Skip to comments.Blue Streaks: Does today's society suffer from a profane strain?
Posted on 05/18/2003 6:34:55 AM PDT by SLB
It was a pristine day at Freeman Lake Park: A mom pushed her baby in a swing, a little girl watched the fish she caught flop on the dock, man's best friend chased down a Frisbee and carried it back in his teeth.
Ash Stevens, who had been hanging out with a group of friends, broke the silence when he noticed a pal approaching.
"Oh, s-!" Stevens yelled to his friend.
It's not a word you'd expect to hear in a place so peaceful, but no one seemed to care. Stevens thinks he knows why.
"It's part of today's society, man," the 28-year-old said.
Damn right, most people will agree, whether they like it or not. From TV to radio to school hallways, people are swearing more and using worse words than ever before, observers and innocent bystanders say.
Some say the trend isn't a big frickin' deal, but not Jim O'Connor. The president of the Cuss Control Academy and author of the book "Cuss Control" is a sworn protector of vulgarity-free speech.
"It's a decline in civility," O'Connor said. "There are still many people who are offended by it. Not everybody does it, not everybody likes it.
"It's not just words, it's the tone behind them. People are rude. We're rude to each other. That includes not just swearing but (things like) butting in line."
O'Connor admits that compared to violent acts, cussing is a minor offense. But it's frequently committed. If you see violence on TV, you're not necessarily going to go out and commit a violent act, but if you hear someone you admire cuss on TV, you might pick up the habit.
As teenagers strolled through Towne Mall tossing out the occasional obscenity, a group of elderly gentlemen some in fishing hats, some in dapper jackets shot the bull at a table near the food court. Considering what they saw in World War II, they say a little salty language isn't going to hurt them. One gentleman even confessed to using a few choice words himself.
"Well, I'll tell you what. I mashed my finger once and you don't want to know what I said," he said (the men declined to give their names).
His friend philosophized on the issue.
"You know why a man cusses?" he asked. "He's a person with a low vocabulary trying to make a big impression of himself."
O'Connor agreed. He lamented the limited vocabulary people use these days.
"If someone is mad, they're either p- off' or really p- off' or f'ing p- off,'" he said. "We're losing all these other words like furious,' outraged,' livid.'"
O'Connor is also upset that things get "f- up" instead of "bungled," and people "bulls" instead of "lie," "embellish," "exaggerate" or "talk nonsense."
It's been about seven years since Nine Inch Nails caused a stir with lyrics like "I want to you like an animal." It's been about seven decades since blues legend Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil so he could sing lines such as "squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg."
Is either phrase, when its real intention is considered, any better or worse?
Allan Futtrell, chairman of the communications department at the University of Louisville, argued probably not, though he gave Johnson points for creativity.
"Saying squeeze my lemon' is more clever than saying "squeeze somebody's butt or their t- or whatever," Futtrell said. Using a metaphor takes a little bit more talent it's easy to make people laugh with simple cuss words.
O'Connor agreed. "That borders on fun, rather than offensive," he said.
Futtrell's moral of the story about immoral songs: People's thoughts aren't changing, but the way they express them is.
History lesson: People used to cuss all the time until Queen Victoria of England started censoring commoners. Even Shakespeare's work was sanitized. Since then, people have been constantly rebelling against the queen's puritanical restrictions.
Futtrell said kids and girls talk more slangily and saltily. And on that pristine day at Freeman Lake Park, two girls one on a bike, one walking beside her made their way through the park dropping f-bombs as if they were on the Enola Gay.
Jessica Humphrey, 18, wouldn't reveal what she and 14-year-old Ashley Callahan were talking about, calling it "personal stuff nobody's allowed to put in the paper." Callahan thought their vulgarities were no big deal.
"I've been doing it since I was a little kid, and that's because of family," she said. "When you live around it, it's not a big deal. I don't care if my parents see it, it's not a big deal."
Callahan first cussed around her family when she was 10 or 11: "It slipped." Her mom told her not to do it again or she'd get her mouth washed out. She did it a couple of years later, and nobody cared.
"In 1950, girls didn't talk that way," Futtrell said.
People always get riled up when boundaries are pushed, then get comfortable as the changes become commonplace, said Dean Nason, a sociology professor at Elizabethtown Community College. For example, he named Bart Simpson's catch phrase "eat my shorts" and the display of some of the actors' derrieres on "NYPD Blue," which got people's panties in a bunch at the time but draw shoulder shrugs now.
"It's just going to be left up to each person and their own value system," said Nason, who noticed that reality shows are pushing the limits of good taste without using bad language. "The mainstream is willing to embrace the pushing of boundaries. Is it worse to hear language, or do you want your kid to see adults eat bugs on TV?"
The place where people need to be careful is when they're around children, Nason said. What's fine for adults to see isn't all right for little eyes, he said. Case in point: the Miller Lite commercial where, after a catfight, one girl asks another, "Wanna make out?"
"As an adult, I might even think that's clever, but I don't want my kids to see it," Nason said.
But cussing is fine for adults, the senior citizens at Towne Mall said, with a few exceptions.
"Ain't nothin' bothers me no more as long as he's not cussin' me," one of the men said. "That's when his freedom ends when my fist meets his face."
Taming one's tongue
Tips for controlling swearing, from the Cuss Control Academy:
1. Recognize that swearing does damage.
You probably swear because it is easy, fun, candid, emphatic, expressive, breaks rules, and somehow partially reduces anger and pain. But the negatives outweigh the positives. You really don't win an argument by swearing. You don't prove that you are smart or articulate. Swearing doesn't get you hired, promoted or romantically connected.
