lazy obscene diatribes.  It used to be that curse words were held in abeyance for when you really needed to express a strong emotion.   I’m not immune from uttering a string of curse words while narrowly missing being creamed by a careless car driver.  But the world must be one continual drama for some people as they react to every negative nuance of their lives with an endless supply of obscenities.

Who hasn’t been out in public and heard someone drop the F-bomb quite liberally.  In the worst cases, every third word is an F-bomb.   The strongest weapon in our language’s verbal arsenal, the equivalent of a verbal nuclear bomb, is spread around as cheaply as grass seed.  What comes next when the verbal bomb bay is empty?  Studies suggest that teenagers exposed to hearing and using the F-Bomb are more likely to be aggressive.

Using F-bombs can, at least for now, result in negative consequences.    You can get fired for dropping F-bombs.  You can get removed from an airplane.    You can get arrested for disorderly conduct.   You can get rejected from the college of your choice.   People have the freedom to speak in any manner they choose but those of us put in the position of hearing or reading offensive language retain the right to apply negative consequences to your choices.  We should stand firm to execute those negative consequences as our right to protest having to hear/read others’ coprolalia.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gracie C. October 18, 2011, 4:28 pm

    Erin – that can backfire. I knew a kid whose mom used “apple” instead of “a$$hole” (pardon the language), and he would venomously call people apples. Using a cutesy word did not change the intent behind what he said. In fact, it was all the more startling for it.

    As for the calls about free speech. I see this constantly in public debate. Free speech is bandied about constantly as a disclaimer for all manner of things. There is much speech that is not considered protected, and, specifically related to this topic, there are in fact some places that have laws against public profanity. I don’t know that arrest is the consequence (may be just a fine), but they do exist. Further, it seems that free speech has become misinterpreted by many to mean speech without consequence, and that is simply not what it is. It won’t protect your job if you speak out against your company (except in the obvious case of whistle blower laws). It won’t protect your marriage if you call your spouse a fat cow. Etc.

  • Wendy October 18, 2011, 4:41 pm

    I LOATHE watching popular television anymore. The dialogue is often like this: “Blah blah blah (BLEEP!) blah blah blah (BLEEP! BLEEP!).” It’s very distracting and irritating to hear several beeps put in to omit curse words – it honestly does interfere with my enjoyment of such programs (for instance, my husband likes those ghost hunting-type shows, and they’re big offenders at this). If the word is going to be loudly bleeped out anyway, why bother putting it in the script?? I don’t remember tv shows sounding like this 20 years ago.

  • Kat October 18, 2011, 4:46 pm

    I really have to take issue with the idea that swearing is indicative of lesser intelligence. Omitting words from your vocabulary doesn’t make you smarter.

    I’m not saying it makes you any LESS smart, either. And there’s certainly an argument that people who swear nonstop at the expense of saying anything else are lacking a few brain cells. But I (and most people I know) are capable of tossing off a fair few F’s, D’s, B’s, S’s, etc, in the midst of intellectual discussion.

    If I chose to never say the word “naked” because I found it distateful, would you conclude I was smarter than people who didn’t see it that way? Or would you decide I was just a little more sensitive to the issue than they were?

  • jen a. October 18, 2011, 4:53 pm

    I think it’s a social skill to be able to adjust your language based on the situation you’re in and the company you keep. I would never swear in front of my students, to someone I’ve only just met (no matter their age or background), in general public or in any kind of professional setting, but amongst my friends or in moments of frustration I do let the colourful language flow a bit more. What gets me is the changing definition (as some people have already pointed out) as to what constitutes a swear word. I’m not religious, so saying “Jesus Christ!” isn’t a big deal to me, but to others that can be really offensive. Saying the “body parts and functions” words aren’t as big a deal in some areas of Quebec (where I was born), but blasphemy is pretty serious. My in-laws swear quite a bit in their everyday language, but my parents don’t swear unless they’re pretty upset. It’s a bit different for everyone, but it’s important to be able to read a situation and react appropriately.

  • LaurenP October 18, 2011, 5:21 pm

    I’m not a fan of the Cluster F Bomb (unless its used in an extremely OTT way for comedy – *long string of censor bleeps* *fade to black* Ten minutes later *conclusion of censor beeps*) but if you’re relatively clean-mouthed, the Precision F Strike becomes much more effective. People know that the manure has REALLY hit the air circulation device. If you drop severe swears left and right, the stubbing of one’s toe and the collapse of one’s house becomes… equal as problems in a way.

    Personally, if its a place where most people would swear, but is a fairly minor event, I chose to use the most gentle exclaimations of surprise. “Great Scott!” “Oh dear!” “Goodness!” and for serious occasions, “Bl**dy H*ll”.

