Saturday, February 25, 2006

On the Degradation of Language

I'm one of those old fashioned mothers who believes that swearing and slang usage are lazy ways of talking, lacking in imagination, and offensive to myself and others. There also tends to be a slippery slope in language, noticeable in preteens and teens, where they try out "almost" swear words just to see if anyone cares or reacts. In addition, if you listen to kids talk, you can pretty much tell who has parents who swear in the house, because otherwise that kind of language wouldn't even be in mind.

I just saw a headline that for some award ceremony coming up (Grammy's? Emmy's?) two words are going to be "allowed" and I assume there will be a list of what is not allowed. Since these awards are live, they have to have rules. Since they are choosing to allow words that offend, they are at least warning the more civilized among us that we don't need to watch.

Words matter. Word choice (although we're not to judge) say something about the person and their thoughts and beliefs. Gutter language, as we used to call it, has no place in the public arena. It isn't "cool" and even if the movies contain an overabundance of that kind of talk, I find it scary that that kind of talk is slipping more and more into everyday life.

I have been offended by the language I hear going down the street. I was in a G rated movie with my children and a lady behind us let go an expletive at a certain scene, loud enough for all around to hear: I was offended and feel badly that my children have to hear such talk from adults who can't control their language choices.

I'd like to propose a higher standard. Let's leave gutter language in the gutter. Swearing, if it must happen, can take place when a bunch of guys are working and no children are around, or at such things as Four Men Feasts (again, no women or children around).

Now that I say that, I realize that swearing used to be reserved pretty much for men. Women were too refined, too dignified to swear. I'd like a return to that, too.


  1. I agree totally! Unfortunately, I've grown too accustomed to hearing swear words in the workplace. However, for some reason I think I am more aware of it when a woman swears (sexist? -- actually I think quite the opposite of sexist but others wouldn't agree in this topsy-turvy world). However, when anyone uses the Lord's name in vain I am still quite sensitive to that. Finally, I remember growing up how careful my parents were to shield us (four boys and a girl) from movies that had any cussing in it at all. My mother was extreme as she didn't even allow us to use words like "sucks" and "crap." I can't tell you how many times my mother scolded me for saying "shoot" out on the basketball court when something went wrong. She said it looked like I was saying another "sh" word that ended with it. Anyway, I'm thankful now for my mother and am extremely careful about the words that I use around my children.

  2. Cancelled two pay-for-the-'privilege' cable channels because of the content of their programming. Within sixty seconds you are guaranteed to hear the Lord's name used in vain- plus the fact that much of the language regularly incorporates the 'mother' of four-letter words alternately as an adjective, verb, and sometimes even a pronoun.

    In the thirty years that cable has been available in this area, one major cable network has multiplied its availability, but EWTN has to share a channel.

    It's just my opinion, (& pardon me)... but I think it flippin' stinks, Mrs. Brown!

  3. I wish things were different, but I, being of a construction background (I watch over contracts and performance of contract inspection personnel for my state's dept. of mental health -- i.e., I renovate insane asylums) have quite salty language. The problem with this is, no matter how much you try to curb it, it has a way of busting out at the most inappropriate times, if ever a time is appropriate. Oddly enough, I'm quite put off by public cursing or vulgar talk, unless you're a construction guy --as in male -- and then I expect it. Go figure...

  4. The Shawskank Redemption is one of my all-time, favorite movies. I mean it is a beautiful, deeply moving film. But the language, o the language: it drops tons of F-bombs and is loaded with plenty of other profanity as well.

    The first time I saw it, in the theater, I was still in the Marine Corps, and I barely noticed the swearing, as the characters in the movie talked just like Marines do (including me). The second time I saw it was after it came out on video, after I had been out of the Marines and in grad school for a year or so. Man, what a difference a year makes! I couldn't get over how salty the language was. It didn't offend me particularly; it was just kind of a shocker after not hearing it constantly all day, every day.

