Monday, September 9, 2013

Spicy sentence enhancers...

This morning, I woke up at about 6:00am.  As is my habit, I checked my favorite sites on my iPad while I struggled to shake the sleep out of my brain.  I stopped by RfM, where someone had written a post about "learning how to swear" as an exMormon.  The author of the post on RfM admitted that swearing was weird for him and, in fact, he missed hanging around Mormons because they don't tend to use filthy language.  Swear words make the poster uncomfortable, probably because he has been thoroughly trained to think of them as "bad".  

Having never been a Mormon myself and having married an exMormon convert, I must admit learning to swear was never a problem for me.  I've been swearing for most of my life, sometimes at terribly inappropriate times and even less appropriate places.

It's not because I wasn't taught better.  Though my mother has never been above a few random epithets, my dad, despite his almost 22 years in the Air Force, has always been someone with a relatively clean mouth.  His mother, my much beloved Granny, also kept her language clean.  My dad's father, known as Pappy, apparently had no issues with swearing.  I never really knew Pappy; he died when I was two years old.  But I have heard the stories... I think my dad resolved not to cuss because he and his father did not get along and he didn't want to be like him.  Unfortunately, my dad did inherit an ugly problem from his father, the propensity to drink to excess and then turn into an asshole.  My father's frequent asshole behavior was stressful for me when I was growing up.  Perhaps that, and the fact that I enjoy shocking people, is one reason why I have such a potty mouth sometimes.

Even when he just thought it sounded like I was going to cuss, my dad would knock me upside the head and scold me for my use of "bad language".  I can't say that made me respect him more.  In fact, it generally made my urge to cuss even stronger.  How else was I going to process my anger at the fact that someone bigger, stronger, and at least at that time, in control of me, had the "right" to strike me?  I figured a little swearing was better than the alternative.

As I grew up, I remember many people chastising me for my language.  My father would often accuse me of laziness when he would hear me use off color language.  He had that opinion, along with a propensity toward spankings, in common with Pat Boone, who wrote in his book, 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty,

“Bad language is a dead giveaway that the user is covering up ignorance (he doesn’t know what he’s talking about) or is pretty lazy (he knows, but he won’t take the trouble to say it). Or, worst of all, that he thinks it’s smart!”

Also on swearing—“We’ll assume ladies never develop the above mentioned habit—I hope—I hope!!”

Guess to Pat Boone, I'm not much of a lady...     

Ironically, I recently read Pat Boone's daughter's book, Heaven Hears, which is about her son, Ryan Corbin's, accident that led to a traumatic brain injury.  After falling through a skylight in 2001, Ryan Corbin suffered catastrophic injuries.  He was not expected to live.  His mother, Lindy Boone Michaelis, explains that she was taught not to swear and never has.  However, when her son started to come out of his coma, he used a lot of filthy language that before his accident, he never would have allowed past his lips.  Lindy wisely realizes that it's a blessing that her son is able to speak.  Yes, it was hard for her to get used to hearing her son use foul language, but she understands that at least he can still communicate.  Many people thought he would have died a long time ago.  In the grand scheme of things, Ryan Corbin's new penchant for swearing is not a big deal at all.  In fact, it's kind of a miracle.

Anyway, as I got older, I continued to use language that some didn't appreciate, especially when I worked at a church camp.  On the other hand, there were other people who didn't mind my more colorful epithets and even found them funny.  Most of these folks have turned out to be valued friends.  The ones who would dump me over a few four letter words were probably never friends to start with.

When I was confronted about my language by well-meaning friends and family, I was often told that people who use filthy language are lazy and uneducated.  I have never found that to be true, though.  Yes, it's true that one often hears gutter language in places where learning is not high on the list of priorities.  I can't say that necessarily has anything to do with a person's intelligence, though.  If you are in a place where there isn't a lot of sunshine and rainbows, why wouldn't you use language that reflects that reality?

My hero, George Carlin, had a lot to say about so-called swear words.  Indeed, Carlin was a big time cusser.  He was no dummy, though.  In fact, he often made excellent sense, which is why so many people enjoyed his comedy.

George Carlin swears a lot in this... but makes a lot of sense.

