I never want to tell other people how to live, but I’ve had some ideas for a long time I thought deserved to be heard and thought through. Tell me what you think.
Everyone has a psychological need to express themselves when experiencing surprise, pain, anger, or frustration. Often, the words “augh” or “ouch” suffice, but more extreme situations can call for harsher words. Culture decides what words these will be. Unfortunately, there are those that will not allow others to vent. Granted, there are those who drop the F-bomb in every other sentence. When this happens, the word begins to lose all meaning and no longer functions to express much of anything, but when used sparingly it can be quite useful.
Swearing can get you into trouble. On television, it can get you fired or fined. In school, it can get you detention. At home, it can get you spanked or worse. In general, it gets you put down and called a bad influence. Swearing must be an awfully harmful thing in order to justify treating people this way, right? What’s wrong with it? No one has ever been able to explain it to me.
Are some subjects simply too offensive to discuss? Certainly there is a time and place to discuss one’s bowel movements and the dinner table is not one of them, but society is very inconsistent in these standards. Discussing BMs might be frowned upon, but it doesn’t necessarily get you into trouble. Why is it that it is perfectly permissible to use the words pooh, poop, scat, feces, caacaa, manure, excrement, droppings, doodoo, and crap, yet not permissible to say shit? The meaning is exactly the same! If it were the meaning of the word that was the problem, this would not be. Of course, as often as not “shit” is used not to refer to fecal matter, but to express surprise and pain, such as when you hammer your thumb. Used this way, it is no different in meaning than saying “ouch.” If ouch is not a bad word, why is shit?
Is it never okay to express displeasure with people? Sometimes it is considered permissible to be mean. When another is being a jerk, it’s usually acceptable to call them a jerk. Why is it unacceptable to call them an ass or a bitch? When another is being a liar, it’s usually acceptable to call out their lies. Why is it unacceptable to call out their bullshit? If a bully is just going around calling people names that don’t deserve it, the problem is the bully, not the names he uses.
Are some combinations of sounds inherently offensive? Certainly running fingernails along a chalkboard is, but what about the word “damn?” Repeating this word in school can get you sent to the principal, yet its sound is identical to the word “dam,” meaning a structure to block the flow of liquid. Why is it permissible to say dam but not damn? If it were the sound that was the problem, this would not be. Why is bitch okay to use when referring to canines but not humans? Why is faggot okay to use when referring to cigarettes but not humans? It has nothing to do with the sound at all, does it?
I used to use the expression of surprise “jeezum crow.” Then I was told that I was really referring to Jesus Christ, making this an example of using the lord’s name in vain, and therefore offensive. It had never occurred to me that there might be a connection. How can anybody mean something other than what they actually mean? Especially when they are unaware of it? Who decides what the “real” meanings of expressions are anyway? Holy cow!
When you say “gosh darn it,” are you really saying “God damn it?” Of course not! If you call someone a pussy, are you really calling them a vagina? Is vagina a bad word now? How do you know you aren’t really calling them a cat? Is cat a bad word now? If pussy can refer to both cats and vaginas, why can’t it also refer to wimps? Is wimp a bad word now?
If you call someone an ass, are you really calling them a bottom? Is bottom a bad word now? How do you know you aren’t really calling them a donkey? Is donkey a bad word now? If ass can refer to both bottoms and donkeys, why can’t it also refer to jerks? Is jerk a bad word now?
If you tell someone they’re screwed, are you really telling them they have lost their virginity? Is that bad to say? How do you know you aren’t really saying they are being slowly impaled by a rotating object (like an actual screw)? If being screwed can refer to both sex and handiwork, why can’t it also refer to being in some sort of hopeless trouble? Is trouble a bad word now? What does it really mean to tell someone they are fucked? I once met a woman who actually tried to explain to me that “get your poop in a group” was wrong to say because it really meant “get your shit together.” What the heck?
People tend to get really hung up on symbology without ever understanding the underlying meaning and this phenomenon extends well beyond swearing. I was actually told by a lady once that those who celebrate Christmas on December 25th are “really” worshipping the sun god because the date was set by the early church to compete with a pagan holiday around the same time. How is it possible for one to worship the sun god if they don’t believe in his existence and are completely unaware that historians don’t know for sure what time of year Jesus was born? If the rest of society celebrates Christmas on December 25th, and you don’t know any better than they do what the real date should be, isn’t the sensible thing to celebrate along with everyone else? I have also been told by more than one person that scientists have proven that the Earth circles the sun instead of the other way around, not understanding even after I have explained it that motion is relative. Modern scientists use the sun-centric model because it is mathematically simpler, not because it is more accurate.
People are so easily offended. Tell one person merry Christmas and they will assume you are trying to proselytize them. Tell the next person in line happy holidays instead and they will assume you are part of a war against Christmas. Protest government policies that are distressing the country by holding a flag upside down (a sign of distress) and people assume you are anti-American. Proudly adopt America as your own by wearing clothing bearing the stars and stripes and people think it is in poor taste to touch the flag with your body. Wave the confederate flag around to celebrate your heritage and then watch people completely lose their minds.
How does this happen? Could it be that teaching our kids young that some words and symbols are always bad – rather than having the potential to be used for good or harm like most words – creates in them a mindset allowing such strange ideas to flourish later in life? At the very least I think they would grow up as very confused people. Could regulating speech be more dangerous than the speech itself?
Do you let your kids swear?
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.