swearing follow up

Great comments on the Swearing post. Who knew? Sheila’s comment, in particular, reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with someone. We were talking about how some people use “fuck” as punctuation. Of course my addled brain can’t come up with an example right now. Investigating this might make listening to those teenagers a lot less tedious. Linguistic research, haha!

As I hope was clear in the original post, the argument against swearing that I find most compelling is the laziness argument. It is lazy use of language sometimes. And sometimes laziness is fine. But a lot of the time, we should just try harder to express whatever emotion we want to express. And having a wider vocabulary is always more interesting than using the same words all the time, regardless of whether they are swear words or not. I think of Julie’s attempts in her Bravewriter materials to get kids to go beyond “cool” as a description. Or my attempt to get Tigger to go beyond “it was good” when telling me about a book she read.

Which comes back around to the original point (mine and Pinker’s, I think), that swear words are not any different from other words. Yes, sometimes we want to offend or shock people. Yes, sometimes we want to insult or humiliate people. Yes, sometimes we want punctuation in oral speech. Far better to focus on expanding vocabulary and dealing with uncomfortable emotions than to make a list of “naughty” words.

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6 thoughts on “swearing follow up

  1. This has been all so thought provoking. I do agree that there is lazy swearing, but then again, it is quite enjoyable in educated circles as well. I rather enjoy it, but do feel quite stymied in most homeschooling circles who are more uptight.

    I can tell you that I actually now gravitate toward any homeschoolers I meet who can comfortable let a swear word out in public, for I know I have found someone whose panties aren’t in a bunch about words!
    Incidentally, I let my teens swear when it is NOT directed at someone else. I agree, it is quite different to tell as story about when they slipped in the yard and landed their head in a pile of sh*t (dog) than when they call each other sh*thead. They know enough to know what situations require filters: around grandparents, little kids, and at co-op.

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  2. I’ve told Violet, because I think she can understand, that the reason we put some restrictions on language (in our house, with little ones, we still get a lot of poop, pee, fart extravaganzas) is that kids are still learning the concept of “appropriate time and place” and the comic rule that “once is funny, twice is tolerable, three times is too much.”

    On a related note: I just wrote a comment to a radio program about a piece they did. Without getting into specifics, I suggested that the problem isn’t that people are too uptight about things like sex, but rather that we live in a world where every detail of our lives (and inherently of the lives of people we have relationships with) is supposed to be an open book to discuss with anyone who is curious.

    To me, cutting loose with language implies a kind of familiarity. When my husband or good friends swear around me I barely notice. In public place or large group settings, it totally raises my hackles.

    Language has a lot of functions — it can show respect or a lack thereof, it establishes distance or closeness, it can establish a power relationship. Swearing and other overly familiar language from someone you’re not close to presumes a relationship that isn’t there and that you may not want.

    In the case of my grad school prof, for example, he used F*** in a way that immediately cut through regular classroom rhetoric, simultaneously establishing his status as the one in control, and bringing the 12 of us into a little tighter community.

    Letting a swear word fly in a social setting is a cue that “hey, we’re all friends here” and “we can speak freely.” Which is great — except when you’re not all friends yet.

    Obviously there’s a hierarchy of swear words, not unlike progressing from 1st base to home plate in dating parlance. “He**” and “damn” are not quite “sh**” which is still a ways from “f***” which is still a ways from the C word. I’d guess that in practice a lot of people unconsciously round those “language bases” in their relationships.

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  3. Hhhmm, as a person who swore as a teen, to one who decided to stop as an adult, I wonder if it was just sheer habit, from my perspective. Everyone around me at school swore, and I didn’t have any principles dictating one way or the other, so I conformed to that habit.

    Once I chose to stop swearing, I had to actively think of other ways to express what swearing did so previously, so that certainly can move into the “lazy” department beforehand. As an at-home-mother, I am not in any environment that promotes or produces swearing on a consistent basis. That said, now that I don’t swear, my children by example don’t swear, and most of the environments we are in don’t swear. Therefore, when I hear a profanity, it is pronounced in my perspective.

    I don’t like it, so I now think it is all about, of course, the negative connotation associated with it. If I hear it, depending on who and what context, I usually judge the use as: habit, laziness, conformist, environmentally-influenced, or uneducated.

    Last, though I won’t fault anyone the use of any language they prefer, if it is in excess, I will excuse myself. If it is periodic, I may stick around; it would depend on what type of profanity is used. Emotion and humans go together; having an emotional connotation to words is simply human nature.

    Some thoughts to your topic . . .
    -Cindy

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  4. Thanks for the long comments (and keep them coming if anyone else is minded to chime in). This has turned into a really interesting discussion. I love hearing other people’s perspectives, and I think Shaun is onto something their with the familiarity aspect.

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  5. This is such an interesting topic and one that is really timely for me as my 11 yo son is beginning to learn some swear words and inquire about them and even try a few out (mostly he just uses “cr*p” when he’s mad). I don’t swear much as I was raised not to (I did more in college and early adulthood but consciously stopped later on), my husband does more than I do, and I’ve always planned to teach my children not to swear. But as usual my oldest is forcing me to challenge my thoughts about the subject and figure out what I really think and what is really important to me about it. You all have helped to point out some things I hadn’t thought of and also to solidify thoughts I’d been having on the subject (ie. swearing as a lazy use of language and how/when swearing is used determining its approriateness). All so interesting and helpful – thanks for writing on this topic, JOve!

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  6. I find a lot of it is substitution, since I say a few words myself, but usually safe ones – crap, frig, shoot. It’s partly habitual.

    And yes, it’s been a great conversation, but the overriding animal 12 year old boy part of my brain can’t think of anything articulate to say on the subject other than…

    Remember that episode of Spongebob where he and Patrick found out about “sentence enhancers”? 😀

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