You should swear off swears, but can you?
Fitter, Happier, ...
It starts at home. The swear word spreads by mouth, a foul and contagious disease, from parent to child. And these darn swear words filter through the generations, until they invade the television and the classroom. Curses corrupt absolutely, and a country's language reflects its morality — just ask Orwell.
If we remain in our pristine, clean-mouthed state for only a few years before corruption stains the tongue, it's easy to see that our society is headed straight to H-E-double hockey sticks. I am not a pundit of the foul "family values" formula that the mewling, moralizing right wing (and even some of the formerly clear-headed left wing) chooses to impose on America as part of a conspiracy to bring "The Waltons" back on television, but something must be done.
Oh look, a personal anecdote: I swear all the time — something I don't regard with pride. I started almost as soon as I learned to talk, and when I began school my — ahem — vocabulary grew. We all remember freshman sociology class and the factors of socialization: family, peers, school ... crap, I forgot too.
Anyway, things like organized sports, liking girls and doing chores multiply the reasons to swear. And when I went off to college, away from a steadying familial influence and into an all-male dorm, I became a regular Richard Pryor.
Occasionally, I'll even let one slip when I'm back home. I'll stub my toe in the kitchen and drop the f-bomb. My enthusiasm might bubble over during a discussion about my father's pork chops, and I obscenely, though accurately, describe them as "frickin'" great.
But I always have this invincible — though fallacious — argument against my mother's rebukes: Words are merely words, and swear words are words indeed. I could substitute any adjective for a swear, but out of mere custom I choose the dirty word.
This argument has its strong points: Words are artificial, they are labels attached to real emotions and thoughts and therefore have no resonant meaning outside of their use as symbols.
Pardon me, but this is bull puckey. Keep in mind that humans use language to shape the world and relate their experiences to others. Words are very important.
And making a word forbidden? Instead of disappearing, the forbidden word becomes an object of increased, almost obsessive curiosity. Any little kid on the playground can tell you that curse words are special, forbidden words — words, I might add, that only mommies and daddies can use with impunity.
Yet little kids endlessly repeat every swear word they happen to learn, due to the word's very same forbidden nature. I did and I know you did.
Every culture has its forbidden words, and these words gain a greater significance than ordinary words. Shoot, back in the day the Hebrews could not utter the name of the Lord — that is, until some dude retreated to his hut, closed his eyes, whispered it and discovered that no celestial fire descended. Even though there's a commandment about, it is utterable.
This experience is not unique, even though I kind of made that story up. I can imagine lots of kids trying out a dirty word in a hushed voice, just to see if anything bad will happen.
The most uproarious joke is a dirty joke. So, the importance of language plus the magic surrounding a forbidden word plus natural human attraction to things they should avoid equals a culture gone to spit.
But what can we do about this here problem; what brand of strategery can we employ to counteractivate this probleminal quandrity?
Ladies and gentlemen, your commencement speaker.
Sorry — swearing is a serious problem. We have several avenues: we could implement a national rubber band hand out, and everyone would be required by law to snap themselves at each curse. A few dozen painful stings and soon our language and morals would be pure again. No, this method only encourages more swears. I have snapped myself up to five times in a row with the frigging rubber band method.
We could install gigantic jars in public areas, and the honor system would mandate at least a nickel for every curse to be placed inside the jar. No, huge jars are hard to come by.
We could un-forbid the words, and thus desensitize everyone — which is sort of what we have done, I guess. That's working well.
As swear words enter the common parlance, I'm almost certain the "powers that be" will come up with new forbidden words, like "pancake," "deportment" and "fair and unbiased democratic process." And on and on. So, Mom, if you're listening, accept my swears. I curse for I am human; would you make me choose between them?
Eric Long is a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. His column runs every other Wednesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, April 18, 2001