Reader Discretion Is Advised

by admin on October 18, 2011

Coprolalia

PRONUNCIATION:
(kop-ruh-LAY-lee-uh)
MEANING:
noun: An uncontrollable or obsessive use of obscene language.
ETYMOLOGY:
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.

{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

Kat October 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

I’m not sure I can agree with this. I think it’s important to take care how you express yourself in mixed company, but the comparison between nuclear weaponry and the F-word is kind of ridiculous. Words have only as much destructive power as we give them, and I feel like the more frequent use of some of these words actually detracts from their drama and power. To my mind, these aren’t naughty or dirty words; they’re just words.

I realize not everyone feels this way, which is why I emphasize care in mixed company. But that’s got more to do with the tastes of individuals than any inherent “badness” in the words themselves.

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Xaviara October 18, 2011 at 9:27 am

I think with some of the younger generations, swearing as lost its taboo nature. I am an older person in University, and it seems every 18 year old I meet swears casually. No longer are these words offensive, they’re just regular vocabulary. Perhaps they aren’t meaning to offend, they just don’t realize it could be offensive. I was bothered at first, but after hearing many a “F this class” or “F my life” with a large grin, it seems more innocent, not to express anger. The words have been overused and have lost their meaning. I’m not saying it is socially acceptable in a professional situation or a formal situation, but generally in an informal situation around friends it is viewed as normal.

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marcia mongelluzzo October 18, 2011 at 9:39 am

I agree 100%. I am no angel and can swear with the best of them. However, I know when to bite my tongue. There are times when I am in public and I hear all these f-bombs being dropped and I cringe. Also, with the whole OWS thing people are speaking out and peppering their speeches with swear words. I think this makes their arguement less valid, as well as making the person sound ignorant. You can make your point without swearing.

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Amber October 18, 2011 at 10:01 am

Hmmm.

I looked up the study that links swearing to teen aggression, published in the journal of pediatrics. The study included 223 high school kids, and involved questionnaires given before and after watching profanity-laced media. Here are the results in the abstract:

“Results revealed a positive association between exposure to profanity in multiple forms of media and beliefs about profanity, profanity use, and engagement in physical and relational aggression. Specifically, attitudes toward profanity use mediated the relationship between exposure to profanity in media and subsequent behavior involving profanity use and aggression.”

It seems the correlation is not so much the words, but the belief that the teens have about the power of the words. If the teens think the words are aggressive, aggression will rise. Which makes perfect sense to me. Words are, after all, only as strong as the connotations we give them.

But it does blur the idea that swearing should then be lessened. The more the words are used in every day conversation, the less powerful they become. For instance, we don’t faint over the word gadzooks any longer, a word that was once the highest form of blasphemy and disgust, up there with the F-bomb. In grand linguistic tradition, the current crop of curses are slowly becoming more benign with over-use. I wonder if in a few centuries they’ll be as benign as gadzooks is now.

Of course, that means there will be a whole new set of swears. It’s almost as if we need them, for societal sanity. There are even studies that say they reduce pain. Can’t really perform that function if they have no power, can they?

Oh, and as for the consequences: if a private organization chooses to give the words power enough that the mere mention of the word (not directed towards someone as an insult, mind you) disgusts them, more power to them for enacting their private right to kick the offender out. BUT! To be arrested for dropping an F-bomb, again not as an insult, which is disorderly conduct, but in a sentence, is incredibly odious. No one in the U.S. should be arrested for performing their right to free speech, no matter how offensive.

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Cat October 18, 2011 at 10:01 am

I had a friend whose favorite curse was, “Jesus Christ!” I never understood why she used it as she was Jewish.

One day, she picked me up from the airport and had her four year old son in the car with us. He dropped his toy and, in imitation of what he had always heard, yelled, “Jesus Christ!”
Knowing that I , as a Christian, found this offensive, she corrected him and told him he should not say that. Since he heard her say it so frequently, he asked why. She had no answer.

Knowing she was embarrassed, I joking gave him an answer he, at four, could understand. “You are a little Jewish boy and little Jewish boys don’t say, “Jesus Christ!; they say, “Moses!” He knew he was Jewish so this made perfect sense to him.

