Living in This World

On Language

I rose earlier than usual this morning to attend a breakfast meeting in Old Mill Town, and to prepare for the drive, I stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts for a serious cup of coffee.

there I "enjoyed" listening to the casual profanity of the
employees, who seemed happy to use F-&-$-%-I-N’  wherever "very" would

It’s not that I never use a bad word, but I seem to be noticing that the sort of language reserved for times of bone-breaks, battlefields, life-threatening shocks and childbirth is now used commonly to refer to such inconveniences as the incorrect folding of boxes intended to hold Munchkins.

The nice young man waiting on me was also the store manager. I told him in the nicest possible way that while I understood we live in a society of diminished civility, the language I overheard did not make me eager to return.

I may change my mind when I need another serious cup of coffee.

14 thoughts on “On Language”

  1. I think about this sometimes, because I’m intrigued by the way that profanities seem to be grouped around one cultural object (used to be Christ’s wounds, now it’s largely sexual terms), and also, how they work their way through various groups in society: men to women to children, lower class to middle class to upper class.
    There was a movie on f*$# last year, I think, and I didn’t see it. And it’s a project that I’ve never taken on, but I have a theory that if you could track the progress of the words through the classes, that you would then see the words changing as soon as everyone is using them.

  2. Think of how many words we consider profanities are words that have to do with the human body. It does say something about our culture’s attitude toward the body, doesn’t it?

  3. That f word is being used by the very youngest of children now. That has been a change I have seen within the past five years. This tells me it is a typical word in their home (along with the others). It pains me…
    And they know not what they are saying…..

  4. sad isn’t it that so much bad language seems to be acceptable- interesting point made by Jo(e)- I wonder how we can adress the problem – image and insult seem to go hand in hand!

  5. I don’t even like the “acceptable” substitution of ‘frickin’ that so many of the kids use around here. True, it isn’t the hardcore word, yet something about the usage and intonation makes it seem the same. Then again, I came from a family where we weren’t allowed to say “I swear.” (Now that I think about it, we used substitutions, too. “I swaney” was the most common!)

  6. It’s horribly easy to slip into offensive language, once the meaning and the intention are divorced. I want to curl up and hide periodically as I listen to my kids…but I also know that their attitudes are much kinder and more balanced than this might suggest.
    I suspect it’s not straightforward, but that there are definitely times when there is neither need nor excuse for what actually emerges from the mouth…

  7. I was going to make jo(e)’s point. In Spain, the most common swear words are religious, some sort of denigration of the Virgin Mary or the consecrated host. One of my favorites is me cago en Dios!, “I shit on God.” (which, of course, wouldn’t be a particularly powerful thing to say if you had no belief in God.)

  8. Why are there swear words or obscenities at all? Why aren’t defecate, urinate and copulate considered swears when they mean exactly the same thing as their swear counterparts?

  9. Casual use of profanity is common in England too.
    The reason is, I believe, because our television culture uses it so frequently that it has lost its shock value. People use it within normal discourse and are barely aware they’re doing so.
    The one remaining taboo word was ‘C U N(ext)T(uesday)’ but with ‘Kill Bill’ – containing several uses of the word – being broadcast at 10pm a couple of weeks ago we are really only a short time away for that to be a regular tv treat.
    It’s practically impossible to fight the overwhelming influence of an ever-coarsening culture. How we can raise our kids to be better than the society they live in I do not know.

  10. Hi, Julius, and thanks for your comment. I often hear profanity in public; for instance I have stood, shocked, listening to a young woman talking on her cell phone in line at the grocery store and unleashing a string of profane modifiers. What surprised me this time was having the persons employed in the business talking that way where the public could hear them. Too much.

  11. Too much, indeed… and I am one that uses cuss words for emphasis. I do remember going to college in the south with my ‘My Cousin Vinny’ grammar intact and finally being told I sounded like a trucker.
    Jane Dark, great insights. Thank you.

  12. Jane – there are, in fact, many sociolinguists who track the progress of words and other linguistic innovations through social classes/gender/age groups. As far as I can remember, change tends to start with young (teenage) women in particular, with middle-aged men being the very last group to adopt new terms or expressions. Lots out there, I can even point you to studies if you’re curious. *grin*
    Swears in Quebec are also very much religious in nature (chalice, tabernacle, host, etc), though that is shifting as more anglo words are simply imported. One of the strangest things to me is hearing francophones use anglo swears with not quite the right understanding of their taboo-ness (especially shocking when they are used too flippantly, i.e. when they are clearly not intended to be as shocking as they are perceived to be). Fascinating stuff, really.

  13. parodie, I would certainly *love* to be pointed in the direction of studies on that…and I’m not at all surprised to know that others are already working on it.

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