Miss Manners and Profanity

by admin on October 19, 2011

Well, yesterday’s post produced an interesting array of comments.  There are many I declined to approve in order to assuage any embarrassment commentators should have had at their own words but failed to embrace.  Miss Jeanne has saved you from yourself and worldwide shame.

Let’s start off with some of the ideas expressed in the more notable comments to defend the right to use profanity.

1.  Profanity is ubiquitous in modern society.  Get over it.  Accept it. 

So, if public begging became common, we should all accept it?  Bank deposit slips in wedding invitations, if done by nearly everyone, are just fine and dandy?   If the whole world goes mad with greed, we’ll jump right off that greedy cliff with them?  Uh, no.  Just because “lots of people do it” is not a logical argument that it is a right thing to do.

Profanity lowers the “tone” of a discussion no matter how you spin it otherwise.  It is viewed as unprofessional, indiscreet, an excessive expression of personal feelings and opinions, and selfish.

“Honor in etiquette sometimes demands setting standards higher than those in practice and encouraging people to live up to them.”  Judith Martin

2.  It’s just words.  People attach meanings to words.  Words cannot hurt us.

If words never hurt us this site would cease to exist.   I am in awe of people who claim that the use of profanity shouldn’t really bother anyone because it’s just words.  Such people must be the most tolerant folks on the planet, never being offended by anything anyone ever says, either deliberately or as blather, because, well, it’s just words.    Embarrassing personal remarks, intrusions into privacy, rude assumptions, cruel comments about appearance, greedy solicitations, backhanded compliments don’t really exist to hurt and offend…they are just words.   Sorry, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid on this one.   Words can either be the most edifying tools in communicating or the most devastating, destructive way to bring someone down precisely because of the meaning collectively assigned by the culture to those words.

3.  Using profanity is “immensely satisfying”, “cathartic”, “confuses the heck out of people”.

The basic, fundamental rule of the etiquette of communication is that you speak to edify others, not yourself.   Miss Manners wrote that her advice often goes against a person’s declaration that they find it impossible not to convey their feelings regardless of the consequences to other people’s feelings and that many people seem to think that their opinions are required.  Profanity is the expression of personal feelings and opinions which many declare is “immensely satisfying” and “cathartic”.   We’d be silly to assume the speakers of such comments would actually mean that other people find it quite satisfying and cathartic to be the recipient of directed profanity or having simply overheard it.  To achieve catharsis and satisfaction implies retaliatory rudeness in response to someone else…verbal one upmanship to trump another with shock value.    It’s profanity for the sake of selfishness.   How rude.

4.  You can ask strangers to stop their vulgar utterances.  False.

Sorry, no one has the right to correct a stranger in public over the use of profanity.  However, Miss Manners does encourage using such people as examples to children of how not to behave in polite society.    Asking those with whom you have some kind of relationship to stop, be all means do so.  “I would prefer that you not use those words in conversations with me.  Thank you.”

5.  Substitutionary words are just as bad.

Which Miss Manners encourages:   “Compile a list of silly substitute words that sound somewhat like the offensive ones. “Oh, fudge,” for example. People have been doing this for years, not only to avoid offense, but to do the opposite: to slip in the offensive implication when the word was banned.   This is only a temporary measure. Miss Manners promises you that the ridiculousness of it will act to inhibit your impulse, and you will soon be saving the strong words for true emergencies.”

 

And now for the fun part since you’ve hung in and read this far….I have two copies of  Judith Martin’s (aka Miss Manners) book “Miss Manners’ Basic Training:  The Right Thing To Say” to give away to two lucky readers who respond to this post.  Winners chosen randomly by random.org.   This lovely little book is out of print which is a shame because it is one of the best books of her series (in my opinion) and one I often reread and refer back to.

 

 

 

{ 155 comments… read them below or add one }

Josie James October 20, 2011 at 12:33 am

Proverbs 18:21 “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Physical attacks hurt the body; words hurt your spirit. Your words are very powerful.

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Rug Pilot October 20, 2011 at 12:36 am

People who use bad language offensively are crude, rude, filthy, lewd and socially unacceptable. And their mothers wear army boots. The fleas of ten thousand camels should infest their armpits. All their teeth should fall out except one and that should be left for a toothache. They should eschew bombastic grandiloquence. Who needs four letter words?

