On the Use of Profanity

It seems to me that there is a significant quantity of swearing in our culture these days. Listening to casual snatches of conversations in public places, all I hear are strings of profanity in place of adjectives and adverbs. The use of profanity has gotten to the point where seven year olds are cussing like battle hardened Marines on the school playground.

Cussing has gone mainstream. In Avengers, Age of Ultron, the use of profanity became a running joke because Captain America scolded a fellow Avenger for “language.” Of course, Cap got it back in spades when he swore later on in the film. It was a nice character moment that demonstrated Cap’s old-fashioned sense of conduct, that of the Officer and Gentleman. The fact that the joke worked very well with the audience says something.

Someone – I forget who – once said that swearing was a sign of a limited vocabulary.  It is a lesson that I try to personally heed when writing. When I self- edit, and I have a character delivering a profanity laced diatribe, I ask myself a couple of questions: Why are they swearing? What is the context (environment, lack of education)? And last, is it really necessary to drive the story forward? I would like to think that the pages have turned out for the better by leaving the unnecessary swear words on the cutting room floor.

Hell, Heck, I myself am guilty of swearing. It used to be that I only swore when I was vexed beyond words, and that vexation usually was caused by one of two things: cars or computers. (Anyone who has ever dealt with Windows 3.0 knows of what I speak.) Nowadays, I have caught myself cussing over stupid, little things. So I have to wonder why. Am I frustrated all the time, or have I just become a grumpy old man, or both? Perhaps have I gotten lazy in my use of the English language? All I can say in my defense is that I now have three very frustrating teenagers in my house, so maybe you, dear reader, can cut me a little slack.

And those battle hardened Marines from the first paragraph? They – and their armed services brethren – can say anything they want. They’ve earned it. Semper fi, green machine!


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