That Friday, after services,she was talking to the rabbi and Sonny dropped his toy truck, breaking it. As instructed, he yelled, “Oh, Moses!” Taken aback, the rabbi asked why he said that. With all the innocence of childhood, Sonny looked up and said, ‘Because I am a little Jewish boy, and I am not supposed to say, “Jesus Christ!”‘
My friend said the look the rabbi gave her had to be seen to be believed. If he had said, “F**k!’ she could have blamed his playmates.

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SJ October 18, 2011 at 10:04 am

Yes. Free speech, sure, but it would be nice if we were all polite.

Also, I misread the first time and thought it said, “Drop the F0bomb quit LITERALLY.” Gave me a chuckle.

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Mjaye October 18, 2011 at 10:08 am

I used to work part-time in a 7-Eleven and the language the customers used was so blue, I had trouble seeing. And do not get me started when they come in talking on their cells and cursing up a storm. When I would point out the children in the store, they would look at me and get a confused look like I was giving out math problems. The plain selfishness was astounding and it was getting worse.

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Serenity S October 18, 2011 at 10:18 am

I agree. I really dislike it when certain tv shows use the “B” word without bleeping it out. I am glad the “F” word is bleeped out, but I suppose it won’t be long before it is no longer bleeped out. :(

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WildIrishRose October 18, 2011 at 10:21 am

I couldn’t agree more! I like to use what I call “creative swearing.” Which generally just means using ordinary words in extraordinary ways. No need for actual obscenities. And television is a vast wasteland, if you ask me. There are shows that I thought were highly entertaining when they first started, and then they degenerated into one sex joke after another. That’s just lazy writing.

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audrey October 18, 2011 at 10:31 am

i’m afraid i have to object all of this, especially the negative consequences towards profanity.
the First Amendment is holy to me and is one of the key things that make this country great.
One should be free to make a fool out of himself, always!

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
~Evelyn Beatrice Hall

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Jay October 18, 2011 at 10:34 am

@admin: “Studies suggest that teenagers exposed to hearing and using the F-Bomb are more likely to be aggressive.”

Can you cite some of the studies? I’d be interested to read them. Thanks.

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many bells down October 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

Coprolalia is generally used to describe people with apraxia of speech forms of Tourette’s. It’s uncontrollable and involuntary, and I’m not sure it’s the right word for a general social tendency to use foul language – even if it does technically mean “potty mouth”.

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Elle October 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

It’s wierd though. Because the words are obscene and yet, in many cases, the concepts behind them aren’t (the exceptions being ethnic slurs and such that really do express awful ideas). I can say behind, derrier, butt, hind end… but a** is “bad.” I can say poop, feces, poo, scat, crap … but s*** is offensive (and parents of infants talk about poop all the time). Sex is okay, but “f***” is not. Boobs are yes, but t**s are a no. *Why* is it offensive when someone uses these words as punctuation when at that point the word obviously has very little meaning at all?
Don’t get me wrong, words do have power. But I can type “I think you are a bad person and should kill yourself,” without starring out any of the words. I think “f***” is a lot less offensive than that, yet it is the queen mother of all “bad” words.

“…..remember when all commonly known expletives and vulgar words were censored from television broadcasts by a censor board”
And you couldn’t show pregnancy on TV, had to make the couple sleep in seperate beds, and Kirk was more likely to bed an alien then he was to get initimate with a black woman.
“Studies suggest that teenagers exposed to hearing and using the F-Bomb are more likely to be aggressive”
So maybe they have the correlation, but I doubt it’s a cause for them to be more aggressive. More aggresive people bluster a lot, so they use language they know will cause offense. More aggressive people probably enjoy agressive, actiony, rated-R movies which is pretty much the only place you’ll hear f*** in quantity. I don’t think Yo Gabba Gabba would be making people more aggressive if they made consistant use of the word. It’s not an actual word that can curse you.

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Molly October 18, 2011 at 11:26 am

I like a lot of the points Elle made especially regarding the difference between correlation and causation. That said, I went to a party at a friend’s house where one of the guys used the f-word every other word. And he was just telling some story about where he went the previous week. It was seriously tiresome. I think I asked him to dial it down a notch and just tell the story without all the salty language but his reply was that he was a sailor (he was in the Navy) and that’s how they talk. Mostly, it is just bad habits and likely an inability to find a better adjective. And verbal laziness.

