BY AMY MROTEK
In an ironic dance of doublethink hypocrisy, I’m often offended by people who are easily offended. In my mind, not much good can come out of someone saturated with barriers, pre-conceived notions of conduct and correctives that makes conversation with them a line dance on a dance floor of propriety. And the biggest form of prudish sludge I see seeping my way comes in the package of swearing.
We could easily run down the gamut of swear words now popcorning in our heads. And like that mentally numbered list, there’s an established hierarchy to these words, these silly little lexicon-scarlet letters you wouldn’t say to your grandma.
Some aren’t so bad. You can brush off a damn or hell here and there, no scar damage. Yet those selections only take you so far. The real heavyweights come in words that can’t go in this publication but pack quite the impressionable punch–and for most, not in a good way. Because we’ve become so hardwired to accept right and wrong, to view situations as black or white, our policing of one another permeates the very language that passes through our lips.
Words are nothing more than social constructions. Every arrangement of letters uttered from your mind’s glossary gleans from a great, swirling void of situational context. You don’t need a Ph.D. in linguistics to understand all this, just as you probably don’t remember learning to speak your native language as a crying, pooping, but dizzyingly observant tot. You were sponging up sounds and learning how to properly string them together before you had any sense of what it was you were even doing.
Consider the crown jewel of all swear words. The one you were told you really shouldn’t use, the monopoly holder on taboo, the one I know some full-fledged adults refuse to drop: the f-bomb.
Sit on that one for a moment. A bomb. An actual bomb. We’ve tied the word to a modernized weapon of irrevocable destruction and death rather than just say the thing as-is. How does one tiny word blow up so figuratively out of scale?
And what exactly does this “f” bomb, these four, gasp-ridden letters actually denote? Nothing more than the act prompted to perpetuate our species–or for the poets out there–an expression of intimacy with another, affection and attraction at its peak. Since when does such a thing denote censorship? I mean this in all possible seriousness, suspend your squeamish bristling for one moment and strap on your logic hats. Why do we have a “naughty” word for one of the most basic and beatific acts in the human arsenal? There might be something seriously wrong with us as a society if we’re more insulted by a word connoting the action than we oftentimes are by the action itself.
So what exactly is it about certain words that make some walk on linguistic eggshells? Riddle me this, literary deconstructionists.
Is it perhaps the sensationalism tethered to swears? Explicit language tends to see the light of day to heighten a message already being conveyed, adding emotive gusto, sprinkles on top whatever’s already being said (and who doesn’t love sprinkles?). Yet if this is the reason people shy away from swearing, what an odd chain to lock onto vocabulary. Language is meant to be expressive. You would think the optimal communicative combination would be ideal to any storyteller–which we all inherently are, from every time we write a paper to gabbing with a friend over coffee. Coloring outside the lines with your words and expressions should make someone seem more interesting, more thought provoking, not vulgar, unintelligent or whatever other stigma gets slapped on the swearers of the world.
Perhaps it’s people’s fear of going too far, our politically correct, superego self-corroding down to the syllable. We keep ourselves in line each and every day, going to class (mostly), submitting assignments on time, clocking in work hours, pause, rest, repeat. In order to meet the daily, routine expectations hang gliding around our heads, maybe we stifle the unruly nibbles of ourselves, so much so we don’t realize how stuffy our voice boxes have become.
The result? Incessant judgment of others, up, up and away until we’ve flown ourselves into puritanical orbit, crashing down only when shocked by others who let slip what we’ve been taught not. How confounding is it that we allow such judgments to stack up between ourselves–so much so, someone’s character is called into question by colorful vocabulary. Who does this rigmarole actual help?
The truly sad part is I’ve had to censor myself in writing this article, wanting to splice things up with swear droppings here and there but knowing they would be at the very least editorialized, not actually spelling out the full word. So in writing on swear words, I can’t actually swear.
Proof of the problem right here. And it’s f*cking lame.