Language, please

I never meant for this blog to become a series of vented frustrations, but here we are.

For what it’s worth, I hope to diversify my output in the future. If you’d like to read something here that’s nice, I still like my post about The Song of Bernadette. I hope to write more about other movies and books I’ve enjoyed, but right now I’m still making my way through The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. Somehow I doubt I’ll be reviewing it, because the scope of it is immense.

Onward.

Onward to the unrelated subject of grown adults with chronic potty-mouth syndrome.

As a child, I heard my mom say the “F-word” once, in anger, during an argument with my dad that I was eavesdropping on. Foul language was not a part of my early upbringing. I once chastised my aunt for saying the word “stupid.” At the time, the word “stupid” was just about the worst word I knew.

But it’s impossible to avoid hearing bad language unless you’re a completely sheltered individual. My brothers and I weren’t home schooled. We had television. We played video games. Eventually, we had internet access at home. My dad let us rent PG-13 movies much earlier than my mom would have preferred. If anyone else has had an experience wherein your mom overheard the line “Suck my white ass, ball!” while Happy Gilmore was playing, I’d love to hear from you. HOO BOY.

When I was 17, I said the “F-word” in front of my mom for the first time. I can’t remember what my punishment was–a severe grounding of some type, probably. I deserved it. My mom was and is a good mom for not tolerating that kind of disrespect.

On rare occasions I still use the “F-word” in moments of anger, though I’m working on eliminating it from my “casual conversation” vocabulary. In this blog, I’ve written “Suck my nuts” in anger, so I have no room to judge anyone else. Anyone who found this blog via tags or whatnot relating to my religious beliefs would perhaps consider it very hypocritical of me to cast stones at others for their use of foul language.

But I’m trying to practice some self-discipline now. I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this one about the other areas in which I’m trying to improve.

This attempt to curtail my use of profanities originally began in response to my environment at work. My coworkers use a lot of profanity in a way that is markedly different than what I’ve witnessed at previous jobs. The f-bomb is versatile as a part of speech and many people here delight in exploring its many uses. What the fuck? You fucker. Get fucked. And stop fucking bothering me, you fucking idiot.

I hate even writing that now! There was a time when I rolled my eyes at people who dared to suggest that the overuse of foul language makes one look stupid.

I’ve switched sides.

If I only had to hear those words when someone was pushed to their absolute limit–like the time I overheard my mom–I probably wouldn’t be writing this. Instead, I hear them all the time. The most common usage of the f-word that I hear is one applied during moments of minor frustration that I wouldn’t even categorize as anger. The other common usage I hear is one of emphasis, both good and bad.

That movie was so fucking good.

That movie fucking sucked.

Easy examples.

The most likely candidate for this type of language usage (based on my personal observations at work) is: youngish person, mid-twenties to late thirties. I can’t even recall hearing the same type of language from my coworkers past and present who were in their early twenties. Maybe their experiences with having strict parents are still very recent in their minds.

Almost any use of profanity is completely inappropriate in the workplace. It’s unprofessional. I’ll make an exception for any person whose job involves handling snakes.

I work in security, though. We sit on our butts all day doing close to nothing. When that’s what your job entails, and you get accustomed to a life of comfort, any minor inconvenience seems to be enough to justify the use of the f-word.

I hit my limit with a former coworker here who was incapable of expressing any thought without the use of profanity. The longer he was here, and the more he talked, the dumber he became. He went from being just another foul-mouthed individual to a person who no one trusted to act professionally in any situation.

The overuse of profanity in casual speech bothers me for many reasons.

If you and I are having a normal conversation, and you use profanity for no reason, understand that my perception is that you’re using the language of verbal assault. I don’t know why someone would intentionally want their choice of words to be similar to that of someone who engages in verbal assault.

Words have meaning and serve a purpose. I’m not anti-profanity, nor am I an advocate of censorship. If I’m working toward eliminating unnecessary profanities from my own speech, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to find a better way to express my thoughts. It’s also one of the most basic considerations I can make in my communications with others.

An older coworker of mine who rarely uses profanity has a favorite song that is known for its blistering use of profanity. When John Lennon sings a line like “…and you think you’re so clever and classless and free / but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” in “Working Class Hero” it has more impact and more meaning because he doesn’t use profanity as a crutch throughout the greater body of his work.

When you read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, your sense of propriety might be challenged, but your intelligence and sense of self-respect can remain intact. The use of fuck and cunt have a purpose, and that purpose is examined in the text itself if you don’t already find it self-evident.

I had a recent experience with a different coworker (featured here) who likes to pepper his everyday speech with profanities. He burst into the security dispatch office complaining about something or other, using his normal fuck-this and this-fucking-thing type of phraseology. At one point I tried to calm things down by saying “yikes,” to which he responded, “I’m not angry or anything.” Oh really? It was hard to tell.

I realized while writing this that my timid “yikes” overpowered all of his f-bombs.

When I was first hired on at my current job, many of my new coworkers tried to bring me up to speed concerning the who’s-who and the what’s-what of the job. Some of the information was helpful, but it quickly devolved into an exercise in advising me about who among our employees was terrible. I will never, ever forget the moment that one of my coworkers in security described one of the museum’s custodians as “subhuman.” For anyone who might be slow on the uptake, Untermensch became a favorite term of the Nazis, used in reference to the undesirable populations of people farther east: Jews, Slavs, Poles, and many others. Also please appreciate this callback to my current reading material.

Do I really have to keep reiterating how and why words matter? Would it depress you if I told you that my coworker who nonchalantly called another employee “subhuman” is currently enrolled in the creative writing program at a local university and plans to graduate soon? I suppose there’s a limit to what school can teach someone.

Works mentioned in post:
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy
Happy Gilmore, directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Adam Sandler
“Working Class Hero” from Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence