STFU With Your Language.
There are two things we can control.
What goes in our mouths.
What comes out.
Americans struggle with both. I will spare you my thoughts on the high price of obesity. It’s hard to pass up a good cheeseburger, I get it.
What should be easier, with a little self control, is to manage what comes out of our mouths.
America’s potty mouth has bothered me for some time. We’ve dumbed down our conversation. The f-word has become as common in American English as “the,” due to sheer laziness and a lack of imagination. Some people use it as their favorite adjective for everything. They will say it to describe both greatness and awfulness - jobs, families, bosses, teams, ex-lovers, things that are expensive, things that are cheap, things that don’t work, and things that work amazingly well (it was f———ing incredible!).
Perhaps we believe the f-word makes us look like tough, no-nonsense people you shouldn’t mess with. That’s how it makes me feel when I use it. “Look at me, a professional, college-educated married mother of two, I said the f-word! Aren’t you shocked? Look, I just said it again!”
I’m now trying to exercise restraint. A side effect of this endeavor is that I notice all the f-words being dropped around me in a verbal carpet bombing. The expletive is uttered publicly without a second thought at sporting events, in restaurants, even at Disneyland, where I’ve witnessed parents casually say it in front of their children. Other parents who ask, “Excuse me, there are kids here, could you please watch your language?” risk an angry onslaught when the accused cusser doubles down on the offensive language.
If I had a bully pulpit, curbing the nation’s R-rated conversational style would be my top issue, even if I ended up as reviled as Nancy Reagan was during her “Just Say ‘No‘” campaign. (Look up “reviled” - it’s a great word.)
Less is more
Even if you disagree that cussing coarsens you, consider this: your blue river of bad language dilutes the power of the very words you’re using for emphasis! To me, expletives should only be expectorated when one’s anger, shock, physical pain or startled fear is at least a 9 on a scale of 10. By that measure, you might drop an f-bomb only twice a year.
When cussing is rare, it carries more weight. It convinces people that you really, really mean it. You are realllllly ticked off, or really gobsmacked (let’s use that word more!), or you’re having a coronary. Those around you will pay attention.
Look. For all the HBO shows which use curse words so much I think someone must by paying them by the f-bomb, plenty of pop culture success has been achieved minus an R-rating for language.
Walter White on “Breaking Bad” never uttered the f-word because the program aired on a cable channel where standards forbid it. Mr. White didn’t need expletives to convince you he was the scariest sonofab... er, the scariest criminal mastermind in the history of television. Even his archenemy, Gus Fring, never cursed. He didn’t even raise his voice.
Jerry Seinfeld is the most successful comedian of all time. He never plays “blue,“ never curses, and he’s hilarious.
Recently I saw The Eagles in concert. As members of this legendary band chatted up the audience between songs over the evening, they never cursed. Not even Joe Walsh. No one even said “sh*t.”
Funny how easy it is to stop
Cussing is a tough habit to break, I admit. It’s a newsroom tradition. It makes one sound like a seasoned, just-the-facts kind of journalist. Funny, though. We all manage to avoid going near certain words once we’re wearing a microphone. We know they are bad. We know we could get fired for accidentally saying them on the air, so we just...don’t.
We can do this. Most of us go through life never saying the n-word. It’s a word too ugly to be uttered. I wish no one said it, or any variation of it, in any context. Some may argue I am not culturally qualified to have an opinion about this. But I have an opinion, so sue me.
But if we can easily avoid saying the n-word, why not add a few more words to the do-not-say list? Why not remove these battered tools from our verbal tool belts and start speaking in strong, direct statements? Say things like, “Shut up!” “You look amazing!” “Hurry up or I’m leaving without you.” “Your service is as poor as your hygiene.”
You think that’ll make you sound lame? You obviously weren’t raised by my mother. She could make your blood run cold with a flash of her eyes and a clenched jaw before uttering, “Excuse me?” I’ll put your f-word against her “What did you just say?” any day of the week. Cursing would have actually made her seem less terrifying. It would have made her look weak.
One small step for language
I know we have a lot of problems in our society much bigger than words. We have actual sticks-and-stones-will-break-my-bones kind of problems. But I would argue that aggressive language can lead to aggressive action, and that’s one more reason everyone might want to take a deep breath and pull back.
Controlling one’s words is the beginning of controlling one’s life, and in a world of uncertainty and chaos, language management is a small thing we can each do to raise the level of discourse and lower the temperature of animosity.
Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, pretend it’s your grandmother.