Potty Mouth… Intent and Impact

*Disclaimer: Again, if curse words continue to offend you, please do not read this blog posting. In fact you should shut your eyes right now and back slowly off the page.  This goes for you if you’re under 18.  Back away slowly, and then run.  Of course if you’re 18, you could probably teach me some creative curses.  But, scoot on off this page before you turn to salt.

David Sedaris Quote

We’ve all met them, you know, the people you drop fuck into every other word in any and all sentences.  They say things like, “I haven’t seen you in fucking forever, fuck me, how have you fucking been?” or “One fucking time at fucking band camp…” or even “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!” which was a personal favorite of mine in my 20’s, because fuck got to be the verb, noun, and adjective.  In fact, my favorite potty mouth is Deb Morgan from Dexter.  She gets stars for her ability to also use cures words creatively, which I will bring up in the next installment of the Potty Mouth series.

There are several reasons why people over use curse words in regular talk.  They are trying to assert their right to speak however they want to and it becomes a habit.  Maybe it’s how they differentiated as a kid into an adult, see you can’t fucking boss me around so fuck you.  Cursing is a form of expression that little kids aren’t really or readily allowed, so I am an adult, hear me swear like a sailor!  I personally chose the higher art form of differentiation and got a tattoo… except I still curse, so I think maybe it’s worse for me, I have tattoos and curse… sigh.  Maybe they’re surrounded by friends who support the shit talk, and so they bond with all their friends, and it becomes a habit.  Or, it makes them laugh because it ‘offends’ someone, thus gaining them a sense of power or superiority.  But, it really doesn’t matter why specifically, over time, even a good thing can wear people out.  Even those of us who enjoy a curse or two or twelve.  What starts off with real power, or at least shock and awe. in the rarity of its use, looses that pop when that’s all that is said.  Plus, what are we really saying when we continually curse in simple sentences?  That we speak with a lot of blue adjectives?  That we’re flamboyant?  That we’re tough?  That we really feel intense about the subject?  Maybe ‘yes’ to all that.  But, whether we like it or not, we live in a bigger culture, and we have to look at what our goal is, when we talk with people.  It’s a little communication issue called, Intent versus Impact.  If my intent is to be funny (which it normally is, at least to funny to myself), and I say something, and no one laughs, I missed my intent.  The impact was, no one thought I was funny.  Wow, that hurt just writing it.  Deborah Tannen speaks to the intent of the words.  Two people may use the same curse, and mean two very different things.  She states that people need words to convey emotion, and for those that use them, curse words are linked to emotion in a visceral way. [1]  Overuse may just dissipate the emotional impact, it basically bleeds the feeling out of the words, because no one keeps listening after awhile.

As young adults, we often want to push buttons, cursing is an easy button to push.  It’s a great way to maximize offense, or a great method to strengthen our opinions, or find our tribe.  But, it’s the easy button of language.  It doesn’t require much creativity or intellect to pop off with a *#&@^%$@ (insert your favorite curse here).  And, sometimes, just on the occasion, others words might work better to make a point or communicate your position.

It is also true that cursing holds a different value than it did in the Victorian age, or even up to the 1950’s.  Since the 1960’s there has been a steady acceptance of cursing in Western culture, and American culture at the very least.  Our politicians get caught cursing on microphones, most of our music, movies and books, have people saying all sorts of things that might have curled my grandma’s hair.  In fact check out Why Educated People Curse.[2]  The whole use of what once was considered ‘strong language’ is now sort of passé.

But, again, too much of a good thing is still probably too much.  And, we each have to find that balance in how we speak and to whom we say what.   Which leads me along to the next blog, creative cursing and committing.


[2] The Editors, “Why Do Educated People Use Bad Words?,” April 12, 2010, The New York Times Opinion Pages.  http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/why-do-educated-people-use-bad-words/?_r=0

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