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Four-letter therapy for hard times

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 31, 2009 7:30 AM

As the economy continues to go deeper and deeper into the shitter, many Americans are finding themselves looser with their lips. A recent poll on MSNBC revealed that almost 40 percent of the respondents let obscenities fly in order to cope with the current economic downturn, and a little more than a third of the respondents reported an increase in vulgar language. Some will argue that this increase in F-bombs further evinces the degeneration of American society alongside the failing economy.

What’s the big fuckin’ deal? If Americans find themselves feeling cathartic after letting a obscenity fly in response to another week of plummeting stocks or after losing the job they’ve had for 15 to 20 years, they should be able to do so without castigation or being judged by those that “hold themselves to a higher standard” in their everyday communication.

Opponents to the increase of swearing in today’s society typically argue that the use of obscenities denotes a lack of intelligence or a severe vocabulary deficiency. A young man should describe a young woman he meets at a bar as “callipygian” to his friends instead of saying that she has a “nice ass.” Both are equally focused on objectifying the young woman. However, one is more erudite; thus, the former description is better simply because society has decided that short, harsh words such as “ass” are offensive. Just because a word has more than four syllables or a Latin root doesn’t make the word less insulting or less demeaning.

As George Carlin routinely pointed out, words are just words. It’s the intent of the speaker that matters. You read a Tweet that says: “I just got fired and my wife’s 401K was destroyed by the failed market, FML.” Or if your friend sends you a text message stating: “My car won’t start; I just spent $900 to fix it! WTF?” The intent of using the expletive is still present even if the four-letter word wasn’t used. The letter “F” isn’t less offensive just because three subsequent letters were left off.

It’s no different when people use “poo,” “dang,” or “cheese and rice” for “shit,” “damn” and “Jesus Christ”. The intent is still communicated. The expression of anger, frustration, or disbelief is the ultimate goal. So why use the vulgar words instead of a societally approved choice? Sometimes it just feels better to drop “sonofabitch” than it does “sugar cookie.”

Regardless if a person is described as “carnaptious” or “pissy,” the end result is the same: A negative description of the person is communicated. Of course, this assumes your audience has any idea was “carnaptious” means. Word choice is a means to an end of effective communication. Every generation and society will decide to communicate differently, for better or worse.

Certainly there are situations in which word choice may be ill-advised or even detrimental to effective communication. However, at the end of the day, the F-bomb is less harmful to society than gender-based, sexual orientation-based, ethnic, or religious slurs. The use of disparaging remarks, such as the ones used by state Sen. Jack Hatch last week, is far more indicative of poor education, malice, and intolerance toward a particular group than the use of “dirty words.”


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