April, 2004

The question was asked by someone in an online, USENET newsgroup I frequent: "Is anybody but me bothered by all the filthy language used here? Am I being a goody two-shoes or are others annoyed by this?"

This raises an interesting (and very valid) point.  On some level, it seems like very childish behavior, no?
"I can say whatever I want to! I'll stomp my feet and stay up all night and type out "ass" any time I get the notion to! Then I can send it to hundreds of newsgroups from the privacy of my top-secret, private clubhouse poopie-doodie, tinkle-dinkle, haha room where I have my computer! Ahahahahahahaaaaa!"

All the usual excuses and rationalizations for bad, public behavior come into play. There's that subset of USENET veterans who'll insist on their God-given right to behave like Huns, Vandals or some other, less civilized cretins and run roughshod over other people's sensibilities. This pretty much means engaging in all manner of unpleasantness under the banner of Free Speech in cyberspace. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but then so is ice cream -- and if we all ate several gallons of it every day, the world might be a far more grotesque place.

They act as if the normal rules of civil behavior and polite communication are automatically suspended once you sit down at a keyboard. I have a feeling that this behavior is basically predicated on the simple fact that there's no one physically present to kick them in the shins or slap some basic manners into them, as might happen in real life situations where they tried the same tactics, in the company of other, live human beings. People like this couldn't possibly walk around without a pronounced limp in the real world.

Witnessing the dearth of enriching (or even credible) prose bandied about in these forums often makes me want to pass the hat. I mean, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley aren't posting to the alt.support___  hierarchy of newsgroups, but please...! There is a collective generosity of spirit here. Perhaps we could all pitch in, take up a collection and buy a solid, decent, communal vocabulary, to be used by the frequently needy..? The plain truth is that Coprolalia just isn't cute-- no matter how engaging the speaker may be. It's pretty much a social handicap, wherever thinking people congregate; not a heartwarming and endearing attribute.

Just because you can talk like a stevedore on a 3-day drunk doesn't mean you ought to, necessarily.
Constant, dull, plain-old, safe speech can be... well, pretty bland. Swearing (creatively and judiciously) can sometimes serve as seasoning to spice up a banal conversation or to leaven an otherwise dull monologue. When there's no particular thought involved, and the "shit"s and "fuck"s are just ladled on, however, it's rather like a pound of salt has been dumped in your soup. Jarring. Harsh. Unpleasant. It ruins what might otherwise have been something nourishing, enjoyable and soothing.

It's not so much that the words are offensive, per se. I don't quake and tremble because someone is fouling the air with blue speech. I do absolutely cringe at displays of unchecked, public trash-mouth behavior. A recently overheard conversation between two very loud fellows on the subway consisted largely of  this witty exchange:
"Motherfucker, I told him, goddammit, you don't know motherfuckin' shit about that shit!"
This stimulated the scintillating riposte:
"Shit! Yeah, that fucker! He fuckin' don't know shit!" ...and so on, as the entire car was treated to a lengthy dissertation on the various kinds of shit about which he fuckin' didn't know.

Brilliant. Attractive. Charming. Sadder than hell, really.

It was a gross display of what may have been either: A limited education; poor impulse control; lack of breeding; simple absence or ignorance of public manners; no apparent sense of place, occasion or audience-- or a grab-bag of any combination of same. Whatever the case, this laundry list of character flaws on display by these two negated any notion that either of them had an engaging or attractive personality. Nor did it make for a comfortable ride. People all around were grimacing and flinching at this conversation.

As it is in public, so it is in print and online. In an otherwise safe environment where you'd like to relax and communicate you confront reams and reams of brutal, hostile, aggressive, badly spelled and provocative, potty-mouthed drivel.

"Why not ignore the annoying ones...? You can't exercise control over it... You're not forced to read them..." and so forth, one asks. All very true. When I'm out for a walk I don't have to focus my attention on that steaming, malodorous pile on the sidewalk-- much less step in it or sit down and poke at it with a stick. Being gifted with cognition, (sight, smell, a sense of good and bad...) I recognize it for what it is. I acknowledge the fact that it's stinking up this particular area where I happen to be at the moment. It is definitely there as the result of someone's careless and selfish behavior. It is enervating. Its presence has taken some slight portion of the sheer pleasure out of my stroll. I register it in my path, acknowledge it, shake my head and step around it, wondering why people are so inconsiderate.

A superfluity of swearing is also unrelentingly trite, as in "...lacking power to evoke interest through overuse or repetition; banal, hackneyed, shopworn..." It's simultaneously annoying and boring to experience it over and over and over again.  There is so very, very much in the English language that is wonderfully colorful and vivid-- even when one is expressing negativity, pain, anger and all the feelings experienced in the midst of something as frustrating and nerve-wracking as quitting smoking. Constant reliance on profanity may well be one way to deal with it, but it's so stale and disappointing to witness. It's also just uninteresting and a waste of time. Like writing about it, in the first place, I suppose. It is,however, a way to kill a lot of time-- a commodity with which I am presently overburdened.

Oh, well. I'm rambling at 3 in the morning. One man's thoughts, and possibly not shared by the majority.

All that having been said, here's a true and colorful anecdote on this very subject for you:

My father swore... a lot. He did it with panache, though. He wasn't a dullard, or a lout. He was a brilliant, witty, erudite man. He was a musician, a World War II Army paratrooper/ Ranger/OSS/ CIA guy, a reporter, an author, a Foreign Service officer, world traveler and an all-purpose badass with a quick temper who took no crap from anyone --ever. When he got pissed off, his speech could blister the paint right off the walls. I said to him one day, as he was being particularly salty about someone or something that had aroused his ire, "Pop, when you get wound up like this I'll bet you can't say five words in a row without swearing at least one of them."

His reply? He didn't hesitate even a second before he snapped out: "Yeah? The fuck I can't!"

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