by Santa Shaara
What would the Sunday school teacher say?
|For the contest:
On Talking Dirty
My mother and father never used profanity. I think they believed such words to be sinful, although they never said that. My parents were pretty straight-laced, though – good Quakers -- who tried not to insult other people who might have different viewpoints about what was proper or not proper. “Judge not others,” was an expression I heard frequently at home.
However, children ask lots of questions and persist in their need to understand. They press issues, attempt to climb over them, and butt their heads against any and all restrictions. So at some point, I remember asking what was so wrong about such language. Mom then informed me that improper language was what people learned in prison (ie. bad people,) or was used by those who lacked finesse (coarse, low-class people, I figured out, reading between the lines, even though my parents would never have said anything like that.)
And then, there was the day when my mother turned white-faced with horror upon hearing a “foul” word dribble from the lips of a visiting playmate. My mother told little Kathy that such words were not acceptable in our house. Mom called that sort of thing “potty-mouth talk,” a term I found so amusing that even to this day I’ve never forgotten that conversation.
When I grew older and left home for college, it was in the seventies with encounter groups and the expanding “freeness “ of the hippy movement. People began sprinkling most of their dialogue with expressions that once would have shocked me or at least made me blink, gulp, and blush.
But bad was good, as Michael Jackson later crooned, and my peers felt that it was definitely cooler to use a vocabulary of sex-linked insults and religious irreverence.
At an encounter group I attended my freshman year, the leader insisted that we students could only become free of the frame of our childhood by casting off all verbal restrictions. The encounter guru prodded and poked until most of the group was inspired enough to curse like R-rated pirates.
I suppose looking back at that session, it was probably rather like the scene in one of the early Star Trek movies where Spock tried to participate by attempting to frost his sentences with a few carelessly tossed expletives. Both he and the college students at the encounter group were inept, proving that cussing correctly, apparently, takes practice.
But I didn’t realize that at the time. All I heard was the guru praising those who paddled along in his wake of dominance. Even when the man called me “ a little girl, afraid to grow up,” I shrugged and didn’t speak.
Yet, that event troubled me for weeks after -- enough to force me into making decisions about my values and the way I would speak for the rest of my life. I chose to oppose word pollution.
You see, even then, I loved language. Synonyms were like taste testing, to me, allowing me an exquisite choice. Picture five kinds of apples –Pink Lady, Gala, Honeycrisp, Rome, Granny Smith - each individual, delicious, and unique. I think words are like those apples, differing not in flavor but in meaning. How lucky we are to have so many options to explore, so many ways to express ourselves with preciseness.
My college roommate claimed that sometimes feelings couldn’t be adequately expressed with dictionary words. “Gutter-speech,” Polly said, “carries an emotional impact of anger, disgust, derision, or insult that regular language cannot deliver.”
Aside from the issue of whether such venomous negativity truly needed to be unleashed into anyone’s atmosphere, I countered Polly's argument with the following:
“Instead of using a Norse word invented to describe the diarrhea of cattle, how about defecation, excretion, or feculence?”
Polly glared. Then continued her spiel, claiming that nothing could substitute for the word I’d believed was a synonym for donkey.
Once I understood its new meaning, I countered with: “Posterior?”
Not to be topped, Polly then assaulted me with the worst of all vulgarities.
Red in the face and breathless with embarrassment, I responded, after a bit, with suitable substitutions: “How about: a display of passion . . . to meld lovingly (or unlovingly, as the case may be ). . . to mingle limbs while practicing an exercise program that was not yoga.
She snickered, then thought a moment. “Ah, but you miss the point,” she said. Her brow grew heavy with irritation. She gritted her teeth. “Smut-talk can be used as an expletive, an intensifier, or as an expression of ultimate annoyance.”
I wasn’t through with my argument. I rallied quickly. “But there are many words that can perform that service,” I said. “As an expletive, one could say: Oh, vexatious pestilence! As an intensifier, a person could state: He was irksomely hackle- rising. As an expression of frustration, it would be easy to find a suitable substitute, like . . . I felt his presence to be the pinprick of needlehood.”
Polly, even though we had that same conversation repeatedly through our time together, remained unaffected by my view of profanity. Wherever she lives now, I don’t doubt that she continues to polish her English with Anglo-Saxon four-letter words.
Apparently, so do the majority of people, according to various surveys I’ve read. In Science of Swearing, Timothy Jay, says that about half a percent of people’s daily verbal outlet flows in profanity. A book offered on Amazon.com: Creative Cursing: A Mix ‘n’ Match Profanity Generator by Sarah Royal, will even tell you how to do it more proficiently.
Science has just recently begun supporting my college roommate's viewpoints. It has found rewards from utilizing such verbalizations. One set of data tells us that profanity can even decrease pain.
Hogwash, I say, and even if such research were true, nothing I've read explains why a list of ten or eleven very popular expletives would be able to relieve stress and negativity any better than any other chosen expression. It seems to me that Pickle juice would do just as well.
Of course, it's true that we all get to choose our own apples. I prefer Honeycrisp. Others may choose the sour kind. Some people enjoy salting their dialogue with what once was called the risqué, the racy, or just plain vulgar.
But when I reach a tea-kettle-steam moment, I take in a deep breath and let out all my frustrations with the word, Fruitcake!. It seems to work just fine for me.