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Athena October 20, 2011 at 1:12 am

Swearing is a problem, and it’s one I suffer from. I need to try to remember this advice, it’s really good, thank you.

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Kat October 20, 2011 at 1:31 am

DocCAC – The problem wasn’t that the angry shopper you mentioned was using profanity, it was that she was screaming aggressively at the store manager. I really don’t care what words she was using. She could have been shrieking “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in his face and it would have been just as rude and inappropriate.

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Margaret October 20, 2011 at 2:10 am

I have an ongoing disagreement with my husband. He swears when he speaks, almost constantly. It bothers me, and I ask him not to swear at me. He says he isn’t swearing AT me. Sorry buddy, but if you are swearing when you are speaking to me, then you are swearing at me.

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Libby October 20, 2011 at 2:32 am

Words are just the medium by which most people communicate, but they aren’t the only way. One can be just as profane with a gesture or a look as with an earthy, anglo-saxon epithet. Is using profanity in conversation with others incorrect? It depends on the who the person is, and who the others are, and where they are all located at the time. Is profanity acceptable in most traditional social situations, like church, business or charitable meetings, school functions, anywhere children are involved, or anywhere people might be offended by its use? No. As I understand it, ettiquette is the social grease that makes our interactions with others comfortable and enjoyable, and if we are putting sand in that social grease by using profanity and thereby making people uncomfortable, we are at fault.

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Edhla October 20, 2011 at 7:33 am

I too must protest about the high-and-mighty attitude that anyone who swears must be stupid, uneducated or have a small vocabulary. I have a double degree in English and Creative Writing. If there’s anything I do not have, it’s a limited vocabulary. As a child, I used to read the dictionary for funsies (yes, I was a weird kid.) This insistence that people who do not swear must be smarter or have bigger vocabularies than those who choose to swear is a myth. If you don’t want to swear, don’t. But don’t kid yourself. It doesn’t make you smarter.

Swearing and one’s attitude toward it are largely cultural and depend on a person’s life experience and the company they keep. Please do not judge a person’s intelligence on whether they CHOOSE to swear or not. Do not judge a person’s intelligence on their culture or upbringing.

Some more thoughts:

On the subject that some words used to be forbidden and are now OK- it works both ways. If you read Chaucer, you’ll see many, many uses of crass and sometimes genuine swear words. In the fourteenth century, these were not swear words. It was simply what you called that bodily function. A lot of words were designated as obscene during the Victorian era when you see them cropping up quite often in previous centuries. Those living before those times were not just being potty-mouthed. There was a cultural shift.

In the Victorian era, the words “legs” and “trousers” were considered vulgar.

On the whole issue of “making up swear words”- nope, not buying it. I’d rather hear someone casually use forty different instances of the f-word in two sentences, simply because that, to them, is an acceptable punctuation mark, than to listen to someone have a screaming meltdown at whatever “skulldugging muggfuggling piece of shindiddly” was not properly operational, or be called a “confusticated bugduggler” or a warthog-faced baboon. If it’s the words’ meaning that counts and not the context in which it is expressed, how is it in ANY way polite to use expressions like “warthog faced baboon”???!! Do people really think the lack of four-letter words in that makes it polite? Some random syllables are far more acceptable than mean-spirited namecalling or abusive, shouting aggression.

And finally, on people addressing others as “beyotch”, etc, in a friendly way- what I allow or prefer my friends to call me is my own business and none of yours (collectively yours, not you specifically, Admin :) ). I won’t call you a beyotch if you kindly keep your opinions to yourself when a friend of mine uses it as a term of endearment. I have the right to be called whatever I like and don’t need the moral police to tell me whether what a friend calls me is or is not appropriate (to them. I don’t care.)

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cleosia October 20, 2011 at 8:23 am

I tend not to use profanity in front of strangers because I don’t know how they will react to it. You have to have a little sensitivity to your listeners. Around people who aren’t sensitive or who use profanity themselves, I tend to use it a little more.

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Kai October 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

I would question whether the people who think public profanity is acceptable use profanity in every setting or whether they think it is unacceptable in certain settings?

The fact is that we speak differently depending on the setting and the group. It’s easier to use much more relaxed language when you’re with your friends, whereas you would never dream of speaking to your boss in the same way.

