My complicated relationship with profanity

My complicated relationship with profanity

I don’t swear.

Not ever, at least not spontaneously. Oh, I can quote someone else using profanity…I’m not afraid of the words, or incapable of using them. I suppose at some point, I made a conscious choice not to do it, but it’s natural now.

I’ve had people ask about situations where I would hypothetically respond reflexively…when injured or angry. Nope, not then, either.

That seems to suggest that I have to make a mental effort to prevent profanity from erupting, and that’s simply not the case. I don’t notice that I’m about to swear and stop it…I don’t have the urge in the first place**. I know I have an unusual amount of self-awareness and engagement of the superego. Maybe that comes from having been an actor years ago, or my decades as a trainer in front of people…I’m very conscious of the impression I am making on other people…my kinesthetic awareness tells me if I’m crossing my arms, covering my mouth, and so on…just about all the time. From having successfully trained many trainers, I can tell you that the vast majority of people don’t know those things.

I’m not saying that they should, by the way! It makes it sound like a superpower, like a spidey sense…but it also does potentially reduce spontaneity.

The same is true about how I feel about swearing. I have no problem with other people using those words. I don’t think there should be any legal restriction on any individual words…and yes, that would include ethnic slurs. If writers use the “F word”, even in the context of sexual activity, in movies or on TV, that should be fine.

I would like warning, so I can choose not to watch that show, but it shouldn’t be prohibited.

Would I choose not to watch that show?

No. I watch shows and read books where I know those words will be used.

I just don’t use them myself…well, not “just“, and that’s where this begins to affect you in some small ways.

I’ve been doing a lot more on Twitter in the past…oh, I’m guessing six months (although I’m not good on time). Twitter clearly doesn’t censor “four letter words”. I don’t tend to retweet those, even if I otherwise think it’s an interesting post. I don’t tend to follow people who put those words in their profiles (whereas, generally, I’d say I’m a prolific follower…I follow a lot more people than follow me).

Even stronger than, say, the “F word” for me are “profane” words that target specific groups, even those may be seen as more mild for most people. Perhaps the best example is the “b word” (the one that rhymes with “twitch”). That one has a context in which it has none of those connotations…it describes a female dog (and some other species). I’ve always found it odd that comparing someone to a non-human animal can be seen as a great insult. I’ve pointed out that a direct analog to the common insult which SOB abbreviates is “puppy”. However, I don’t think most people would feel the same if a character in a book said, “I’m going to get that puppy,” the same way they would if the character said, “I’m going to get that son of a b**ch”.

Even though some now use it for males, it’s specifically targeted at females…it’s basically the definition of the word. So, even if there is someone I commonly retweet (which doesn’t necessarily mean that I agree with what they say…it means I find it interesting, and think others might. In many cases, though, I do agree) says something like, “I’m sticking to my diet…I’ve made chocolate my b—-“, I won’t retweet it. That use of the word, meaning that you completely dominate it, particularly bothers me given the female context (women, who are a majority, have traditionally in many societies had less power).

I just ran into this with an article I “flipped” into one of my Flipboard magazines this morning. It was recommending apps, some of which seemed very useful. In the last review, though, the author used the “S word”. I still flipped it…but I wouldn’t have retweeted it if it was a tweet (the magazines seem different from tweets…more “opt in”).

That word has become much more acceptable. That happens over time: words which you would never have heard on TV in the 1960s are now commonly used. It’s still “on my list”, though.

So, I don’t want anything that stops anybody from using profanity in any context. Words are different from actions. I had a headshaker when someone tweeted an apparently sincere question suggesting that writing a fictional child sex scene was the same as producing child pornography (photographs or video)…the latter in which actual children are victimized, presumably. That’s as if there is no difference between thoughts and actions. I have to presume that the same person would say that someone who writes a murder mystery should be tried for murder… 😉 I know that’s likely not the case, but people should be able to write fictionally about anything, in my opinion. Again, I’d love warnings about content, but that’s my preference.

However, writers use of profanity may mean that I don’t share it in the same way, even if I otherwise would have.

One more point: I saw suggested recently that some words being acceptable and some not (feces versus the “S word”) had roots in classism…that words used by the less educated (and typically poorer economically) class were considered “bad” and the ones used by the elite were “good”. I need to look into that, but it’s an eye-opening perspective if true.

What do you think? Do you use profanity in your day-to-day life? I responded to a tweet where someone asked if there was anybody out there who didn’t, since they had never met anybody. If so, under what circumstances? Does knowing that there will be profanity in a book affect whether you would read it or not? Does it affect how you share things? If you don’t think you (or other people, say, children) should be exposed to profanity, what do you want done about it? Should restrictions be made by the government? Do you want content warnings…and if so, who should decide what they are? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog


4 Responses to “My complicated relationship with profanity”

  1. Phink Says:

    I recently bought a 2015 Chevy Volt which I named Voltemort and am considering a window decal that reads “I solemnly swear……a lot”. My friends got me a really nice looking Voltemort vanity plate. In Arkansas we are not required to have a license plate on front so that’s nice. I will tweet the vanity plate to you so you can see it.

  2. Robert Poss Says:

    Diane Ackerman touches on acceptable versus profane language customs in her A Natural History of the Senses. She contrasts the French with the Saxon after William the Conqueror: “urine” vs “piss,” “perspiration” vs “sweat.” The French “fornicate” and “excrement” are polite. The Saxon words for these are still considered rude. This was, I think, my introduction to this idea and I find it sensible and fascinating.

    I use considerably less profane language than I once did. Not sure why. There are still a few words and phrases that are just regular parts of my speaking vocabulary, but I respect (and enjoy) being polite so their use is easily, naturally sorta situationally limited.

    A very interesting, personal, thought-provoking post. Thanks. And Happy New Year.

  3. bfree2read Says:

    Interesting post.

    Do you use profanity in your day-to-day life? No

    Does knowing that there will be profanity in a book affect whether you would read it or not? No. However if it is excessive (i.e., constant use gets old FAST when not relevant to the storyline) the book will be set aside to find a more interesting book.

    Does it affect how you share things? Will warn those who may be sensitive about profanity, etc.

    If you don’t think you (or other people, say, children) should be exposed to profanity, what do you want done about it? That is up to the parent to decide. My mother did not restrict my reading when I was a child but not all parents are as lenient.

    Should restrictions be made by the government? No

    Do you want content warnings? Appreciate when they are given.

  4. BG Says:

    I’m similar in my non-use of profanity, but I still had to smile when George Carlin talked about words. For example, he said:”Why is it OK to say you pricked your finger, but not OK to say you fingered your prick?”

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