“Swears” and the social compact

“Swears” and the social compact June 19, 2017

from wikipedia:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASwear_jar_2.jpg; By Anna Frodesiak (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

We were at Laserquest the other day, celebrating a birthday.  Before you enter the “arena,” you are required to pledge not to misbehave, and this includes not running, not pushing anyone, and not using “offensive language.”  But, as a mom with a group of 6 10-year-olds, who formed the majority of the players, but with a group of 5 teenagers also there, I wondered, “do teenagers (in particular, when raised in “none-ish households) still understand the concept of ‘offensive language’?”, that is, what my kids call “swears.”

After all, it was reported that Democratic Senator Kristin Gillibrand dropped the f-bomb in a recent speech, and other Democrats have been doing so lately as well, or using other such language, seemingly as a means of proclaiming their dedication to The Cause.  My oldest son also pointed out some of the readings they were doing in his 11th grade English class, which also used the f-bomb and other swears liberally.

I remember in college, when a group of friends I had made early on pushed me to swear regularly as proof that I was an adult, not a high-schooler, and that I wasn’t some prissy or clueless child.  Now it seems that countless writers have decided that, not only is it perfectly appropriate to sprinkle swears throughout their writing (and presumably their everyday speech) but that to not to so would be inauthentic and inappropriate or simply childish.

But why should that be?  Why do we need to swear to prove that we’re adults?

Yes, we seem to need some class of words to show strong feelings.  But there’s no reason why that set of words can’t be “frickin'” or “dangnabit” or even “what the covfefe” (which I’m inclined towards using in an all-purpose manner these days) rather than f*** or the like.  Or, rather, why f*** can’t be reserved for truly extreme situations, like, say, a car accident.  But, then, I suppose, it fits with the fact that we seem to have lost all sense of proportion, and treat every undesirable event as if it were as horrific as, well, whatever horrific thing you can imagine.

Or is it the other way around?  Does the use, among a segment of the population, of f*** as a normal part of everyday speech, contribute to that loss of proportion?  Does reserving “swears” for serious things help us keep a sense of balance?

Just a thought.


Image:  from wikipedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASwear_jar_2.jpg; By Anna Frodesiak (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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