With that said, I don’t see a need to use profanity with your friends either. It irritates me when a certain friend of mine uses the word ‘f…ing’ not only as an adjective, but throws it out there as a stalling technique while he is trying to think of what he is trying to say.

I’m certainly not perfect; I use swear words without meaning to. It’s something that a lot of people, particularly the young, need to retrain themselves to refrain from using it. Profanity can make even the most intelligent, successful and professional person look like an uneducated fool. Anyone who thinks that it is just words really has no grasp of the power of language. At school my brother was bullied, and then got into trouble for swearing at the bullies. I taught him to use real words, which stopped him from getting into trouble from the teachers and confused the bullies because they’d never heard of most of them.

The occasional profanity, I take no issue with. It’s the overuse, and the use of profanity as an adjective that bothers me. As another poster said, profanity is boring and uncreative and it just makes the person look foolish.

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Amanda October 20, 2011 at 9:16 am

Margaret, I get flack from my husband when I vent to him about things that have angered me. He asks me why I’m taking out my anger on him. I’m not angry AT him, not picking on things he’s done or criticizing him, but voicing my anger TO him about things others have done. I don’t see much difference with the swear words. But that’s semantics.

The point is not that he’s swearing AT you, but that you don’t want to hear those words in normal conversation and he needs to understand how serious you are about it and respect it.

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Kathy October 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

Would love a copy of Miss Manner’s book. You are right on with your post, Admin.

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Kitty Lizard October 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

The fleas of ten thousand camels shall infest your armpits??? Thanks so much. I just spewed coffee all
over my keyboard. I’m going to be laughing all morning. I have GOT to remember that one.

Kitty

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Nikki October 20, 2011 at 9:46 am

I have been trying not to use it unless something bad has happened but my boyfriend uses it constantly. I try to ask him to not use it around my family (very conservative christians) and co-workers but he takes offense to this and tells me he has the right to say whatever he wants and does not care what other people think of him or care if he offends anyone.

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Wink-n-Smile October 20, 2011 at 10:16 am

Nikki, if he doesn’t care if he offends your family, you should either not allow him around your family, or else stop dating him, entirely.

How good a boyfriend can he be, if he doesn’t care about your family? Even if he doesn’t like them, personally, he’s supposed to like *you*, and should be considerate of them for your sake.

I’m not saying the language is a deal-breaker. However, the attitude is a definite red flag.

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Wink-n-Smile October 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

Gracie C. said: “@Wink-n-smile – but clearly the comments here indicate that it is not universally offensive, even in the here and now. For some people the shift HAS happened. Some people consider the words as benign as heck or darn or fiddlesticks, or any other manner of old fashioned cursing. So, no, one does not need to be a time-traveler to justify how they wish to speak.”

Universally offensive? No, I suppose it is not universaly offensive. Just widely offensive. Just because the people who swear are not offended themselves by swearing does not mean that the people around whom and at whom they are swearing are not offended by it. They know that many, or maybe most (depending on their circle of acquaintance) people are, indeed, still offended by that language. They know that it is considered socially offensive. And yet, because they shift has happened for *them,* they try to justify their offense. That is a poor excuse.

“I’m going to spew filth, because I don’t consider it filthy. I know you do, Grandma, but *I* do not, and that’s all that matters. What do you mean, you’re angry with me for swearing in front of you? Don’t you know that for many of us there’s been a lingual shift and that language is no longer considered filth among my friends? I know *you* consider it filth, but my opinion is the only one that matters. It’s JUST, (*^&%$$&* it!”

No, really, that doesn’t fly.

Judging if something is offensive is done by whether or not the audience is offended by it, not the speaker. And majority rules. So long as the majority considers it offensive, it is considered socially offensive. If you’re in a small group that does not consider it offensive, then you may swear within that group.

Swearing is like salt. You can’t take it out of the pot of soup, but you can add it to your own bowl. Thus, when in shared circumstances (the pot of soup), it is best to leave it out, and let people season their own bowls to taste.

Speak how you wish to speak, by all means. But when you do, remember that other people are the ones listening, and they will judge you, and there will be consequences. Your personal linguistic shift does not alter theirs.