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Hellbound Alleee October 18, 2011 at 11:34 am

Swearing is only bad because of the belief that the words are bad–not that the words are actually bad. How can a word be bad? Sometimes, at the right moment, a “swear word” is the only appropriate one. Of course, “curses” will always be bad if you are a believer in the magical power of an actual curse, or some kind of supernatural power that penalizes you for using the name of a god–in antiquity, uttering the name of a god gave you mystical control of that god, and I suspect that is why there ultimately was a commandment about uttering the name of Jehovah. (“Jehovah! Jehovah!”–Monty Python’s The Life of Brian).

Stephen Fry had a lot to say on the use of swear worlds:

http://youtu.be/s_osQvkeNRM

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Kat October 18, 2011 at 11:43 am

Xaviara – you’ve hit the nail on the head, that is exactly the way my generation swears. It’s not necessarily related to anger, aggression, or negativity at all.

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admin October 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm

So, in other words, are you justifying a behavior that many others find offensive?

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Jojo October 18, 2011 at 11:59 am

The British Prime Minister David Cameron used the word ‘Twat’ live on a radio programme while he was on the campaign trail. In his area of England it is a mild form of jokey abuse. Where I live it is totally unacceptable to use the word in any situation and, even though I swear with the best of them, I found it grossly offensive. But it was his dismissive behaviour about the incident that offended me even more than the word.
The power we give to words has a big impact – look at the words we use to describe people of colour. While many African American people have chosen to reclaim offensive terms to use within their own communities, thus rendering them powerless in the mouths of outsiders, we still see that the people who are reclaiming them are not empowered but lacking in self esteem and respect for their fellow man.
Personally, I think many people in my generation have been desensitized to swear words. Which I don’t consider to be much of an issue, far worse is the use of ‘gay’ as a put down by school children and ‘paki’ to describe someone of Asian origin. These are words that really cause offense, division and incite hatred and aggression. But then, I’m from Scotland – where swear words are used as punctuation.

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ElegantErica October 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

I don’t respect someone as much when they are profane. I base this opinion on the fact that swearing involves lower brain functions: http://people.howstuffworks.com/swearing4.htm

I say that those who cuss can do better, though I won’t disagree with your right to say the words you want… just as I have the right to be offended by your language. At least that is my humble opinion. For myself, I’m going to try and stick with saying phooey and fiddlesticks… but don’t hold me to that if a rock lands on my foot. ;)

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Ashley October 18, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I think it boils down to knowing when to bite your tongue. For example, my friends and I cuss like sailors when we are together, at one of our houses. But if we are out in public, we keep it all in check, and if there is a child around, we don’t swear at ALL regardless of where we are

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Rug Pilot October 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

My usual response to bad language is to say: “Eschew bombastic grandiloquence!” They get the idea. My favorite expletive is Richard Nixon’s common quote, “Expletive deleted!” and then there’s “dirty word, dirty word, dirty word!”

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Bint October 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm

You want to watch Malcolm Tucker in ‘The Thick Of It’…I’ve never ever heard swearing like his!

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Sarah W. October 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I hate hearing people curse every other word in public. It’s distracting and unpleasant. I can’t help thinking it’s a lazy way to express yourself. Perserve the curse words until you really want to have an impact with them, please.

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icekat October 18, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Language changes and evolves.

During the Middle Ages, the blasphemy words, such as “damn” and “hell” were the really bad ones. The, shall we say, body-function words were distasteful, and not uttered in polite company, but not considered as bad.

By the 1800s, the body-function words had overtaken the blasphemy words as being the really bad ones, although the blasphemy words still were not okay.

In the 20th century, the blasphemy words became increasingly acceptable. Now, we see the body-function words following them.

What’s interesting to me is what is coming along to replace these old taboo words. It’s true that, years ago, you couldn’t say “fart” on television. You could, however, say “n****.” Or any other racial slur; I know we all know what they are. They were considered distasteful, but you could still say them. Now, not so much.

And most of these same kids, the ones that go dropping the f-bomb left and right, would be shocked to hear ethnic slurs bandied about to the same extent.

So, in my opinion, that’s what’s happening. The old taboos are eroding, but new ones are cropping up to take their place. I think it’s interesting. :)

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Amber October 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Ah, admin, good question — but it’s one that is a sticky one.

Okay, so as members of an etiquette site, we can all agree that there is behavior that MOST people will ALWAYS find offensive. Insulting another person, expecting money from people, not saying thank you for gifts or services or hospitality, not providing goods and services and hospitality and jobs because of race, gender or orientation, things of this nature. Swearing AT a person, in a name-calling sense, then, is pretty offensive. You’re actively insulting someone, and using swear words to do it.

