When he was just a wee thing, my son reported to me, in a scandalous hush, that another boy had said the “S” word at school.
The boy had told someone to “shut up.”
Suppressing a smile and feigning outrage, I was inwardly proud that he considered the phrase obscene. It was a sign that our efforts to create a climate of respect at home had taken hold.
Unfortunately, he has since grown up in a society in which increasing numbers of folks have lost the ability to ever express themselves without profanity. If you haven’t noticed, the “F” word has become synonymous with “really,” to add emphasis to one’s point. For example, instead of saying that coffee was really hot, it was “f—ing” hot.
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I was reminded of this trend by a Star-Telegram reader who, presumably only half-serious, wrote “Can I take back my vote for Beto?” because on election night, Texas U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke had enthusiastically told supporters in his nationally televised concession speech, “I’m so f—ing proud of you guys.”
Other examples are all around you, especially in our sports and entertainment culture. Actor Robert De Niro famously cursed the president with the “F” word more than once during this summer’s live Tony Awards broadcast. And, unfortunately, whereas networks used to bleep such outbursts, today they merely apologize afterward, if at all.
What’s worse, growing numbers of Americans not only accept public profanity but revel in it. De Niro was vigorously applauded. And the cussing is being cheered on by audiences more venerable than actors and singers: In a report headlined “How to get ahead at work: Learn how to cuss,” CBS News notes that a professor at the University of California San Diego claims cussing at work “can be a persuasive tool that conveys enthusiasm and honesty.”
“Swear more to express yourself as an individual. Everybody’s $#*% doing it!” writes website AtlasObscura.com.
ScienceDaily.com writes that “people who frequently curse are being more honest.” Even National Geographic opines that, “Swearing is good for you.”
Of course the rest of that National Geographic headline reads, “And chimps do it, too.” Well, there you go. You’ve got a green light from the Planet of the Apes. How comforting!
I’m no prude. All manner of plumbing, hardware and repair jobs have felt my mighty verbal wrath. But even if cussing were good for you as an individual — I would argue that, to the contrary, gratuitous swearing makes one look either under-educated, poorly bred or linguistically lazy — I’ll never believe it’s good for society.
“Profanity degrades those who use it and those who hear it,” former Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell writes. “It coarsens human interaction. It speaks to the lowest impulses in us. Profanity combines with the increasing incivility and crude sexual talk in our society to demean our conversation. These evils assault and besmirch our very civilization.”
Nowhere is a demeaned civilization more hilariously or frighteningly depicted than in the cult-hit science fiction farce “Idiocracy” (warning: language).
Our language is rich with alternatives to coarse, over-used, brainless invectives. Why impoverish the public discourse so?