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Wink-n-Smile October 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

Missa October 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm
I love swearing. I don’t think I have a terrible vocabulary, or that I’m not creative, or all the other things people often say, just because I like to swear.
However!
My default setting is not to swear. I only swear when I’m in company that I know is not offended by it. It doesn’t hurt me in any way to keep from saying a handful of words the majority of the time. I don’t personally find the words offensive, but my policy is that if I know that something has the potential to offend someone, then it doesn’t cost me very much to avoid saying it. That goes for all kinds of words, not just swears, of course.
But when I’m around my best friends, all bets are off!

Missa: Here is the proper use of the “linguistic shift” argument. It costs you nothing to avoid offending the majority of people, for whom the shift has not occurred. However, when in company of those for whom the language has, indeed, shifted, you use the language oppropriate to that audience.

Again, like salt. If everyone likes salt, go ahead and add it to the pot of soup, so the eaters don’t have to bother salting their own bowl.

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Wink-n-Smile October 20, 2011 at 11:08 am

One thing to remember, though, when tailoring your swearing to the company in which you are at the moment:

If you swear routinely, and think nothing of it, what do you do when you really, truly, need to express, with extreme urgency, a vocal emergency? If you don’t swear much, then on those rare occassions when you do swear, everyone will come rallying to your aid, sure that something is wrong. One good solid, “F—!” will bring everyong within earshot. If you don’t swear at all, one solid “CR-P!” which isn’t even on the list of seven words you can’t use on TV, will bring everyone running.

I’m on a metaphor kick. Have you ever seen “Erik the Viking?” There are two berserkers, a father and son. The father is sweet, laid-back, easy-going, and his son doesn’t believe he deserves the title berserker. The son is quick-tempered and always yelling and fighting. His father tells him, though, that if he uses up all his anger now, he won’t be able to get up a good berserk when he needs it. At the climactic battle, the father gets up an amazingly powerful berserk, then when it’s over, goes back to the same easy-going, laid-back character.

Swearing should be used like that.

If your (and your friends’) language has shifted so that “the F-bomb” is casually acceptable, you’ll never be able to get up a good berserk when you need it. Unless your language has shifted sufficiently to provide a replacement “bomb” for use when necessary. Has it? I’m very curious.

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Wink-n-Smile October 20, 2011 at 11:28 am

On the topic of swearing when you stub your toes, drop something heavy on your foot, hit your thumb with a hammer, cut yourself, etc.:

My go-to phrase in such circumstances is “Owie-owie-ow-ow!” This releases the pain, as a swear word can do, and it also alerts all within earshot that I have been at least minimally injured, and they know to fetch the first-aid kit. Not even the most Victorian old lady was offended, the immediate pain was dissipated by a vocal outburst, and help is on the way. It’s very effective, and still reserves the emergency nuclear power of the f-bomb for a true linguistic emergency.

Granted, I don’t judge others for swearing in such contexts. I understand the need for a verbal outburst. I just choose to follow the berserker rule, and restrain from such language, until I need to get a good berserk up.

I have frightened people who knew me, by going off on someone, for several minutes, all while maintaining a cool or neutral tone, and refraining from swearing. They were shocked, and wondered what I’d be like if I really did lose control and shouted and/or swore. They said it would be truly terrifying. I can’t tell you how powerful that made me feel. Since then, I have embraced mild-mannered behavior as a secret weapon of AWESOME power. You think I’m meek and mild? Wait till you see me in berserker mode. Bwahahahaha!

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Newly October 20, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thanks for your post about swearing in public. Far too many people take it as a yardstick to measure “cool.” But I think bad language just shows how uncool people are.

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Hemi Halliwell October 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm

To Edhla on the subject of friends calling each other “beyotch” in a friendly manner -I don’t believe anyone was saying or implying that if you like your friends to call you a “beyotch” that is was their business or it was inappropriate for you and your friends. However, if you and your friends use that term in public, then it does become other people’s business since those people have no choice but to hear that term being used and may not want to, particularly if there are children present.
In my previous post, I was stating that *I* did not like it when *my* friend used that term. It did not strike me as a term of endearment, especially since is was only used when she had been drinking, hence the videotaping and playback to her the next day.

