By Carl Speaks

Copy Editor

“Watch your mouth,” the words used throughout childhood and much of young adulthood to deter the youths of America to not use “dirty words”. Even at the age of 40, there are situations and places where the use of profanity is a taboo; drawing stares and, in some cases, looks of incredulity. Like the elderly woman who elbows her half-deaf husband and whispers, “Such a foul mouth. His mother should be ashamed.” Still, most of us would “watch our mouths” at church or if finding oneself in any location chatting with a priest. Some grow up being told that cussing is a sin. Many grow up being told to “watch your mouth” by hypocritical parents who use those same words as casually as drinking a soda – “do what I tell you, not what I do.”

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We go from high school where the attempt is made to put on an outward appearance of at least semi-pious social standards, to the hallowed halls of higher education where it’s cool to be the professor who throws out the childhood rule book and says, “We’re all adults here. Besides, they’re only words.” It’s that first time sitting in class where the teacher blurts out a “bad word” and doesn’t bat an eye that elicits some inner response of revelation.

First, there’s the questioning moment of “did I just hear what I think I heard?” Then, the recognition of knowing that teacher just said something that your mother would slap for saying. Followed by, the small giggle of understanding that social norms have just been broken. Finally, the realization that the world has changed in some way and an unsaid permission has been given to break from what has been engrained in the brain regarding social behavior.

The permission doesn’t mean you can be Katt Williams or Eddie Murphy (Raw, not his new stuff) in every classroom. Even in this newspaper, we are not permitted to use all the good sentence enhancers. All things in moderation and definitely with some boundaries that should be common sense. Not long ago, a teacher (whose name will not be used) walked through a hall and passed a student (whose name will also not be used) whom she had flunked for plagiarism the previous semester. He looked at her as she passed and said “F*** you”. Then, when she turned around and looked at him, he smiled, waved and walked away. A report was filed, but even without any intervention from authority figures at TJC, it should be a matter of courtesy to not use any words, much less “profane” words, to hurt or defame another person. At this point in life, aside from FCC regulations regarding broadcasting and print, the words are not as important as the way they are used, as with the student mentioned here.

Some teachers who hear it from students, even when they don’t use the words themselves, simply don’t pay any attention to it. Tina Bausinger, English teacher at TJC says, “I kind of ignore it … unless it’s just blatantly disrespectful.”

With centuries of people being told not to use profanity; being told that cussing is wrong; even being told that the use of such words is sinful, how many have really asked, “why are they bad?”

Words like “hell” or variations of “damnation” were originally taboo because of the fear behind their meaning. Using the word describing the place that sinners go after death or the punishment they would receive in the afterlife out of context was just not done. It might invite bad spirits to join those who did.

As for the other, juicier, words, let’s start with “the B word”. Its initial definition was “A female dog in heat.” To refer to a woman in this manner was making a reference to that. Its social definition seems to have changed quite a bit. A guy called that is thought to be acting cowardly or like a little girl. A girl called that is thought of as overly and outwardly mean.

There are so many words that describe male and female body parts that, often, inference or surrounding context is used to know what is being referred to. It is often men who get referred to as being compared to these parts. If a guy called the word that refers to male genitals, it is like “the B word” for women – their male counterparts (A** hole is also a common reference, though one seems to be a more severe version of the other.) A guy referred to as the female part is considered cowardly, though the word seems to have some extra grit behind it than just calling him a coward. And of course, someone of lower intelligence can be referred to as a boob. Not really a bad word, but since we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning.

The worst of the words come, not from some biblical ideology of sin, but from simple social class separation. Several centuries ago, the upper class spoke either French or Latin. To speak in the tongue of the Anglo Saxon was considered low class – even trashy. Guess where most “cuss” words come from? That’s right, Anglo Saxon words are where the majority come from. That is why it’s okay to say “fornicate” (a word derived from French language) but not the other more colorful and popular “F” word. The “S” word has become so versatile that it is used for multiple forms of language – verb, adjective, noun … so on. It can even be used to describe its literal meaning; fecal matter.

Twenty years ago, public television and local broadcast channels would not use any of these words. Over time, some have become acceptable after a certain time of night, until up to now when even more words are acceptable on shows broadcast at any time of day. Not all, but many. Perhaps we are heading for a time when the taboo of profanity is seen as the antiquated difference from high-class and low-class words used and just seen as words. For now, the use of these words should be edited in conversation based on situation. When speaking to someone whose belief is that they are “bad words” then it is a good idea for social graces and respect of their beliefs to “watch your mouth”. Don’t be an “A-hole”, it’s only polite.

5 COMMENTS

  1. It is true that each society has a different set of words that are considered inappropriate and each generation gives different uses to words as well. However, our language is not just a creative way of expressing our ideas. It is a reflection of us as a person. If someone uses vulgar language on a regular basis, it is evidence of a vulgar mind. In contrast, intelligent language is evidence of a bright mind. It is less about pushing the boundaries and more about how we really want to represent ourselves to everyone around us.

  2. I think it is also good to point out that our language is a reflection of us as a person. A more intelligent person tends to have a more versatile vocabulary. When we are in certain situations, especially where we need to make a good impression, we need to make sure to use respectful language, and that usually means leaving out vulgar vocabulary.

  3. Very interesting way to look at this issue when you learn about where these words actually come from. I liked the last part of this piece that mentioned being respectful of other people’s beliefs even if you do tend to have the mouth of a sailor.

  4. I believe that there is a time and place for curse words but ultimately people should be mindful of those around them.

  5. Reading about where the words originate from is very interesting. Growing up I was told those words are not “nice” or “appropriate.” Since then I have even caught myself using cuss words like it didn’t matter. To me it is a matter of maturity whether to use them or not. I will not use them when out in public or with my elders. It is respectful to be aware of your surroundings and who you are with.

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