I’ve been thinking a lot about vulgar language lately. Recently, another blogger wrote a fine post on this topic, and I responded to it with a comment. I’ve come to no startling, ground-breaking conclusions as I ponder all of this, but I do find myself to be a bit of a hypocrite. I seem to have a very inconsistent criteria for when swearing is appropriate and when it is distasteful. My hypocrisy only gets worse when I sit in judgment about who actually may use such language and who shouldn’t.
For many years I found it very objectionable to hear women, or at least the young ladies I knew when I was younger, use foul language. It apparently bothered my precious world-view that females not always act in a demure manner when speaking or articulating a thought. This, despite the fact that I’ve always considered myself a big, fat liberal who supports the correct social and political agendas for women (i.e. a woman’s right to choose, income parity, sex discrimination/harassment, etc.). I can’t recall exactly when I finally broke free from such chauvinism, but it thankfully did eventually happen.
My own habit of speaking in a coarse manner has declined appreciably since marrying Gorgeous. She never uses vulgarity in any form and is turned off by hearing it. While at home, I usually restrict my own utterances to observations about clueless celebrities (i.e. Justin Bieber), or corporate entities such as insurance companies, cable providers, and financial institutions. Alone in the car, it can be a free-for-all aimed at drivers who tailgate, news commentators on the radio, or the memory of a kid who insulted me back in 7th grade gym class.
Mostly though, my hypocrisy stems from how I perceive its use by others. Vulgarity uttered by strangers out in public is absolutely verboten in my book. I am bothered by gratuitous, vulgar language especially around the elderly and children. However, the same words used by a comedian or celebrity are sometimes absolutely fine in my book. I usually find Chris Rock’s cussing to be insightful and thought-provoking. Ditto for Margaret Cho. Yet, I am just as often turned off by Lewis Black’s profane-laden rants, along with the incessant sexual innuendo of former talk show host Craig Ferguson. Trying to find consistency and clarity in my thinking appears to be a futile exercise.
Public officials such as members of Congress or the President are held to an impossibly high standard for those moments when they slip with a coarse word or thought. We tend to pounce and condemn them with such high moral outrage, especially, apparently, if you host a cable news talk show. A blogger whose views I admire is U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf. Judge Kopf’s commentary on Hercules and the Umpire frequently gets him into hot water because of his tendency to speak his mind in a manner that some think might be unbecoming for a federal judge (see here and here). Not only am I never offended by what the good judge posts, but I am stirred enough to consider and think about his ideas in the same way I do with Chris Rock’s rants on race relations.
Like Gorgeous, one of my absolute closest friends never swears (Hi. D.). I’ve known him for over 20 years, and in all that time I’ve never heard him utter as much as a “hell” or a “damn.” I wouldn’t call him a prude, nor is he an overly religious person. His take on life is hilariously ironic. For a very short time when we both shared a broom closet-sized office, he had me laughing so hard that I barely got any work done. Yet, because I noticed he never swore, I never did either. We never discussed it, nor was I overly-conscious of it. I just didn’t want to offend him, especially in such close quarters.
As kids, we were not allowed to swear at all. My parents did, though, Their usage was fairly soft. I do remember literally having my mouth washed out with soap once by my mother who misheard me speak what she thought was a swear word. Despite my protestations to the contrary, I got to find out what an Irish Spring bath bar tastes like (curiously, it’s similar to Bushmills — give it a try and let me know if you agree). A favorite memory of my dad’s sense of humor is when my mother must have cut herself or dropped something in the kitchen while cooking. She yelled out the S word, and I remember my dad responding, “Honey, did you call me?”
I no longer work in an office full time, and I am spending most of my time at home now. One of the promises I made to myself as I pondered this new chapter in my life, is that I not turn into a caricature of the old curmudgeon who speaks in salty tones and constantly yells back at the TV. I want this time to be an enriching period of personal growth as much as possible. This isn’t to say that the F word won’t come tumbling out of my mouth occasionally. But I do want to try and reign in the language if I can. It never hurts to grow up a bit.
So those are my thoughts on vulgarity. If any of you disagree or find fault with anything I’ve written here, you can just go to hell.