But words said, not directed toward anyone, in a sentence or as a qualifier? (And lets not include racial epithets — they are in a special level of “bad words”) Should this be condemned because some find it offensive while others don’t? They aren’t meant to directly insult or garner undeserved hospitality or money or goods. So this is the “gray” area of etiquette in which changing values are creating new etiquette rules.

I compare it to the new rules for smoking. It used to be rude to not accommodate smokers, even if you weren’t one. Ashtrays at dinner parties, smoking in every restaurant and bar, carrying lighters just in case. Slowly that evolved, and now it is considered rude for a smoker to simply light up without asking the company around him if it’s okay. There are “militant smokers” who will push the issue, but most are accommodating because that’s the new social rule: don’t smoke just anywhere and don’t light up without asking.

Swearing seems to be heading in the other direction, at least with this set of swear words. Society is slowly taking the punch out of them, and it’s becoming more acceptable to swear. And there is an obvious generation gap at play as well, highlighting this etiquette fact. Among my peers (late 20s), and some of my superiors (30s), swearing, even on the job, is no biggie. Swearing around someone older than, say, mid 30s is a little dangerous because you aren’t sure if they’ll accept it. Anyone over 50 is a no no, unless you know that they swear regularly. But I know for myself, as I get older, swearing will never really be a punch in the gut. Even if my possible future underlings swear around me in the future, I probably won’t even notice.

So, I think it’s an issue that is evolving, and will probably fall on the side of “swearing is okay.” But, as always, a new set of words will become unacceptable. In fact, we seem to be creating those words already — racial epithets that were once acceptable in company are now considered disgusting and gendered and sexual orientation insults are close to no-no range. It looks like we’ve moved from the body, its actions and its excretions as swear words (as well as using religious terms) to anything that marginalizes an individual as swear words. It’s a very humanistic advance!

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Meegs October 18, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Admin, I am not a big curser myself, so I’m not defending it, but I’m not sure I can agree with your general point of view. Some people find interracial marriages offensive, or babies born out of wedlock, or long hair on men, certain religious beliefs, people wearing fur costs, and so on. Should all those be curtailed as well because some people find them offensive?

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Chocobo October 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Well, I can’t comment on the use of curse words in public or on television. It is a free country, and one can always “vote with one’s feet”, so to speak, and either vacate the premises or turn off the television. Etiquette has the unfortunate consequence of being largely passive in reaction to aggressiveness.

What I do find immensely satisfying as a side-effect of all this cussing is the immensely increased power of polite “fightin’ words,” due to their disuse. It’s easy nowadays to shrug off “Eff you, buddy!” But a simple “I beg your pardon?” or “I think there has been a serious mistake” or simply “Good day!” will more often than not leave offenders at a loss.

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Chocobo October 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Also, I should mention that I am “a young person” of the accused generation. I keep my cussing to a minimum, despite the fact that everyone else my age swears like sailors. You’d be surprised how effective it is when I do actually use a cussing word in the rare situation that calls for it, despite the fact that everyone around me has been using them in every sentence. Everyone always gasps in shock like they just heard their grandmother say “*&%!@” for the first time.

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Kat October 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Admin – not sure who you’re addressing, but for my part…yeah, I think maybe I am. People might find all kinds of things offensive. I need to appreciate their reasons for being offended before I take it seriously.

So, for example, if my coworkers are offended by colorful language in the office, I get that, because it’s not professional.

If someone’s offended by swearing in a social environment when no children are around and no aggression is conveyed, I have a harder time sympathizing. Why should they dictate my choice of words in those circumstances?

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Kovitlac October 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Kat: The picture is a play on calling the F-word the ‘F-bomb’, or ‘dropping an F-bomb.” It doesn’t mean that a comparison is being made between cursing and nuclear war :)

I occassionally hear it used in excess, of course, but this isn’t a normal occurance. I’m 23 and can curse like a sailer with the best of them, but this is usually always limited to when I’m with my own groups of friends. I know better then to curse within ear-shot of my parents. And I never curse at someone I do not know, no matter how angry I might get.

Yes, some people get way too out-of-hand, but I don’t see this as a sign of it being everywhere.

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claire October 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I disagree that the “f” word is the most offensive, I find the “C U Next Tuesday” (spell it out) word grossly offensive and far worse.

