The Effect of Excessive Profanity On Our Culture
The habitual use of profanity is not progressive, just unimaginative.”— Ron Brackin
The quote by Ron Brackin above is spot on. I don't get the inane practice of using expletives every other word. The F-bomb alone is used prolifically in the form of verbs and adjectives, and occasionally nouns. What does it mean that an f-bombing dessert is so f-bombing awesome? Can't one just say that the dessert is awesome? Or how about "The delectable looking dessert was a culinary masterpiece" if you want to get descriptive. Quite frankly, if you throw in the f-bomb twice in that sentence it will spoil my appetite. As Mr. Brackin says, it's unimaginative.
Add to the F-bomb the many other profanities that litter every sentence; they run the gamut of intimate body parts, bodily functions of humans and animals, indecent acts - all things vulgar and crude. It's crazy that the same expletive is used to insult, make something gross, or to convey the message that said person, place or thing is wonderful. Huh?
I will concede that does happen in clean, everyday speech, such as saying that a dessert was decadent or sinfully delicious. "Decadent "is not a vulgar term, however; rather it is the use of irony, a common communication technique in most languages. A decadent dessert will send me to the dessert table or bakery a lot quicker than an expletive dessert.
Can We Talk?
The well-known catchphrase of the late comedian Joan Rivers was "Can we talk?" That's my question when I am around a person who cusses their way through every sentence - as in "Can we talk English?" As of January 1, 2016, it is estimated there are 1,035,877.3 words in the English language.1 It is then rather absurd to habitually weave expletives through every sentence. People who speak this way have a miniscule vocabulary. It not only assaults people who find this habit offensive, but also deprives both parties of interesting discussion; or if it is related to a conflict, it kills, or at very least, hinders a positive resolution.
The world of comedy, film, and television offers a constant stream of profanity and disturbingly depraved material in the name of entertainment. Clean comedy is the exception now, not the rule. I love stand up comedy when I hear good, clean, creative jokes. There is more material to be had in the world and everyday life other than in the bathroom or bedroom. Compare Ellen Degeneres or Chonda Pierce to Eddie Murphy, and the worst of all, Doug Stanhope, the Larry Flynt of comedy - except his work is not comedy nor is it entertainment to most decent people. Ellen can slay me more with her routine on going to the movies than Eddie's unrelenting, graphic descriptions of bathroom activities. Chonda kills me more with her torn Spanx story than anything at all that Stanhope says (did I mention he is the vilest). I am a child of the 60s and 70s. The Carol Burnett Show was the most popular comedy show of the day, and hands down had the most brilliant, creative, hilarious comedy in television history. Today, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman's famous Dentist routine would have both of them using nothing but F-bombs and other oaths and curses at every turn. It would be no-class, unimaginative, and ruinous to the whole comedic essence of the routine.
As the pioneering comedy, television, and film writers began to test the waters with crude and tasteless brands of material, the people were titillated and developed an insatiable hunger for all things crude and vulgar in their entertainment choices. It has infiltrated our culture and it's nearly impossible to get away from it.
Action films are nothing but guns, F-bombs, graphic sex, and brutality. I remember the Dirty Harry, Rambo, and The Terminator, Die Hard type of movies coming out, and the box office success they had, not to mention the cult classics like Nightmare On Elm Street (which I never saw in whole). The violence was intense but the profanity was vile. Today we have the Bourne series with Matt Damon, the anti-gun hypocrite, blowing up people and profanity everywhere. Of course, we live in a free country and people certainly have the liberty to watch what they want, but as Hollywood is such a powerful influence on our culture, we have seen a lot of moral decline.
I have an acquaintance who can't say one sentence without a plethora of profanity. She's lived and traveled all over the world, speaks many languages, and is very knowledgeable about foreign political, religious, and societal systems and ideologies, but her intelligence is grossly masked by her limited and vulgar vocabulary. I have been tempted to ask her if she speaks that way in all the other languages she knows. She seems like a nice person but I feel like I need a shower after I hear her.
As a writer and a human being who appreciates words and creativity, I love to explore and expand my vocabulary and listen to others who do. It makes the world more interesting.
Popcorn as Opposed to Bathroom
"Nothing is greater or more fearful sacrilege than to prostitute the great name of God to the petulancy of an idle tongue." ~ Jeremy Taylor
Do you say this when you stub your toe?
Spanx is funnier than smut
The Lord's Name as a Curse Word
Comedian Daren Streblow makes a profound point in a humorous way about people taking the Lord's name in vain when angry. "I don't understand it 'cause I don't do that to anybody else. Ya, like if I'm walking down the street and stub my toe... "Buddha! Buddhaaa!" "Hari H. Krishna! look at that bruise." So true. What is it about the name of the Lord that makes people want to use it as an expletive? Especially on a regular basis.
I don't have an answer. I am sure there are a lot of "experts" that could give you a reason, and a justification to boot. Perhaps you readers might have some insight, if so, please share in the comments. What I do know is that if using the Lord's name as a curse word on a regular basis, without batting an eyelash, the person using it obviously has no reverence for God or Jesus, is desensitized to using the terms, and don't care or even understand that it might offend people who do have reverence for God.