  • lkb October 18, 2011, 5:46 pm

    IMHO, obscenities such as the F word etc. are used so much that, as others have said, they have lost their potency, especially with teens and young adults. I’m in my 40s and I was always taught that using obscenities is a sign of a lack of vocabulary. It’s also a sign of society’s general decline in civility and manners.

    While I agree that someone should not be arrested simply for using offensive language, I wish there was someway society could get back to teaching what is and what is not acceptable language/behavior. Unfortunately, I have no clue as to how to do that (other than teaching my kids and practicing what I preach to them). Sigh.

  • KC October 18, 2011, 6:50 pm

    I’m with Claire, the f-bomb has really taken a step back to the c-bomb. In Australia, it is becoming more and more prominent for general convo to be littered with f & c-bombs (yes, among a more blue collar types than others is a given) but it’s really not uncommon to hear it. Plus, TV is becoming more liberal with the use of the c-bomb, in recent times both Trueblood and the movie Bridesmaids dropped it; in both instances from female characters. I also read recently in an interview with Rhianna she was pulled into line for using it, who claimed it was common place socially in Barbados. It’s definitely taken the place of the f-bomb, which I think now it on the fast track to just becoming another word like hell, damn, bloody etc etc.

  • penguintummy October 19, 2011, 2:09 am

    I just find it quite crass and unintelligent to hear people swearing all the time. When I hear people talking with almost every word that comes out of their mouth being ‘f that’ or f this it just sounds really low class. I think people shoudl concentrate on coming up with something smarter than FML everytime something happens. My favourite swear substitute from my friends is ‘cheese and whiskers!’ or perhaps ‘jiminy crickets!’ from another mate. Save swearing for when you hit your thumb with a hammer, and try to smarten up in conversation.

  • penguintummy October 19, 2011, 2:09 am

    also, cheers for the new word for my vocabulary! it’s word of the day at my house today

  • Edhla October 19, 2011, 6:01 am

    I choose not to take language personally or let it ruin my day.

    I particularly don’t let it bother me when people use four letter words as punctuation marks, in surprise or frustration or pain or anything else that is not namecalling me directly.

    Some people really, really do not know any better than to swear.

    Why cause drama by trying to police what other people do with their own mouths?

  • Edhla October 19, 2011, 6:07 am

    Also, regarding swearing when children are around- I can guarantee you that children in the Western world learn just about every swear in existence by, oh, about three years old. Unless they are brought up in a convent or a cult or something. You’d be surprised about how much toddlers know. I recently brought up something I’d seen in a kids’ show to my sister, knowing my seven year old niece was getting a copy on DVD for her birthday and wanting to warn my sister she might be in for an uncomfortable conversation.

    “Oh, that,” she said. “Oh, that’s typical schoolyard talk at her age. She knows all about that.”

    Adults always assume children are more ignorant and delicate about such things than they really are. You can’t protect children from words; the only thing they are being taught is that what they may have thought was just one syllable is, for reason unknown to them, horrifying and should be causing them distress, even if currently doesn’t. “Some adults say those words, you do not” is a better route than lecturing people on what you think they should and shouldn’t be allowed to say in public.

  • Aje October 19, 2011, 7:14 am

    Language is changing, but the fact is that a lot of these words, such as the dreaded f bomb, aren´t really being used in context.

    Case in point, I am in college. College students swear like sailors. I love repeating what they said in a different way, same meaning. Or asking a question about what they just said.
    Hey, you go to college to learn and become a professional. It´s not a bad place to learn to watch your mouth and think about what you´re words really mean.

    Student: F– my life!
    Me: You want me to do WHAT with your life?

    Student:F math!
    Me: No, I´d rather not.

    Student: BLah blah F blah blah FF blah blah F
    Me: Could you possibly use another verb? It sounds a little more professional and we´re studying to be teachers.

  • MellowedOne October 19, 2011, 7:53 am

    Profanity is a disease of the vocabulary. Far from making speech colorful, profanities make speech shocking and offensive.