  5. Chester: You touch on the 'wear down' principle. That's what Hollywood banks on. Hear it enough, it becomes everyday language. Hear it enough, you aren't bothered or offended by it.

    Last time I had TV, which was in 1986, there was NO SWEARING on TV, I swear, it's true! NONE! That was only 20 years ago. (Bring in the strings and Kenny Rogers, "Life was so much easier, 20 years ago....") but look what is on now. Once hell and damn were acceptable, more and more downward and backward was the standard sliding....into the dung heap where it is today.

    And this is also the reason that ANY swear words particularly offend me, because I choose NOT to hear them during the normal course of the day (by not having tv) so when I do hear it, it still has the ability to SHOCK me. Hell, sh--and damn no longer shock most people, they're regular features, now we have to have f everything to shock, and after that looses its effect, what then?

  6. Yeah, I guess you could say I'd been desensitized.

    Now, in some shows, S-bombs are quite common on TV, and I'm not just talking premium cable either. I'm talking regular cable networks. B---h also is increasingly common.

    Here's a movie you'd like, Nancy: Serenity (see my glowing review in the next issue of GM, currently at the printer). In it, all the cursing is done in Chinese; none in English. So unless you and your family speaks Chinese, you basically have a movie with no swearing.

  7. About Serenity: Yeah, except it's effeminate to cuss in Mandarin (unless you're from Guangdong, in which case it's effeminate to talk in Mandarin). See, in Confucianism, it's beneath masculine dignity to curse, but it's all right for mere women.
    Japanese is better: not only is it unfeminine to swear (or use the verb 'to be'), the only actual cuss word means 'dung'. There's a verb ending for contempt, just like those for respect, and it conveys the emotion with no other connotations.
    About Serenity: The Serenity's engineer is a trull and a slattern (as Belloc might have said), and the dialog's pretty salty, content-wise. Also they mix English dialects fast and loose, the storyline's best not thought too deeply about, and the fighting is a ridiculous chimera of Crouching Tiger and Barishnikoff.

  8. Tom in AZ, them's fighting words about Serenity, which I found to be one of the best science fiction movies ever made.

  9. Yeah, but as Mike Nelson says, Science Fiction movies are the unshaved, basement-dwelling cousin of the movie world. Especially now that two-thirds of it's just a Cowboy Bebop knockoff. There's a huge Bebop vibe in Firefly (what Serenity's based on), and even more of one in Farscape. Granted it's better than Star Trek's yuppies in space, but there's so much more in Scifi than ripping off a Lupin III ripoff made to sell model kits!

  10. Whoever Mike Nelson is, it sounds like he's seriously lacking in the imagination department. It's a sad day when a poster on a Chesterton blog dismisses a perfectly good genre like science fiction -- probably the last film genre where serious questions of philosophy and thoelogy are explored as serious topics -- as "unshaved, basement dwelling."

  11. To be fair, a good half of Cowboy Bebop was an omage (polite way of saying knockoff) to American scifi, westerns, blaxpoitation, etc.

  12. Yes, and it's ultimately a yakuza movie. But that's what I'm saying: Bebop did so well, albeit not in Japan, that everyone and his uncle rushed to copy it with "Edgy" (Odin's beard what an evil word) scifi shows.
    "Whoever Mike Nelson is"?
    He was the second host of Mystery Science 3000, the big doughy white guy. Chesterton is one of his favorite authors.
    Although, granted, Mike has been hurt, having to sit through some of the worst examples of the genre ("Space Mutiny" is the single worst thing ever), his point is valid: scifi movies are simply not up to the same standards as other films.
    I happen to be not only a fan of scifi, written and filmed, but an as-yet-unpublished scifi writer. And I get tired of having my intelligence insulted by my favorite kind of movies. I feel about most of the scifi being made these days the way GKC felt about the mystery stories that don't clear up the mystery. It's a betrayal of the audience-author trust.


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