2. Start by eliminating casual swearing.
Pretend your sweet little grandmother or your young daughter is always next to you. Use inflections for emphasis instead of offensive adjectives. Be more descriptive instead of using the "s" word to describe everything from objects, work and the weather to the way you feel, the way someone looks and the way something smells.
3. Think positively.
Look to the bright side. Develop a can-do attitude. Worry only to the point that motivates you to prepare for the problem, then hope for the best.
4. Practice being patient.
When you are stuck in line or in traffic, ask yourself if a few more minutes matters. If so, and you have no control of the situation, plan the rest of your day or do the thinking that you say you never have time to do. Talk to someone, even a stranger in line with you.
5. Cope, don't cuss.
We live in an imperfect world, yet our expectations continually increase. Each day can be filled with aggravations, delays, disappointments and frustrations. The fact is, we have to deal with them anyway. So stop cussing and learn to cope. Consider even the smallest annoyance a challenge, and feel proud of yourself for taking care of it cheerfully and efficiently.
6. Stop complaining.
Before you start griping or whining about something, remind yourself of a very important reality: no one wants to hear it! Why would they? Avoid complaining about matters that you and the people with you have no control over. For all other complaints, try to offer a rational solution.
7. Use alternative words.
English is a colorful language, but chronic cursers repeatedly use the same, unimaginative words that have been around for centuries. Take the time to develop your own list of alternatives to the nasty words you now use, relying on your own intelligence, a thesaurus, good books, and even some of the more clever TV shows.
8. Make your point politely.
Some substitute words can be just as offensive if your tone is abrasive or you insult someone. Think of the response to what you are about to say, and decide if you need to reword your statement to be more effective. Take the time to make your point in a mature and convincing manner.
9. Think of what you should have said.
It is easy to blurt out a swear word at an inappropriate time, or to bark out a tactless or tasteless remark before you have a chance to consider the impact. Think of what you could have said. After you shout an expletive, simply say the tamer word you wished you had said. If you make a statement that you later realize was negative, confrontational or rude, think of how you could have phrased the statement. Over time, these exercises will train you to think and act differently.
10. Work at it.
Breaking the swearing habit might prove to be no easier that losing weight, giving up cigarettes, or correcting any other habit. It takes practice, support from others and a true desire to be a better person.
It seems to me, though, that cursing on the Internet, as it's quite often done on this forum, substituting asterisks for certain letters of the word, is something else entirely. It's pretty hard to say that something just "slipped out" when you have to think about how to spell the word, asterisks or not.
IMO, those who use obscenities, vulgarities, or curse words on FR do so purposely. I suppose the reasons for doing so are different for everyone, or even different at different times from the same poster. But, bottom line, it has to be thought out to type it out, and therefore, it's done on purpose.
I should add that I speak as one who used to use such words as verbal punctuation. Now, I am of the opinion that it shows a certain level of mental laziness to curse, at the very least.
"Man"? That word's still a part of our groovy society?
Several years ago I noticed a trend in the local college rag--cursing had become vogue in the student columns. I'm not talking about tossing a g-d or two into the article to spice things up; no, these kids were using the full-on F bomb. I noticed that the less a columnist had to say, or if the topic was uninteresting, the more F bombs I would see. My observations of the college rag support this article's assertion that cursing is used most often by the dull and un-inspired.
You F*** Wad!
We're not supposed to. I can't quote scripture and verse right now (I don't have it in front of me) but it is a no-no for sure. Believe me, it's in there because I have read it.
I am working on it. It's usually when I get hurt or very angry.
Then it kind of slips out. I do it in teasing sometimes also. You know, like "guy" ribbing and stuff.
But, that doesn't justify it.
Stay Safe !
This society is plunging down a toilet in so many ways.
In my novel I've drawn a line. No F-word. If folks think that's corny, so be it.
If you ask them to cool it, they say, "F-YOU!!" in front of your kids.
Hit him, go to jail. He knows it. I have been nose to nose with these creeps, trying to get them to throw punch number one in front of witnesses, but they're cowards.
They even wear t-shirts out here that say "Mother F--er!!" in huge letters. My wife came out of a religious store here in San Diego Friday, and we were greeted with a 20 something wearing a black t-shirt that had "MOTHER F---er!!" as the punch line in 2 inch tall letters.
I didn't see it, I was going to our other car. (We were getting First Holy Communion gifts for my daughter, of all things, while she was at shchool.)
My wife said "that shirt is really not appropriate to wear in public."
The scum's reaction? "Then don't look!"
Some of this society needs a 5.56mm enema.
We've opened the public sphere to private behavior--not just cussing-- and made the private public.
Courtesy is in decline. Public places have become arenas and people impose themselves by cussing, barking into cell phones, playing radios, etc. It all seems related; we are losing our identity as a people.
Stopping cussing can perhaps even be related to the "broken glass" theory of crime prevention that was used by Chief Bratton and Mayor Giuliani in NYC. The theory, as propounded by Prof. James Q. Wilson, is that if little crimes, such as breaking windows, panhandling, or urinating in public, are not enforced, then larger crimes will soon follow. If you allow petty thefts, then it creates an atmosphere of lawlessness where people then move on to bigger crimes. The NYC crime rate dropped dramatically when they decided to get tough on ALL crimes, including the small ones.
Even though cussing would be only a small "crime" in my life, it is one for me to control. And the discipline and mental awareness that is created when trying to control it will help me to avoid committing larger "crimes" (sins) in my life. Just a thought.
I used to enjoy what I considered "Adult Entertainment". Now I am offended by the fact that kids are seeing stuff on TV; even commercials, that I would consider "Adult" if not pornographic!