Published on Friday, January 23, 2015 by Andrew Buck
While many of the things society detests are shunned for good reason, some of them just happen to be the most enjoyable to do. Who wouldn’t want to drive 80 on the highway if it meant you could get to your destination faster or bring dry breakfast cereal into a movie theater because you were too hungry to care about distracting other people? But societal constraints on language seems to be the most lenient, and there are times when our language is perforated with terms that most people consider unsuitable for general communication.
Don’t misinterpret my apathy towards saying these words as a call to say them whenever or wherever a person wishes. Obviously, it would be inappropriate to proclaim to the world that you reclaimed your four dollars from a scratch-off in a busy gas station with a solid and resounding -word-, or it isn’t necessarily polite to compliment someone’s new haircut with a certain -word-.
However there are special reserved spaces in society where it’s safe to say such words. Maybe over a royal flush in a card game with your brothers or when someone rolls over your foot with their moped in a Kroger parking lot. We forgive these people in retrospect. But in general, it’s almost always indecent to curse in public given no cause or provocation.
At school we hear at least twenty of these words on a daily basis coming from the halls when we hear some hooligan trying to escape the monitors, or at lunch when someone makes it known to everybody else sitting around him that his tater-tots are overcooked. Why has this kind of language been prohibited even though it’s become so common?
Some words, regardless of their inappropriate context are considered the worst things to say in public, almost to the point where they’ve become illegal. You cannot yell “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater (unless there is a fire), and you cannot yell “BOMB!” at a bus stop or your niece’s piano recital.
There is a defense for the common use of bad words that deals with censorship. Though people frequently use substitute words for expletives, most people, given the context in which the word was used already have the actual expletive in their heads. It can then be argued that there’s no difference in actually saying the word and simply disguising it behind the first letter. Whitewashed slurs tame the language and make it suitable for nearly anybody of any age to exhibit their frustration, but is it appropriate for an 11-year-old to pseudo-curse out another kid with these fake swears? These words still encompass the energy and intention of full-fledged curses without the inappropriate context, but context isn’t the main drive behind harsh words in the first place. Sometimes people are just really angry and are trying to express that with overzealous terminology.
The overuse of curse words can soften their impact. Lenny Bruce, a comedian from the 60’s, claimed that as long as people continue to lessen their exposure to curse words, the strength of their swearing’s offensiveness increases. The offensive nature of words are only imposed by the definitions established by people, not by how the nature of the word itself is inherently evil. We, as a society, define these words by how we choose to use them, and we can disown their use with just as much validity.
The meanings of many swear words change geographically. In America, it is almost inexcusable to use certain terms that in are the day-to-day lingo in Australia. The causes of this change in perception arise out of the cultures of each nation and how their viewpoints on certain issues are handled by the people who choose whether or not to speak outwardly concerning those issues. We in America, apart from certain European nations, are somewhat conservative about our language. Of course, there is a given time and place in which certain words are free to be used constructively with the purpose of inciting an emotional response from a listener or, simply, by the sheer comedy of the words themselves. In the 1970’s there was the controversy of George Carlin’s infamous “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television” bit where he clearly broke the swear-barrier at what seemed like several hundred curses a minute and later formed the basis of the Supreme Court’s decision for the FCC to define exactly what indecent words are and how they can actually be censored without limiting freedom of speech. At the time, these words were hardly allowed the luxury of being bleeped out, and were just left completely unsaid. Comedians were arrested for publicly performing acts that included these words on the charge of disturbing the peace. Nowadays, the situations comedians are allowed to cover are far more sensitive and are open to all words of the language. Professionally, you can say anything you’d like without being arrested for being too lewd, but that doesn’t negate the response to which feelings are elicited from an audience. Just because certain words are allowed to be said does not necessarily entrust their practicality or acceptance in common society.
We can all speak our minds, but when it’s time to swear, and it can be argued that there are most certainly times to swear, think for a second and commit to what you may choose to say because, if it’s pungent enough, you will be expected to either stand by your phrasing or to apologize for it, and it’s far better to be a strong clean-speaker than an apologetic dirty one. Once words are said, they can never be unsaid, and the reaction to whatever’s said may be appropriately outraged or inappropriately admired, and you can’t always know what to expect from people.