The preferred expletive is one we once avoided in polite company, but it has become so pervasive in our rapid-fire digital communications environment that one would have to shut off all equipment to be expletive free. Even when that specific expletive – a crude term for a particularly beautiful act between loving adults – is not used directly, we have found ways (once called “minced oath”) to express it without much question as to what is being said – WTF, f***, and my favorite, “freaking,” as used in the phrase “that freaking a-hole.”
The last phrase, of course, includes one of the other favored profanities. It’s interesting that we use words that refer to sex acts, defecation, genitals and blasphemy – all of which I can legally and properly write in a public space but I can’t use the more colloquial references. Fascinating.
The famous George Carlin rant about profanity centered on seven words banned from broadcasting by the FCC, and he kept that greatest hit going throughout his career. I will link to a kinetic type variation on the theme, but not embed because, it, of course, ends with the seven words. Even today, when seen on cable television, Jon Stewart’s team has to “bleep” the words when they use them. Company is not as polite as it once was, and profanity has found more public expression.
It Comes Naturally
Profanity has never been far from our lips. Humanity under pressure has always needed release, and crude references to body functions or blasphemous prayers for condemnation have provided a convenient valve. A neurologic experiment with college students even demonstrated that the use of profanity can relieve pain.
Linguistically Tip-Toeing around a 3-Year-Old
But, really, are those specific words necessary? I enjoyed a brief four-day visit with my daughter and 3-year-old granddaughter just before Thanksgiving. At her age, Emeleia is a sponge for vocabulary, and I am afraid she may have absorbed several off-color words during a rush-hour drive to my niece’s house. I was not aware that Emeleia caught some of the curse words I uttered, however, her mother assured me they were recorded for future use. But cross-town traffic was not the only time my eagerness and uninhibited conversations with my daughter led to improper influences. I am now being credited – or indicted, depending on your perspective – with Emeleia’s use of “gangnam style.”
If we are going to use crude language, now arcane minced oaths might be an acceptable solution, particularly in the company of elementary-aged children. Be aware, however, that “dadgummit” and “goldarnit” are still euphemisms for God’s name in vain.
Paying Attention to the Words
We can accept profanity in its role of unconscious release, but in daily talk, perhaps we could pay more attention to the words we use. When we’re with client, or collaborating with coworkers, when we’re in a public place, it pays to “watch” our language – to think before we speak. I have a number of professional and social situations seared into my soul when I spoke badly. I’m sure it didn’t earn respect among my peers when I did it, and one usually cannot walk it back once it’s said.
Of course, there’s another level of profanity as well, bad language that does not use forbidden or crude words. Speaking ill of another based on attributes beyond their control – race, disability, gender, nationality/ethnicity – is crude and, in most company, unacceptable. Even application of things that a person chooses – religion, politics, musical instrument – is not good language when the choice is irrelevant to the conversation and derogatory to the individual. There’s probably a good joke about guitar players I could insert here, but I won’t.
Some benefit can be derived, as well, to thinking before speaking. When we consider our words, we use better language, we achieve greater clarity and our conversations, emails and tweets are more effective. Precise language does not require formal training or a written outline. All you need to do is make the commitment. Decide to be intentional with your speech, to read the words you are typing on the screen. Take a deep breath and make every word count.
San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford is half of Extraordinary Words, providing effective communications for business and non-profit development. You can find Extraordinary Words on Facebook, LinkedIn and its website. You can read more of gary’s writing on his personal blog and by searching The Rivard Report for “Every Word Counts.”