I swear occasionally but having children has certainly tempered my language and I do actually say thing like “Oh sausages” or “Oh golly” in real life these days…..I sound like a bad 1940′s children’s novel!

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Kay October 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Language is always changing. Shakespeare was once considered incredibly vulgar and low. Now his works are taught to every high school student as works of literary genius. Additionally, language use can be a way of creating class identification or an ingroup/outgroup division i.e. “those” people use profanity whereas “we” don’t. Finally, language has been used specifically as a means of controlling the behavior of women i.e. “nice girls don’t say those things.” For these reasons I am wary of people who would make judgements of others based on language use alone. The emotions and intentions behind the language are far more important.

However, that said, people who tend to use profanity need to understand that it can make others uncomfortable and should try to moderate, particularly in public when one doesn’t know who might overhear. It’s only right that we meet each other half way.*

*I only use profanity when a.) I need to get someone’s undivided attention or b.) something goes horribly wrong. Since my vocabulary is generally family friendly it’s a quick way to get the people who know me to pay attention to what’s going on.

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Xtina October 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I’m kind of surprised that so many posters on this forum are saying that “they’re just words, what’s the problem”. You all make very good points, and that what was once (or now is) considered obscene can suddenly find itself becoming normal; innocent, even (“gadzooks”). It may not be that many years before the current curse words will mean nothing, and everyone will use them as part of the normal vernacular. At some point, most people will no longer even realize that they were once curses.

But you know–even if that’s where we’re headed, it’s the sentiment behind the word. Usage and offense are in the mouth and ear of the beholder respectively, but I think that most people in this day and age will agree that those words are offensive, or at the very least (dare I say it)—trashy. The thing that bothers me about it—and I am not a person who is offended by such words, just mystified, I guess—why would someone choose to include those words in their vocabulary? It just speaks of a lack of manners or respect for those who might be offended by such expletives. Certainly one can find more colorful and interesting ways to express oneself. Maybe more frequent usage will eventually bring about a dulling of the word’s power, but what will replace it? Something will, you can be assured—and then, we’ll have to dance around a whole new set of words and implications. In any situation, you’re far better off not tempting someone to presume that you’re gutter trash based on your choice of words!

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Hanna October 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm

My issue with cursing in public is, when is it appropriate to call someone out on their foul mouth? Is it EVER appropriate? A couple weeks ago I was with my three young nieces, and some 15-year old kids walked by cursing very loudly. Like yelling out the f-word. I wanted to say to them, “Hey! There are kids around, watch your mouth!” but we were in a street. We weren’t in a daycare or in a Sunday school class room. Would it have been inappropriate for me to say that to them? They weren’t adults. Does that matter?

Cursing bothers me if there are children (or any age) around. And people should have the common decency to know when cursing is most inappropriate. I have a friend who curses a fair amount at home, or when he’s with (adult) family. But you will never hear him utter a single curse word if he’s in public, with people he doesn’t know, or around children. If you struggle with cursing, that’s the way you should go about handling “when is it appropriate?”

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Allie October 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I agree, but can’t help but feel it’s a losing battle, like trying to bail water out of the Titanic with a bucket or something. When I protest, people either think I’m joking, overly sensitive or sanctimonious. I don’t agree with those who say it’s just words. I don’t propose to know why, and plenty of ink has been spilled by literary critics over these very issues, but it’s not just words to me. The f-bomb, at times, causes me physical discomfort (as do certain grammatical errors), sort of like nails on a chalkboard. I try not to be too sensitive (or too pedantic), and recognize that in certain environments swearing is inevitable, but I do wish people would try to use their brains, and use wit instead of vulgarity all the time.

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AKatC October 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I find the whole thing ridiculous. They are just words! I have to agree with Hellbound Alleee, it’s the stock people take in these words that makes them “bad”.

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Goldie October 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I’m nodding in total agreement with Jojo. I have nothing against swear words – if anything, they make the language more colorful when used well. Now gender, racial, and homophobic slurs, that’s another story, I don’t use and do not want to ever hear any of that.

Of course, there is a time and a place for everything. This isn’t limited to swear words. Pretty sure you can also get rejected from a college of your choice for turning in an essay such as “I, like, want to go to Harvard s0ooo bad, cuz the boyz there are hawtttt!! :) <3 <3 <3" Also pretty sure that you will get thrown off an airplane for saying "bomb" just as quickly, if not more, as for saying "f***". Swear words are colloquial language, to be used in colloquial situations, not on college essays and at job interviews.

