Tuesday, April 06, 2010
Does it seem to you that language has taken a turn for the worse, lately? Maybe it's the day job I have-- people are hurting, sick, miserable and sometimes they react badly to things they don't want to hear. But it seems to me that a lot more people use cursing and foul language to express themselves than previously. Or maybe it's just me. After all, I hear it in movies and on television all the time. Why should it bother me so much in person? Well, it does. That's all I can say.
I still get a jolt when somebody drops the F-bomb in my presence-- even if it's not said in anger. Does that make me old fashioned or overly sheltered? And when somebody says "Oh My God" I still cringe a bit inside. In my family of origin, using God's name that way was grounds for major discipline. Vulgarity (Crudities like "crap" or "shit) was considered rude, unacceptable, and unladylike. But profanity was another whole level of offense. . . it had much more serious consequences and was forbidden under any and every circumstance. Probably the root of my visceral reaction to such talk. To this day, hearing someone say "God damn" really sets me off. Even after 20+ years as a writer, immersed in the study and use of words, I still react to that phrase.
You'd think by now that I would have evolved past all of that. It may be a tribute to the power of language that I haven't. Language and how we use words is very important to me. Excessive parsing of words (legalese, etc.) is not what I mean. I'm talking about the honest impact of words meant to convey meaning and ideas. And words meant to express our highest and lowest and most powerful feelings. I learned early on the power of language to make or break an idea, an image, or a reputation. Gossip was another cardinal sin in my family household. I'm still uncomfortable with gossip. . . even though I sometimes find myself listening or passing on a juicy tidbit. Old habits and attitudes die hard.
That said, my mom had one word she used in times of extreme duress. "Shit" A perfectly good anglo-Saxon word, strong and to the point. But considered even by her to be vulgar and off limits. We as kids knew it was "mom's word" and giggled wickedly (privately) when we heard it from her. It was sort of confirmation that she was human and fallible. . . and gave us permission to not be perfect, too. Interestingly, I use that word myself sometimes. Can you inherit vulgar words from your parents?
For good or for ill, I find myself judging others by the words they speak. I don't necessarily condemn people as immoral or irredeemable because they curse. . . I just decide that I don't want to be around them. That kind of judgment I feel totally entitled to make. Because the people we surround ourselves with seep into us and we pick up their habits and modes of expression and their attitudes. We can't help it; we humans are simply constructed that way. And if I have someone use those words at me in a business context-- I'm torn between walking away (hanging up) and telling them just how offensive I really think they are. Interestingly, some people seem so used to using such language that they don't even realize they've done it-- in their minds they were just a little peeved and expressing it. "No harm, no foul."
What about you? Do you find yourself growing deaf to all the vulgar and profane talk you hear these days? Or do you still feel a little squeamish when you hear or use it? Do you have a favorite four-letter word? Ever had somebody aim curses and f-bombs your way in anger? How did you react?
I've heard some people say they feel more free, more grown-up, even more powerful when they curse or use four-letter-words. What about you? Is it a matter of breaking free of sexist, patriarchial restraints for you?