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Chocobo October 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm

This is getting to be ridiculous with all the claims that one shouldn’t judge others based on the words they choose to use. It’s the same circular argument that people make about slovenly clothing — “don’t judge me by my looks!” No, in a perfect world, no one would judge your ability to do your job, or your personality, or your intelligence, or whether or not you are deranged by the way you dress yourself. In a perfect world, no one would judge you by the way you speak, either.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, and people WILL judge you based on how you speak. If there is anything that is ubiquitous in modern (and ancient, and future) society, and that we should accept and “get over it,” it’s not profanity — it’s that people will always, always judge you on your appearance and your actions.

How you present yourself is up to you — if you want to swear up a storm to your friends, or on the street, or in your house, or over the phone on a bus, go ahead. You are right that no one is capable of politely stopping you, except perhaps to call the police where it is legally prohibited. But that others will perceive you as lacking either discretion or, more likely, a few brain cells is just an ugly fact of life that will never go away, no matter which curse words are fashionable this century.

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Sarah October 20, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I’m a lurker here and find this blog very thought provoking. While I do occasionally swear my mum mostly cured me of the habit when I was in my teens by pointing out by that when someone swears repeatedly in public it tended to make me assume they had been badly brought up so any bad behaviour on my part reflected not just on myself but my family too.
I didn’t want to shame my family so I stopped.

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Hellbound Alleee October 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Case in point: My Quebecois in-laws threw me a nice reception for my wedding to welcome me into their Francophone family. At the reception, my husband’s 91 year-old grandmother sang a profanity-laden drinking song traditional to a lot of Quebecois people. Bad taste? Well, no. The profanity was in English., and therefore the English swear words had no power to offend. Should I have been angry at my tiny new granny? No–I was so thrilled to watch my new family with their spoons and singing along–I got to see a whole culture I had never experienced before, and laughed along with them. Because it was funny, and joyous.

Such low-class people, tut tut and all that. Or should I say, Tabarnack? No, I shouldn’t because that’s a really, really bad swear word in Quebec, that probably did great harm. Somebody reading this certainly should be from Quebec, right?

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Wink-n-Smile October 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Chocobo @ 1:18 – I completely agree.

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Thel October 20, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I wholeheartedly agree with Admin on this one. I am not a prude, but people who swear constantly (thankfully there are none in my circle) make me feel that if they cannot find a different way to express their feelings, I really do not want to know them better. I understand the allure of swearwords during the preteen and teen years, but smart teenagers soon figure out that this is not the way to go in life. It never fails to amaze me how many adults have not made the link.

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Kat October 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I feel like we’re coming up with a few ideas that we can all agree to:

-Profane language (really, any language) should not be used aggressively or meanly
-Profanity should not be used in a professional setting, or in the company of those who are known to object to it
-”Substitute” profane words are kind of a silly non-solution, even if they are fun :-)

Here’s what I still take exception to:

-The idea that people who swear are automatically unintelligent, lacking in creativity, uneducated, or low-class. Judge my manners if you want to – that’s what we’re here for – but to judge my intellect based on the fact that I disagree with you is poor form, shameful, and contrary to what this site stands for. Even if you disagree with the points being made, surely you can see by our posts that I and other advocates of the right to swear aren’t idiots. Why would you assume we are? And even if you did make such an assumption, why on earth would you SAY it? On an etiquette site? Really? (Edhla put this well.)

-The confusion of bad BEHAVIOR with “bad” language. Shouting at people, aggression, and name-calling are bad behavior and are socially unacceptable no matter what words are being used. If I tell my friend he is a terrible carpetbagger and punch him on the nose, I’m guilty of bad behavior. If I say to my friend, “that is one blue f***ing sky!” (and my friend is comfortable with strong language) then NOTHING offensive or unacceptable has taken place.

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GW October 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm

My fabulous cousin once said something that stuck with me: she said she realized that, while she was never a salty-tongued font of obscenities, she was using too much profanity, and that she needed to stop and break that habit, to be more of a lady. It didn’t seem staid or old-fashioned the way she said it – it just seemed proper. I really appreciated her observation, and I try to keep it in mind whenever I slip, or feel tempted to do so.

