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The Power Of The Word

The Power Of The Word

I will be the first to admit that I have a dirty mouth. At home, curse words escape my lips with more frequency than I'd like to admit. My filthy mouth was probably inevitable considering that I was raised by two parents with zero tolerance for cursing. My mom, for example, considered (and still considers today) the word butt a curse word, and she'd let me know about it if she heard me using it. Even now, I clean up my act around her, though I've probably let a damn or a hell slip on occasion, much to my mother's horror. Anyway, I engaged in everything else my parents had zero tolerance for, and it shouldn't be surprising that I became an avid curser as well.

Actually, my current beliefs about cursing are complicated and probably hypocritical. Sure, I curse like a sailor quite often, but I do believe there's a time and place for this type of language. I don't think people should curse at work or in front of their mothers. It's not professional and it will make your mama cry.

But I don't think cursing means you're in league with Satan, either. I once heard a local pastor spouting off about the "problem" of rampant cursing in our culture. He, of course, saw cursing as a moral issue, and that I just don't see. A communication issue, maybe. But moral? I think not.

Cursing can certainly impede communication; that's why I'm against it in the work environment. At work, people should be able to understand each other as clearly as possible, which is already fairly tricky. My dad's favorite axiom about swear words is that "cursing is the inability to express oneself adequately." Largely, I think he's right. I know that when I curse I'm generally looking for the easy way out of saying what I mean. If I say, "She's such a bitch" (which naturally I would never say), I'm basically alleviating the onerous task of explaining why exactly she's a bitch and what she's done recently to make me delineate the point. Most curse words are just easy ways to speak without having to really choose the precise language you need in order to express yourself. Further proof of this is the fact that most curse words can be used as multiple parts of speech. We just shove those words in our sentences anyway they'll fit because it's easier than the alternative. And when you have entire sentences composed not only of curse words but of the same curse word, then you have a problem.

In fact, I've known people who communicate almost entirely via curse words, and the ultimate effect of such speech is that you have no idea what the curser is talking about, ever. It's like the Smurfs: everything was "smurfy" or you'd have to go over and "smurf" someone. You never know if smurfy things are good or bad. If you smurf someone, are you murdering them or having sex with them? It creates confusion, just like too much cursing.

Expressing yourself vaguely is exactly what you want to avoid at work. Think of all the misunderstandings and squabbles that already happen just because people don't communicate very well. Cursing doesn't ameliorate that in the least.

But just because cursing doesn't strike me as appropriate for the workplace doesn't make it a moral issue. What exactly has someone done wrong when they curse? Nobody is wounded and there's certainly no property damage. You might argue that a person hearing swear words is emotionally damaged, but that's sketchy. In fact, curse words are only considered emotionally or intellectually harmful because people believe they're hurtful.

Generations of people with sticks up their asses have decided that certain words are "not nice" words, and we all buy into that. What, in the end, makes the word fuck any different from the word cat? It's all a matter of perception. People who sit around and get upset about cursing are the ones ensuring that cursing will continue to be a social problem plaguing today's youth. If we just ignored the shock of such words, eventually their power would fade. But every CD that's labeled "Adult Language," and every adult who yells at a kid for saying damn, inflates the power of these aggressive little words.

Parents are the ones most guilty of swear word empowerment. They're the ones who raise hell if they see a movie with too much "bad language" and admonish their kids not to watch Quentin Tarantino flicks. But guess what? Quentin Tarantino isn't the problem. Quentin Tarantino isn't corrupting today's youth with filthy language. Neither is Snoop Doggy Dogg or any other artist using the powerful language of swearing. The ones influencing youth to curse are their parents. When a kid first hears a curse word and decides to try it out, she's just being curious. But when she sees the great reaction those little words get from mom and dad, she'll be a thousand times more likely to use them in the future.

Plus, movies are only imitating real people. And real people curse. Whether you've just stapled your fingers to the wall or you're so angry at the guy who cut you off that you have to hiss "Asshole!" under your breath, you probably curse. Even those goody-goodies among us who would never say a terrible word like damn, have their own little made-up curse words, like fiddlefrat or diddlypoo. It amounts to the same thing in the end. The only difference is perception.

The best way to deal with the problem is to not freak out when others curse. Freaking out is what people who use curse words generally expect and desire. If we don't react to them, after awhile maybe they'll learn some new words.

And if you don't like my solution? Well then, smurf you, too. *

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