    “You have no way of knowing how many opportunities to make a new friend you might have squelched, or how often you alienated someone or lost a degree of respect through your lackadaisical use of foul language.” –James O’Connor

  • Noph October 19, 2011, 9:26 am

    My employees and I DO NOT use profanity, even on the toughest accounts. You might occassionally hear a “damn!” during tax season, but never the F-bomb unless it is coming out of a clients mouth. My lovely and lady like mother has this amazing effect on people – even those that have very foul mouths often curb it around her. Something about the way she carries herself just makes them treat her like a lady. I’ve had clients close to my age ask me why I don’t curse and I always respond with a joking “I used to, but I found trying to make up weird and wacky euphemisms is way more fun.” (I’m disturbed by how often I’m then asked “what’s a euphemism?”)
    We just like our office to be classy. However, when I deal with any vendor or office, local, state, or federal, I often encounter extremely foul and unprofessional language by the people I’m dealing with….try complaining you got poor customer service from a government employee…if you do manage to find someone to take your complaint and all it consists of is “this person used foul and unprofessional lanugage”, they literally laugh at you. My mom literally turns pale and then blushes if she hears the Fbomb…a very 1950s reaction that if it wasn’t my lady like mother might make me giggle a bit internally. She was pulled over for her tail light being out a little over a year ago. She is a very passive type and does not swear. She has a 1950s approach to authority figures. I thought she was going to faint from the “officer’s” language and he was actually being friendly and just letting her know her back lights weren’t working (fuse had blown).

    I completely agree, we as individuals must decide to take our language back from the gutter. However, I see this being a small scale improvement, our city’s police have extremely foul language. They seem to enjoy screaming the Fbomb and will claim that it is the only way to communicate with the “types of people” they are dealing with. Run a you tube search for “memphis police” & “Beale St.” if you want to hear what I’m talking about for yourself. While I’ve worked very hard in the last two years to clean my outside of work mouth up, I feel like I’m fighting a loosing battle when the police and music makers in this city set such a poor example. I have yet to see anyone fired or even reprimanded because of crass language (at the governmental level).

    Another thing I really hate that is some what on the same subject: When female contempories of mine greet me with a friendly “heya B—ch!” or “S’up, Hooker?” I dont mind “hey girl!”, but I have stopped interacting with aquaintences that continue to greet me in such distasteful ways after the first warning/explanation of why they can greet me by name or buddy/girl/chica/lady. Who on earth calls people they like by such insulting names??? Why do women of my generation think this is ok?? I feel like a real stick in the mud uptight type because I am the only one that doesn’t let anyone greet her with what I consider “fightin’ words”.

  • ElegantErica October 19, 2011, 10:17 am

    About ten or so years ago, there was a company that would take DVDs and bleep out the bad language. The one I remember was run by a Mormon couple in Utah, where the demand for such a service was very high. As a member of the Purple People Eater Church in a different state, this wasn’t as well known of a service and not in such a high demand… however, I did find out about them online and I did purchase a few DVDs… even though I was a single adult (the service was aimed at families with children). I simply don’t care for cussing, and there are quite a few movies I would enjoy more without the foul language.

    There were actually a couple (maybe two) companies that did this. Even though they purchased a DVD through regular retail outlets for every DVD that they sold, they were put out of business by the courts. Movie makers were displeased that someone was “reinterpreting” their artistic expressions. I think this was ridiculous. They weren’t making any changes to the films that TV stations didn’t make themselves when they showed these movies on the air.

    There is a demand out there for less cussing… but unfortunately those that are cussing are fussing.

  • Yvaine October 19, 2011, 10:22 am

    LOL, Aje. There’s one advice column I read where the phrase “Un-F***” has become popular. Because if someone writes in about their jerk boyfriend, someone will always say “F him!”…except if someone has a jerk boyfriend, you don’t actually want her to fornicate with him, you want her to dump him. Hence un-F.

  • KTB October 19, 2011, 10:37 am

    “…I do wish people would try to use their brains, and use wit instead of vulgarity all the time.”

    I imagined people “back in the day” were witty because they grew up with wit and word play used in conversation. Where are our examples of wit now? I can’t think of many. Certainly not enough, in this media drenched age, to make any sort of dent on the population as a whole.

  • Lily October 19, 2011, 10:46 am

    Being vulgar is also uncreative! My husband was adopted from Korea and has heard racial insults his whole life. Nearly every single one of those insults has been “chink” with some sort of common expletive before it. Only a handful of times has he been insulted creatively. He thinks it’s all funny at this point, because it tells him exactly the sort of person who is insulting him; there is no creativity or anything remotely considered intelligence.

  • Sarah Peart October 19, 2011, 2:14 pm

    As an examination into swearing I would recommend a programme currently being shown on BBC (British Broadcasting Company) called “Fry´s Planet Word” presented by Stephen Fry. I have been watching it on Youtube. It was chapter three (of five) – called “Uses and Abuses”. In one part Stephen Fry and an actor called Brian Blessed (who is a frequent user of four letter words) are asked to put one hand in ice water (there are even ice cubes floating in the bowl) and keep it there for as long as they can. This they do two times, the first time they are not allowed to use a curse word but repeat a word at regular intervals and when they cannot and the second time they are allowed to pick a curse word which again they repeat in an even rhythm. The object of the exercise is to show that using curse words help us deal with pain. As expected they are able to leave their hand in the ice water for longer the second time. However something else came up – the difference between the two in Brian Blessed´s case was not so great. In other words you could draw the conclusion that because he used profanity more often it was less effective for him in a stress situation! By the way Stephen Fry is not against the f-bomb etc and indeed there are videos on YouTube called “The Joys of Swearing” which are cut from documentaries about his life and beliefs. Anyway it is all very interesting and a discussion that will run and run.