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Hemi Halliwell October 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I think this post has gotten more comments that any other post since I became a dedicated reader. :)

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lkb October 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Re Edhla’s post which said, “I’d rather hear someone casually use forty different instances of the f-word in two sentences, simply because that, to them, is an acceptable punctuation mark, than to listen to someone have a screaming meltdown at whatever “skulldugging muggfuggling piece of shindiddly” was not properly operational, or be called a “confusticated bugduggler” or a warthog-faced baboon.
Likewise, Kat’s post which said, “Here’s what I still take exception to:The idea that people who swear are automatically unintelligent, lacking in creativity, uneducated, or low-class.”

I understand what you are saying, but the fact is that people DO judge you by many factors, including the words you use. I don’t know what kind of job you have, but I dare you to go into a job interview, ask for a promotion/raise, make the MAJOR sale, appear before a judge, meet your intended-spouse’s parents/grandparents/clergy person etc. and do everything right (attire, preparation etc.) except let that string of 40 F-bombs in two sentences (and/or other swear words). Then see what happens, including try to find out what the potential boss, client, judge said about you to others.

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Crystal October 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm

I find it extremely disturbing to be in line at a store, and the people behind us are swearing up a storm. My children have no need to hear that and I wish other’s would consider who is listening to them.

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Kaiti October 20, 2011 at 7:09 pm

I’m quite fond of the substitute words method, particularly in cases when I might use swearing as a pain reliever (http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/13/cursing-and-pain-relief/) – like when I’ve managed to stub my toe on something really hard, or bash my funny bone – occasions when a good yell can really help. Some of my favorites are “son of a motherless goat”, “rowrbazzle razzle frazzle” (stolen from Albert the Alligator in the old Pogo comic), and “frak” (stolen from Battlestar Galactica). I rather enjoy coming up with new, usually nonsensical, things to say in such situations. I think, for me at least, the humor of yelling something silly helps with pain/tension relief, too.

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Kat October 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm

lkb – I agree with you that this would not be appropriate in a formal or professional setting.

On a first date, on the other hand, I’d have no problem taking you up on that dare. And if the other person decided to judge my intelligence based on that, I’d know that we are not a great match :-)

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Gracie C. October 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I just want to add that some people actually don’t care if they are being judged by others. I’m not a big swearer, though I have my moments, and I still don’t give a flying leap what complete strangers think of me. I never will. I’m a better judge of what’s appropriate in my own relationships than someone who doesn’t know me or the people in my world. And if I had to spend all of my time trying to prevent offense I would just stay home. Quite frankly, it’s just too easy to offend people these days. And they have the right to feeling offended, but others, believe it or not, have just as much right to be offensive, so long as their offense doesn’t cross into the illegal. And everyone has the right to think what they want about it, and choose not to participate.

And as for the professional thing – I have a boss who drops at least a dozen “f-bombs” a day. She’s one of the smartest people I know, she’s in a very powerful, high-ranking position, and I know no one who works harder than her. She’s also funny and charming. So, even some work cultures do not have an issue with profanity.

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Mabel October 20, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Oh poo, I probably missed the giveaway. Oh well. :)

I have a bit of a sailor mouth; it’s hard not to when I work around mostly guys. But I’ve been trying not to curse so much because I’m tired of worrying about where I say things, and my boyfriend hardly curses. Poo is something he says. I think the worst thing I ever heard him say is “b***h.”
So far I’ve used these substitutes:
–Fudge or fudgsicles (When really peeved I like to say “Oh fudge sticks, stripes and deluxe grahams!”)
–Fark (close but not quite bad)
–Poo
–Ratfinks
–Rassafrattin’ rackalackin (from Yosemite Sam)
–Goobers!
–Horse butts
–Blargh!

I read somewhere if you hurt yourself cursing can actually lessen pain. So if I get hurt, plug your ears!

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Baglady October 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I would love to see your body wash up on the beach!

See what I did there? I invoked four beautiful things — love, the human body, cleanliness and the seashore — to wish (general) you dead. I would expect (general) you to take way more offense at that than at “Hey, Charlie, it’s so ___ing great to see you! How the ___ are you?”

My point is that I don’t think that as words go, obscenities/profanities carry any more power than non-curse words. It’s all in how they’re used. That said, though, the polite thing to do is not use them unless absolutely, positively sure that your entire listening audience is OK with them.