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Margo October 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I think both Elle and Molly make excellent points. A lot of swearing is down to lack of imagination or vocabulary, and overuse does dramatically reduce the impact of such words, both by individuals and in general.

I swear rarely, but when I do, it has a LOT of force, as people who know me recognise that it’s a big deal. I persoanlly don’t like the habit of constant swearing as punctuation, partly becuase I’m not comfortable with unnecassarily offending people, and partly because it’s boring, and leaves nothing for when you relly want to be forceful. that said, I don’t feel that anyone has a right to not be offended, and I also recognise that language changes and evolves – who gets to dictate what is offensive and ought to be supressed, and what isn’t? My own view is that it is polite to have regard to the preferences of your host, or your employer, or the organisation you are visiting, which covers not swearing repeatedly at church, or when visiting a school, or your elderly auntie.

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Daisy October 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I completely agree! People who plaster their speech with obscenities and blasphemies always seem to me to be ignorant and lazy. There are more than 250,000 words in the English language. Why confine yourself to the same tedious dozen for expressing your emotions? At a buffet, do you restrict yourself to lettuce salad and ignore the roast beef and the lasagne? Do you eat only vanilla ice cream and never try strawberry? Nibble only digestive biscuits and never try the chocolate chip cookies? There are so many words available, you can express yourself vehemently and explicitly and still never offend anyone else in earshot. And you never have to worry that the “F-bomb” will slither out of your mouth while you’re talking to your boss, your minister, or your child’s teacher.

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Kimbubbley October 18, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Birds of a feather flock together. The statement that “many others” find something offensive is probably an observation based upon personal experience and, in my own, I find that people who don’t curse all that often are more likely to have friends and colleagues who also do not, and vice versa.

I, myself, have a vocabulary that makes the SAT look like child’s play and am often the victim of good-hearted ribbing from friends when they ask me to hold on a moment while they Google a word I’ve just used in normal conversation. I am, also, though, a HUGE fan of the F-bomb. I love that you can use it as every single part of speech. I love that you can, without trying terribly hard, get that one word into one sentence 5 or 6 times and REALLY emphasis that point. :) :)

Just as many that find it offensive find it de rigueur. I am squarely in the middle – it has it’s time and place and, if overused, a gentle correction might be in order but I don’t find it offensive and, truly, as others have noted, it’s more widespread use is probably a sign of the times…they are a-changing.

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Erin October 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I used to swear a lot more…now I have a kid, and it sure isn’t cute to hear those words coming out of a tiny mouth. Now I try to substitute out funny words for swear words, like “What the pants?” and “You potato!”

One of my friends routinely abbreviates swear words, like “eff” for the big F word, and makes up fake swears, like “shazz.” It gets his point across without being offensive. He’s done it as long as I’ve known him. It’s pretty funny.

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badkitty October 18, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I think the greater issue here is that none of us can know what other people will find offensive… I’ve been told off for simply holding my husband’s hand in public, for example. I find it offensive that women now feel perfectly free to whip out a boob and shove it into an infant’s mouth without covering up at all and suddenly *I’M* the one with issues because I don’t want to see that while I’m standing in line for a latte. We each have to feel our way through life, and one cannot make the assumption that because something used to be considered vile (interracial relationships, swearing, a bare midriff) we will continue to be shielded from it. If the language offends you, speak up and any reasonable person will curb it around you. A very good (and otherwise tolerant) friend of mine cannot handle any display of affection between myself and my husband; it just squicks her out. So do I tell her to get over it? Of course not, I simply don’t touch him at all in front of her; no intimate smiles or lingering looks either, because it makes her uncomfortable. Do we act this way when she’s not around? Heck no! Just because I know that some people are offended by something doesn’t make the thing itself offensive or wrong, it just means that we all need to be sensitive to individual boundaries and learn to treat each other as unique individuals. Language, along with social folkways and norms, is a constantly evolving thing and one cannot expect that the world will stand still just to preserve sensibilities that were formed in our youth. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to allow it in your presence, but you *do* have to allow that other people don’t share your sensibilities and don’t want to. Having good manners means that you make adjustments to allow for the comfort of others, and they do the same for you.

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Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Strictly speaking, you can’t get arrested for dropping an F bomb alone. That would violate free speech. Context is key. All of those cited are in the context of an arrest or a courtroom, which is a different situation.