  • aventurine October 19, 2011, 3:03 pm

    *disclaimer* I’m up to date on this topic and aware that comments are being sternly moderated. 🙂

    The argument I hear most often is the old one about swearing being indicative of a poor vocabulary. IMO, that’s a lazy argument, as is the one linking swearing to lower intelligence. I make judicious use of my ugly vocabulary, and I can’t make the logical leap that knowing/using *more* words makes my vocabulary *less.*

    I know where and when to cuss, and where and when not to. I see no reason to cull useful and, let’s face it, satisfying adult language from my everyday life when there’s no one around to offend.

  • Alexis October 19, 2011, 3:08 pm

    I find that continual cursing sounds lazy, sloppy and ignorant, as well as inconsiderate of other people who might well be offended by it. Not the kind of image I’m eager to present. Nor does it impress me in others. I’m not a saint, I do swear, but I try to keep it for such ocassions as dropping a frying pan on my foot or locking ghe keys in the car. The words lose their power when they become commonplace. What bothers me is the number of misogynic not-exactly-curse-words that have crept into our daily conversation, such as naming a TV show ‘Pimp My Ride’ or referring to an undershirt as a ‘wifebeater’ or calling someone a (ahem) ‘dirtbag’. Certainly anyone is entitled to speak as s/he chooses, but you are not entitled to complain about other people who regard you as ill-mannered lazy and sloppy, as well as lacking in creativity because you have chosen to speak that way.

  • Enna October 19, 2011, 4:20 pm

    I think Elle, Icekat, Amander and Meegs have got it spot on – lanaguage evolves and there is an issue about censership – I like the point about Kirk would more likely get into bed with a female alien then with someone who wasn’t white or female and the points that racial insults were flung about. The issue of what is offensive varies form person to person however I do disagree with those posters who say swear words are “just words” at the sametime though I don’t think they should be completely banned. Yes some poeple over use them and need to wash their mouths out with soap.

    For tv and radio as long as the swear words are bleeped out before the watershed (I’m from the UK and that is 9:00pm) and depending what the swear word is it’s okay for it to be on the tv provided it is not on the same scale as Gordan Ramsey’s tv programs. I’m parahasing Stephan King’s “On Writing” – profanatiy is bad and the language of the ignorant but in some cases swear words are unavoidable e.g. Great Aunt Polly may say “Oh sugar,” if she does something silly but not all characters will do that – some will swear if they hit their thumb with a hammer instead of the nail. This is true about life as well as fiction.

    Today when I was volunteering someone knocked over his drink and said “Sh”$” but apologised immediatly for his bad langauge – now if a bad word pops out when someone has an accident like that or they do something unintentiational which causes pain then depeneding what is said I think that is a natural response. What I think is wrong is when people swear in public for no reason at all other then them being ignorant and trying to shock and trying to be hard.

    I was on the bus once and some youths were using the f-word and a mother who had a todler told them off for it “don’t use language like that in front of my child.” they rolled their eyes but they were quiet for a bit. They swore again and she said “do not swear!” and one made a “nuh” noise to her and she said “don’t nuh me.” Good on her! I saw another mother tell two other boys off for swearing in front of her five year old – they went very quiet! That is fair enough swearing infront of children is bad.

  • Elle October 20, 2011, 12:22 am

    “It’s a class thing. The acceptable words are all from Latin, Greek, or Norman French, the rich people’s languages. The unacceptable ones are (or derive from) Saxon, the peasants’ tongue. ”

    THANK YOU! That makes a lot of sense. I actually started chewing over this matter last week so it’s really been bugging me. 😀

  • Queen Medic October 21, 2011, 12:27 pm

    I wish coprolalia was more well-known by the general public. My father has Tourettes syndrome, mania and ADHD all in a bundle. That bundle also comes with coprolalia, as in many cases. However a few years ago on a British ‘I’m a celebrity’ or something, a vulagar man with ‘Tourettes’ as he called it wandered into the limelight and demolished the meaning of the word. Now I was still in school at this time and it infuriated me to hear kids saying ‘Oh lol I want turretss! It’s so cool!’ etc. He had coprolalia. Not tourettes. But now every average joe thinks Tourettes is ‘That thing where you swear’.

    Sorry about the mini-rant; I haven’t posted here before but this is something that is deeply personal to me!