Taking the Lord's name is more than using it as a curse word. It also means using it flippantly or emptily, as in Oh my God (or OMG) and in other ways. I think it has been used to curse for centuries in many different cultures. It's become common and often times people don't even think of it as being an offensive term; only a way to express some negative emotion. I wish people would stop it!!!
Purpose of Profanity
In an NPR interview with David Greene, Melissa Mohr, author of Holy S - - -" A Brief History of Swearing, explained why she believes people swear: "People swear for lots of different reasons, but the main three are for catharsis, to relieve pain and frustration, and also to...express happy emotions."2 I would agree with that.
Dr. Timothy Jay, Professor of Psychology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, asserts that the human's penchant for profanity continues because profane words are taboo, and as such, help convey emotions, such as anger and frustration, far better than words that are not. 3
To break it down further, here are some reasons why people swear:
- To injure, offend or retaliate during a conflict.
- To give emphasis to a statement or emotion.
- It's taboo (as mentioned by Mohr)
- To vent when physically injured. Oh darn just doesn't do the trick, nor is it even instinctual.
- Raised in an environment of profanity, thus becoming a lifestyle habit.
- Paradoxically, to indicate something is good and delights them.
To describe the bodily or sexual functions true to the original meaning.
Does the prolific use of profanity bother you?
The Repercussions of Swearing
There are so many repercussions to habitual swearing, not only of individuals but of a culture. Here are just a few:
- Masks the intelligence of the user.
- Degrades or injures the person on the receiving end during a conflict.
- Often times masks the emotion of fear.
- Dumbs down the English language (and other languages for that matter).
- Limits the user to unimaginative speech.
- Influences others to use profanity.
- Alienates people, who might otherwise be a friend.
I am sure there are many more one could put out there.
The Effect On Our Children
Kids are watching and listening to parents, other family members, teachers, friends, television and movies. Of course, they repeat what they hear, and the bad behavior of the adults around them, more often than good words and behavior. I cringe when I hear adults spew foul language without filtering whatsoever. I see kids watching PG-13 and R-rated movies full of sex, violence, and profanity. It's very common. They grow desensitized to it (as do adults) and emulate those things with no conscience at all. I find it absolutely abhorrent when I see children sitting in the living room with parents watch graphic sex, profanity, and violence. Sometimes children are placed in front of the TV to watch this trash so the parents can have some quiet time in the other room playing on their phones. Really, that's your babysitter? Do you realize what you're doing to your children? Go outside and toss a ball with them, watch a children's movie, play games or read to your children. That will do more for their character that watching filth on television.
A Writer on Using Profanity in Writing
I thought the following author spoke more adequately on the topic of the prolific use of profanity in writing than I could say.
"I've seen beginning writers pepper curse words through sentence after sentence. 'If you don't -blanking- get your -blanking-blank-blank- into this house this -blanking- minute, I'm going to -blank- your -blank- and nail it to the -blanking- door.'
Two things happen when I read this junk: I get bored and I get angry. I didn't pick up your book to read garbage. If this is as clever as you can be, I don't want to read your prose."
~ David Morrell, The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing and Publishing
Quotes For and Against Profanity
To close, I thought I would offer you some quotes from people on the topic of profanity. It was difficult to find quotes without profanity in them. I do not agree with all of the following quotes, but they all give an idea of where people stand on the matter, a fair hearing on both sides of the aisle, so to speak.
“Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.” ~ Spencer W. Kimball
“Paulie smiled slightly at this, as profanity had always felt to him like a seal of understanding, a shortcut to extreme feeling that people used when they needed it most.” ~ Kathleen Elcott
“Obscenity and profanity had no meaning as such among those people. They were emotional expressions of inarticulate people with small vocabularies.” ~ Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
"Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."
~ Mark Twain, a Biography
"The tongue is the most dangerous, destructive, and deadly weapon available to man...We never gain anything or improve our own character by trying to tear down another." ~ N. Eldon Tanner
"The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it. " ~ Geroge Washington
"Vulgarity is the garlic in the salad of taste.."
~ Cyril Connolly
"The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way."
~ Mark Twain, Private and Public Morals speech, 1906
"It's only with great vulgarity that you can achieve real refinement, only out of bawdy that you can get tenderness. " ~ Lawrence Durrell
"Do I curse? Oh believe me I do. I'm very human. Mary Poppins doesn't swear; Julie does if the occasion arises." ~ Julie Andrews
1 Global Language Monitor, Number of Words in the English Language. http://www.languagemonitor.com/number-of-words/number-of-words-in-the-english-language-1008879/
2 NPR Author Interview. Why You Should Give A $*%! About Words That Offend. David Greene interviews Melissa Mohr. http://www.npr.org/2013/05/13/180811135/why-you-should-give-a-about-words-that-offend
3 Sage Journals. The Utility and Ubiquity of Taboo Words. Timothy Jay http://pps.sagepub.com/content/4/2/153.
© 2016 Lori Colbo