As Carlin says in the above clip, "they're only words".  They are a manmade creation and their offensiveness is highly subjective.  Why should we be afraid of them?  In England, if I say the word "fag", no one will bat an eye.  In America, I might be accused of hate speech.  In America, I can use the word "bloody" and no one will care.  In England, the word bloody is an epithet, that in some circles, might raise a few eyebrows.  If we're speaking the same language, why should saying these two words have such different effects on two different groups of people?  Because the local populace has somehow decided the words are "offensive" because they convey something unpleasant.  But life is not always pleasant.  Using "clean" language all the time will not change that reality.  Words are neutral.  Context is what you should be paying attention to, not "bad words".

Deciding to only use "clean" language and looking down on people whose language does not meet your standards can be a big mistake.  When you decide someone is bad company because they swear more than you think is acceptable, you could be missing out on knowing a good person.  Personally, I take a dim view of people who feel they have the right to tell other people what kind of language to use.  The only exception I would make to this rule is when children are involved.  But that's only because children do need to be taught when it's appropriate to swear and when it's not.  In our society, it's not appropriate (in most situations) to swear during a job interview or in church, for instance.

On the other hand, it's also not appropriate to teach children that certain words are "bad", especially if it turns the kid into a language cop who chastises adults for their use of so-called spicy sentence enhancers.  All words have their place in language.  They are like colors on a palette, adding detail and character to language... making it interesting and enhancing what is being said.  I think of some of the great writers who have contributed literature that contains objectionable language.  How many times have people tried to ban books by Mark Twain or Kurt Vonnegut or J.D. Salinger because of the "language" they used?  What a loss it would be if people couldn't read those books.  Kurt Vonnegut helped me survive high school.  Pat Conroy, who also uses salty language, helped me survive young adulthood.  I've always gotten tremendous comfort from his books, despite his liberal use of "bad words".

Yesterday, someone visited my Dungeon Of The Past blog and posted this video...

Okay... well, I admit this song kind of annoyed me a bit... maybe I'm getting old.  There is such a thing as overkill.  Spicy sentence enhancers are supposed to be spicy.  But if you overload something with them, they become overpowering to the point of being boring.  I don't really find the words themselves, at least as they are used in this song, that offensive.  They're just words, after all.  Some people like this song.  I like the video for sure, especially when the little girl looks shocked as she covers her ears.

I remember one time when my dear husband accidentally offended my dad.  Bill is a very polite man.  He is a southern gentleman who always thinks of others before he thinks of himself.  However, he is not immune to using swear words sometimes.  One time, I used the expression "charlie foxtrot" in front of my dad.  Now, since my dad is a military man and has no doubt heard all kinds of profanity-- or so we thought-- we figured he knew what that was a euphemism for.  But he didn't know, so Bill leaned over and said, "Sir, it means 'cluster fuck'."  My dad's jaw dropped and his face turned red.  You would have thought Bill had called my grandmother a filthy name.  My dad was shocked.  Bill wasn't trying to offend him, though.   He was helpfully explaining to my dad what "charlie foxtrot" means and was very surprised that he didn't already know.  We still laugh about that today, especially since I am my dad's daughter and I have always had a mouth like a sailor.  You'd think I would have broken him in.

Anyway, I don't think people who swear are necessarily wrong to swear.  I don't think swearing is a sign of laziness or a lack of intellect.  People curse for all kinds of reasons.  But if the worst you can say about someone is that they have a potty mouth, they're probably still decent folks who are worth knowing.  And sometimes, a good hearty "fuck you" hurled at someone who deserves it can be very liberating.  Indeed, some people could really use a means of blowing off steam.  I once read a comment in a book about famously uptight singing duo, The Carpenters, that if Karen Carpenter had only learned to vent a bit, even if it was with the f-word, she might still be alive today.  Hell, sometimes a well-placed swear word can help you avoid uncomfortable situations... maybe even for the rest of your life.

Think these guys will be coming back?

It's true that language can sometimes be hurtful and demeaning, but it's smart to look at the context of what people are actually communicating before getting upset.  That takes a lot more effort than just banning certain words for being potentially objectionable.  It's a lot easier to tell someone not to use the word "fuck" than actually exploring whether or not the word has been used in a way that is truly offensive.  It's easy to get bent out of shape over the fact that a person says a word that is considered "bad".  It's harder to get upset if you realize the way the word was used is not really offensive and, in fact, might even be funny.  But doing that requires thinking, which is more than a lot of people are willing to take the time to do.

I am currently reading a book about swearing by Melissa Mohr called Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing.  When I have finished reading this book, I am sure I will have even more to write on this subject.


  1. Pat wouldn't consider me much of a lady, either. We KNOW what Pat would like to do with females such as ourselves.

    1. He'd be breaking out the sewing machine belt for sure.


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