I've been thinking a lot about words lately. (I tend to do that.)
Most recently, I've been thinking about "bad" words--the ones we (or I) tend to avoid in polite company. It seems to me that the line separating "nice" words from naughty ones has shifted over the last generation and that expressions that were once considered vulgar are not anymore.
For example, here are a few words that I would not necessarily label as obscene but that I still think are inappropriate in most situations because of their coarseness:
I also cringe when I hear people using what I think are "soft" ways to take the Lord's name in vain:
"Oh my God" or "OMG"
"Christ" (used as an interjection)
etc. (there are many variations of this--even "my gosh" and "golly gee" and "gee whiz" are permutations of the names of the Father and the Son)
And yet I see and hear them everywhere--on the radio and television, in status updates on Facebook, on blogs, and in everyday conversation--and from what I can tell I think I'm in the minority when I cringe at their usage. Am I wrong about that? Do any of you cringe, too? Or is it just me?
A few months ago President Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, got some grief for his pejorative use of the word "retard." That word was prefaced by another one that started with the letter "f" and ended with "-ing." I remarked at the time that I was more offended by the obscenity than I was by the word "retard." A friend of mine who has a Down syndrome child explained to me why for her it was the other way around--she was much more insulted by the use of the word "retard" than by the obscenity. I understand her point. But I find it revealing that I heard nothing at all in the mainstream media that was critical of Mr. Emanuel for the profanity. It seems that we have become so hardened to that sort of language that no one thinks anything of it anymore.
I am not saying that I never let a naughty word slip. My go-to profanity is the one that starts with "s" and ends with "t." It comes out when I stub my toe or break a dish or spill something or look in the rearview mirror and see flashing red lights coming up behind me. But after I use it I feel ashamed and remorseful that I descended to that level. What good did it do?
Come to think of it, that is about the only bad word that ever escapes my lips. It seems fitting somehow when something icky happens to use a word that names something icky. Maybe I'm rationalizing, but to me the "f" word seems so much worse. I can't make myself say it if I try. For me it is not just a passing expression but a word that invokes all sorts of things and has a power far beyond itself. It also horribly degrades one of God's precious gifts to humankind. And yet that's the word that everyone seems to be using and no one, not even the President of the United States, seems to mind. I find it beyond offensive that neither the President nore the Vice-President seem at all concerned about what sort of example they are setting for young people when they can so easily laugh something like this off.
So what do you think? Am I being hopelessly silly and pietistic? Am I attributing power to language that it doesn't or shouldn't have?
Maybe I am overly sensitive because of my upbringing. My father was an alcoholic who, when he was drinking, have a pretty salty vocabulary. He was also what he referred to as a "shade tree mechanic." I vividly recall multiple incidences of his working on our cars in the driveway and venting his frustration with the cursed machines through a steady outpouring of profanities, most commonly the "G.D." one, that must have been heard throughout the neighborhood. It was painful then and painful now to think of.
I wonder if my adult intolerance for just about any raw language is kind of like an allergic reaction. Allergies can occur when you go from excessive exposure to a substance to not being around that substance for a very long time. When the substance is reintroduced, there is no tolerance at all for it, and an allergy is born. My father was also a chain smoker, so I grew up breathing smoke. Now I can't be around cigarette smoke without a severe allergic reaction. Maybe it's the same with the language. I got enough of it my first 18 years to last the rest of my
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. What words bother you, if any? Do you think our society has become generally desensitized to obscenity? And if so, do you think it matters?