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Powers October 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Is it really less offensive to hear a bleeped out F-word rather than the actual word? You still know what was said, and in what context, and what the speaker meant… what good does it do to superimpose a noise over it?

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Anonymous October 18, 2011 at 3:18 pm

To clarify: profane speech used to be seen as “fighting words” though it no longer is. You can regulate airwaves and so on because the government has an interest and they are seen as uniquely entering someone’s home. If someone is swearing at you in an offensive and aggressive way, they are invading your space and that is not protected. However, a mere swear alone isn’t seen as obscene. See the Supreme Court case Cohen v. California (the jacket with F the Draft on it).

“… we cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process. Indeed governments might soon seize upon the censorship of particular words as a convenient guides for banning the expression of unpopular views.”

However, contempt of court can be invoked if you swear at a judge (merely dropping an F bomb probably won’t do it) and resisting arrest against an officer, or harassment if it is directed against someone else in an unwanted way.

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Chocobo October 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Hanna, I’m afraid that no, there is nothing that you can do or say to anyone that would be considered polite. As I understand it, the only people you are ever allowed to discipline are your own children, and only while they are still children at that. So as tempting as it is, you can never call out “HEY! WATCHIT!” to obscene passerby. It has the dual negative effect of making you look like a rude boor, and also having no effect whatsoever on the intended targets.

It does, however, make for a great teaching experience to the children who are in your care. Instead of disciplining strangers, turn instead to your own children and say: “Isn’t it a shame that those poor girls don’t know how unintelligent and ugly they sound using such nasty language? Luckily we know better, don’t we?”

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KimD October 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I don’t mind some swearing. What I don’t like is the fake swearing where you say as an example “oh Fudge” to be clean instead of saying the actual swear. I think you either own it and swear or don’t say anything at all. Kind of like this site replaces things with Crud Monkeys and I think either people should not be using a swear expression or write the real espression. We all know what words the people are replacing so I think it is childish to pretend the sentiment isn’t there just because “fudge” sounds cute. Afterall, the words are just words, it is the sentiment that matters.

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AKatC October 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

My husband has a cute one, he says “Son of a Snapper”. I don’t know if he’ll use it once our daughter gets a bit older (she’s only 4 months old now) as it might be a tad too similar to the original but it always makes me giggle when I hear it. :)

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Leslie Holman-Anderson October 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Words have tremendous power. So I find it fascinating that church-going folks have by and large accustomed themselves to hearing what was once the highest blasphemy — the names of the Lord & His son, of the devil and his kingdom — in everyday conversation, and many of them even drop those Names themselves. But let someone drop an F-bomb, and they faint like Victorian heroines! Which leads me to only one conclusion: that sex is more powerful and sacred than God.

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admin October 19, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Leslie,

I attend a 650-person church and I cannot think of a single person who uses “Jesus Christ” as an epithet or exclamation. It would be highly offensive to them to use it or hear it. Even OMG, which I’m guilty of using on occasion, earns me a comment or two that I should not be using it.

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Cat October 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Some years ago a black comedian was talking to the audience about racial and ethnic slurs. He said he was walking down a public street and was passing a white teenager when he heard the young man say, “What’s up, my n****r?”

Offended that a boy would make such a comment to him, he turned around to correct the lad when he realized that the question had not been intended for him, but was rather addressed to another white male teenager who had just walked up to the first boy.

He stood there trying to think of what he should say. Words simply failed him.

On another occasion, a black female friend and I were visiting St. Augustine when I suggested having lunch at my favorite restaurant in the old part of the city. When she saw the name of the restaurant, she refused to enter. She did, however, have me take a picture of her standing in front of the restaurant’s sign, “Florida Cracker Cafe.”

Her father had whipped her as a little girl for referring to a white child as a “Cracker”. It was considered a racial slur, and he was not raising her to be a bigot. Now it was being used as a name for a restaurant. She did not feel that she had deserved that whipping after all.

I did not tell her about Florida Cracker horses, Florida Cracker cattle, and the Florida Cracker Trail in South Florida.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson October 18, 2011 at 3:50 pm

@ Elle: 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. A rich man defecated; a peasant sh1tted. (Chaucer was the first English writer to use that word in print…)
You’ll find the same difference between the modern English words for various meats eaten by the rich, and the meat animals raised by the peasants: pig =Saxon, pork = Norman; cow = Saxon, beef = Norman; sheep = Saxon, mutton = Norman.

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