I swear, but only in the company of fellow cussers and nobody else. At other times I’ve found the less vulgar option is always the safer one, whether it’s “Oh, darn!” instead of “Oh, f__!” or “I’m going to the restroom” instead of “I gotta take a dump.” Better safe than sorry and all that.

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aerrigad October 21, 2011 at 7:15 am

A little anecdote that goes along with this that I was just talking about with my father this week. In short, I was in junior high school before I realized what my dad was trying NOT to say every time he muttered, “Son of a… pup.”

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MellowedOne October 21, 2011 at 7:30 am

@Gracie C – Why would anyone have the right to ‘be’ offensive? How, in any context, does that do anything other than cause friction in a a society of people already on edge?

I’ve often seen people offer up the reasoning, ‘I have the right’ to do this, that, or the other. But having the right under a country’s national policy does not necessarily make it right. Nazi Germany allowed its ‘Aryan’ citizens to do a great many injustices to others. An extreme example to be sure, but it makes an effective point.

Profanity is offensive. Why would so many people, including ones who use profanity, see it as unacceptable to certain audiences? My speech does not differ depending on audience. And if I stub my toe in the presence of the kiddies, they are not going to be introduced to the world of profanity by me. So much easier for a curse word to never accidentally slip from my mouth if I don’t use them to begin with.

Instead of each individual demanding to do as they wish, how about we each show concern for others? It doesn’t cost a thing, and does wonders for society.

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Bonnie October 21, 2011 at 8:29 am

“Use what language you will, you can never say anything but what you are. ” R.W. Emerson

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Margo October 21, 2011 at 8:57 am

Kat @128, I think you put it wvery well, and articulated a lot of what I was thinking.

For me, the issue about judging people by the words they use depends to some extent on *how* they use them – I don’t assume that anyone who swears is unintelligent, I am likely however to judge someone who uses a single word, such as f**k, as constant punctuation – if that is the only word they are using for emphasis and ‘punctuation’. Basically, if someone uses a small vocabulary I am likely to assume it’s because they have a small vocabulary.

I think I mentioned on the last thread that I am not offended bythe use of such language, but I do find it boring.

Wink-n-Smile @ 117 – you said “They know that many, or maybe most (depending on their circle of acquaintance) people are, indeed, still offended by that language. They know that it is considered socially offensive”

I would agree that *deliberately* using language which you *know* will offend the people you are with is rude, whether the laguage is using swear words, or using words which are dismissive of someone’s beliefs, but I think that the comments on these posts show that it’s not the case that “many, or maybe most” people are offended (and given the nature of this site, it seems to me that , compared with society as a whole, those who are not offended may well be underrepresented here) . For many people the reality is that most of their friends and acquantances aren’t offended.

I do feel that it is something which is very dependent on context , tone and place. Also that it is a two-way street – it’s courteous to consider whether other people are likely to be upset or offended by your behaviour (whether it is swearing in public or anything else) but equally it is courteous to recognise that not eveyone feels the same way and that just becasue something offends you (generic you) it does not bnnecessarily follow that it was inteded to be offensive.

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Edhla October 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

MellowedOne- comparing someone using salty language in public to Nazi Germany is not only trite, it’s quite frankly far more offensive than any four letter word I can think of. It does NOT make an effective point. It only serves to prove that you DON’T have to swear to be deeply and totally offensive. I am completely disgusted.

You know, swearing does have its place. Sometimes, no other word will do for meaning or impact. For example, quite a few expressions came to mind when you compared someone exercising the right (yes, it IS a right) to use four letter words in their own homes to genocide. None of those words would pass muster on this site.

“Instead of each individual demanding to do as they wish, how about we each show concern for others? It doesn’t cost a thing, and does wonders for society.”

Since you have shown no concern for others in what you have said, I think you can start by apologising for making such a disgusting comparison that you have made. The Holocaust was an unprecedented tragedy for MILLIONS of people. It is in no way comparable to your delicate ears having to hear the f-word at a bus stop.

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Goldie October 21, 2011 at 10:39 am

Somehow, all those cutesy substitutes for swear words remind me of Stephen King’s Annie Wilkes, with her “cockadoodie brats” and “dirty birdies”. Ugh.

