Sugarmouth – Happy Hour Todcast

sugarmouthRecently a colleague asked me a seemingly hypothetical question: Why do people think that X is a Y? (The content of the question isn’t the issue). The opinion she spoke about was patently a shallow one, extrapolated from something overheard and run up the grapevine; the very worst in public discourse.

As I was loading up to say all these things and more, she could see it in my face and quickly changed the question.
“OK,” she said. “Not ‘People,’ Me. I think that.”

She understood I was about to combine my disagreement with a personal attack on the hypothetical “people” and wanted no part in it. She wanted to let me know, before I spoke, that perfectly reasonable people held this belief and I shouldn’t make any personal attacks. It was a way of asking me to turn off my jerkiness for one second and answer a question as if a human and not “people” were asking it.

She wanted me to answer without rancor not because of an affectation that made her anti-rancor, but because she didn’t need to be belittled by some opinionated, overweight white guy with a little beard.

It is a fair point.

Had I answered her question, I probably would have used what some people wrongly call expletives and I correctly call verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Expletives are filler words that add no meaning to a sentence. Curse words are used in satanic incantations. I rarely resort to dictionary definitions because they are not the stuff of honest communication. I did here, with “expletive” and “curse,” because one of the lamest criticisms of coarse words is they demonstrate a lack of command of the language: “You curse because you don’t have any other words.”

I always say: Tell it to Kurt Vonnegut.

Word choice is about sending the exact message, or as close to the exact message as one can. Sometimes the appropriate words are the words hypocrites deem inappropriate. I say hypocrite because choosing a sound-alike — “fudge” for instance — fools no one. It is insulting to people who legitimately understand the language.

Saying “What the fudge?” does not demonstrate self control or a better command of the language, it merely demonstrates an aggressive self-righteousness. “Fudge” is a substitute that admits the speaker knows, and is afraid of using, the appropriate word in the context. Why not just say, “That surprises me!” or “I am frustrated!” ? Choosing those phrases would demonstrate enormous self-control as well as a poverty of color that would make the Amish proud.

All of that said, word choice works both ways, and this is where “swearing” collides with culture and context. Too often, people use the language to demean others. I know because I am one of them. Not two paragraphs ago, I called everyone who doesn’t swear as a matter of principle a hypocrite. I went on to be dismissive and even a little rude. I have yet to type a word that cannot appear in a newspaper nor be spoken on television or radio, yet I have been offensive in that I intended to offend. There are a ton of bad words here, just none that aren’t acceptable in polite company. What does that say about polite company?

“Swearing” should only injure sensibilities, or at least call them into question. It should never be aimed at hurting people any more than should hypocrite or fanatic (on a side note, why not just call them religious fans or fans of religion? It seems friendlier) or socialite. Using coarse language as a means of attack lies at the feet of the speaker, not in the words.

If at the beginning of our conversation, my colleague said, “There is a radical difference between being ill-informed and being stupid. I’d appreciate if you chose the correct words in your critique of my position” she would have been miles ahead of me.
Of course, that truth would have stung a lot more than if she’d been honest and called me a boor.

In addition to the acceptability of coarse language, in this week’s Todcast, Todd Man Out talks about keeping your tongue in your mouth at all times, and Burley Oak Brewery owner Bryan Brushmiller provides his weekly State of the Beer update. Listen below or click here to subscribe via iTunes.