Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Swear. On Occasion. Sorry.

I just found out that one of my daughter's friends is now reading my blog, and that made me pause for a moment and reflect frantically, "Have I used any bad words in any of my posts??" Then I remembered that my own daughters read this on occasion, too, and would have let me have it if I had. So, I'm probably good.

Some of you will be stunned to hear that swear words ever pass my lips. Very rarely. Certainly not habitually. Almost never publicly. But I have become something of a connoisseur of language. I love to play around with the cadences . . the rhythm . . the connotations and tones of particular turns of phrase (not that I've become any master at it, yet). And actually, I've found times where the most accurate verbal depiction of a thought, mood or moment included a word my father would have washed my mouth out with soap for.

My youngest and I had a talk about foul language recently. There's a certain "b" word that her father and I long ago labelled as a bad word for her -- a word that is used by almost all of her friends and probably on every kids' TV show she watches. In fact, Keith and I use it, too (she just doesn't hear it). It's not a terrible word. The only reason we told her not to use it is because she had many friends at the time whose parents had forbidden them to use it, and we figured we didn't need to rock the boat there. And also because there are nicer terms for the body part she sits on that we wanted her to learn to use first.

I explained to her that there are different categories of bad words. There are some words that, really, we don't think of as bad -- they're just not as polite as other words, and you should be in the habit of speaking politely. Her "b" word fits that category.

Now, there is another level of words that I have no problem calling unacceptable. They are simply vulgar. You all know the ones I'm talking about. I've known people who were all but unable to communicate without sprinkling every sentence with such vulgarities. I pity them. Such a sad intellectual state to find oneself in. No excuse for that language. Ever.

However, there are other words that, frankly, I don't quite understand why they are considered swear words. They aren't rendered naughty because of the context we use them in -- in fact, we've all found nice substitutes for these words (darn, heck, shoot), and the sweetest, little old religious lady in the world wouldn't blush at the substitutes. Why in the world we decided that the "d" word is shameful, but "darn" is just fine . . . it's beyond me. I mean, a word is a word -- a combination of consonant and vowel sounds. They don't have inherent goodness or badness. Their value is in how they are used. And if the two "d" words are being used in the same exact way, why is one naughty and the other not? Weird.

Basically, I told Eastin, you need to avoid those words for two reasons. One, people will judge you by the way you speak, and many people out there will think less of you for using those words. And two, because it's easy to get into a habit of using such words to add emphasis to anything you say, which is intellectually lazy. Get a vocabulary, dude.

About being judged by how you speak: There was a woman in one of my grad school classes who talked like a hillbilly. She was apparently quite intelligent and all, but she talked like a hillbilly. Ain't this and don't nobody that. She was sharing her frustration with us one day about her recent job search not going well, and the professor wondered aloud if her incorrect grammar had anything to do with it. She blushed and said timidly, "I use bad grammar?" The woman had received a high school diploma and a bachelor's degree, worked in education for two decades, been admitted to a graduate program . . . and nobody in all those years had ever told her she didn't speak correctly. "Can you imagine how many opportunities I may have lost, how many doors may have been closed to me, all because I sound like I'm stupid?" she fumed, "and nobody ever had the guts to tell me?!?"

So, I'm not making light of foul language. Words matter. After all, Jesus is called The Word (John 1). But, I still wish the world could lighten up a bit. I'm actually less worried about my kids using mild swear words than I am about them using hurtful, deceptive, dangerous words. Priorities, people.


Anonymous said...

Sweet niblets! I just can't figure out these gosh darn people with all their dadgum concern for how I speak. You would think that they had more to do with their freakin' time.

(sorry - couldn't resist)

Anonymous said...

as my boys were growing up in addition to the "traditional" swear words, they were brought up that the words stupid and "duh" were also on that list. We find that with children and teenagers, they are never used except in a very mean spirited way and would never be appropriate.
Julie W.

Ona Marae said...


I loved this post and your reasoning is sound. I'm sorry I dogged you about the one are correct, meanspirited hurtful words are far worse than a slightly "blue" word. Thanks for sharing this make me think and I Love that. And your correction is gentle and may not think of it as correction, but it sure was for me tonight. Keep on blogging, Spesh, I love reading it!

Carla said...

Tell Eastin to be careful about using the "substitutes" too because they can sound a lot like the "real deal" when used among those more familiar with the "real deal" than the "substitutes" church going folks like to use. If you have a problem with those kind of swear words than you shouldn't use the substitutes either because they both convey the same attitude.