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lkb October 21, 2011 at 11:17 am

@Kate: “On a first date, on the other hand, I’d have no problem taking you up on that dare. And if the other person decided to judge my intelligence based on that, I’d know that we are not a great match :-)

Um, well, okay. Then on a first date you’d choose to use a string of 40 words recognized by most of society as “disgusting to the senses” or “containing or being language regarded as taboo in polite usage” (dictionary definitions of obscene)?

Not exactly the first impression I’d want to make, but it’s your call I suppose. I still think that in just about every circumstance, people can choose better words. It seems that obscenities/profanity/vulgarity is used either for shock value (which is fading because of overuse), fitting in with the crowd (“my friends say it, so I do too”), just plain not thinking about or, frankly, laziness (can’t be bothered to think of an equivalent, nonoffensive word.) I think choosing to not use them shows more respect for others.

Obviously, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

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Kat October 21, 2011 at 12:16 pm

MellowedOne – Different things are unquestionably appropriate in different audiences. I will wear daisy dukes and a tube top to a bar, but not to work or to spend the day with my in-laws.

I’ll pretty much swear anywhere I’ll wear daisy dukes :-p

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yamilyn October 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

i agree with trying for less profanity and better manners. sadly even i sometimes slip and drop the occasional f-bomb but generally i try to just use words that might not make sense but are still acceptable. and generally encourage people to save curse words for when it’s really necessary. i find that using more classy language and etiquette helps to get better results and an easier time all around. i’d greatly appreciate winning a copy of the book by miss manners

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Kat October 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

lkb – here’s the fundamental misunderstanding, I think: your post implies that I’d be sitting on my date thinking to myself – “Hmmm…how can I shock this person into noticing me? I know! I’ll say something disgusting to their senses!” And then, lacking the creativity to describe (for example) scenes from a Nine Inch Nails video (SO shocking!), I decide to simply say, “where the F is the waiter!” or, “F the F-ing F-ers!”

I don’t deny that people like that exist. Yeah, someone ought to buy them a book or something. But those people don’t have a monopoly on swearing at all.

In reality, what I like to do is juxtapose harsher words with softer ideas or imagery (“check out that fluffy-*** cloud!”) for humor. I realize not everyone finds this sort of thing funny, and that’s okay, but I find it funny. And if I’m on a date, the first impression I want to make is absolutely one that reveals my sense of humor.

I think a lot of people indulge in brands of humor that aren’t appropriate for all audiences. As long as you’re conscientious about evaluating your audience, I really don’t see a problem.

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Kat October 21, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Incidentally – this thread reminds me of this (totally G-rated and family friendly) video from the Tom And Jerry movie:

http://youtu.be/fStWJloNsuY

This does NOT reflect the way I swear :-)

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lkb October 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm

@Kat: Thank you for clarifying this: “On a first date, on the other hand, I’d have no problem taking you up on that dare. And if the other person decided to judge my intelligence based on that, I’d know that we are not a great match :-):

While I apparently I did misunderstand the above quote and, thank goodness, I see we agree that there are times when profanity is inappropriate (professional settings for example), I still think we’ll have to agree to disagree. For example, on a first date, presumably you don’t know the other person very well, so you probably can’t be “conscientious about evaluating your audience”. (I, personally, would rather concentrate on making the other person feel comfortable and respected than use profanity as humor in front of someone I don’t know.)

Again, we agree to disagree.

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Amanda Kate October 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Very interesting thoughts. I’m working on not swearing so much- sometimes the words just pop out! I know they can be offensive to people so I try to only swear when I’m alone and drop something on my toes. I’d like to read that book, hope I win!

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MellowedOne October 21, 2011 at 11:06 pm

@Edhla,
I kindly ask you to re-read my reply, as you have misinterpreted my comparison. I did not compare the use of bad language to the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

The point I was attempting to convey is that many people try to justify their ‘right’ to a certain choice based on the decrees/ideals as set forth by their government. However, having a freedom to make a particular choice does not always make it the right one. The country of Germany during wartime is a prime example–if you were of ‘acceptable’ bloodlines then you the government’s support to treat others like Jews as subhumans. A most deplorable use of exercising one’s ‘rights’.

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Kat October 22, 2011 at 12:36 am

@lkb – your point is a good one.

Maybe I’m talking about a tenth date.

Making the other person comfortable should take precedence when you don’t know each other well. *tips hat.*

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