Much ado about “fucking”

If the title didn’t clue you in and you’re not already familiar with other posts here, I’ll kindly inform you that I do not refrain from obscenities, vulgarities, expletives, blasphemies, curses, and potty-mouthing. However, it’s a public service, because there are people who actually judge what I have to say by whether or not a naughty word is heard or read, and since I really have nothing but contempt for those who need simple rules to guide their thoughts, accommodating such people wastes their time and mine.

Yet, there’s a lot more to it than that, too. I have long held the viewpoint that words only have the power that you give them, and that it isn’t what you say, but how you say it and what you mean. The word “boy” has appeared on nobody’s shame-shame list, yet it is still widely recognized as being derogatory and demeaning in certain uses and circumstances. Anything can be a curse, if used in a particular manner. But context often dictates the impact, too, as most people can watch stand-up comedians or movies about street crime and fully expect, and cope with, frequent swoony words. There really isn’t anything special about them – we simply have a cultural reaction, an expectation that we should be dismayed upon certain vocalizations in certain circumstances, and the more one thinks about it, the sillier it sounds. Have you heard them before? Well, then, you survived intact – hearing it again isn’t like chipping away at your sanity or morals or anything. Saying or hearing “bitch” three times, or a hundred, isn’t going to summon the demon Betelgeuse (or Batman.)

Here’s an example of how cultural expectations can make us engage in pointless exercises. Science Daily featured, in their quintessentially slop-journalistic way, a study undertaken about which characters in popular teen novels swore the most. Professor Sarah Coyne apparently thought that the connection between characters with higher social status and cussing would actually have serious impact on youth.

“From a social learning standpoint, this is really important because adolescents are more likely to imitate media characters portrayed in positive, desirable ways,”

And? No, seriously, so fucking what? My question is, did those characters eat their veggies? Let’s concentrate on the important things here.

Now, if you’re keeping up, you noticed that the insertion of an expletive above actually had a specific effect, which was to express even greater contempt than the sentence would have had without it, and that’s very frequently the exact point. The breakdown of western civilization is hardly going to occur if teens start swearing more, even if it could be shown that such novels actually influenced readers in that manner (which the article didn’t address – it was only believed to be possible.) I could go on at length to express my distaste for research on such a decrepit premise, but it isn’t worth the effort, and I run the risk of seeming obsessive or neurotic; I’ll just call it vapid horseshit and have time for dessert.

You have certainly heard the much-favored argument that cussing is childish, a sign of immaturity, which actually says more about the person using the argument than about those it is used to delineate. In cultures where parents get woozy when they hear children spout an abbreviated term (you know, like “C-word” and “E-word”,) it is precisely this reaction that creates the usage – there is a certain defiance of authority in bespeaking the words of power, only because somebody reacts in the first place. It’s great that you can produce a sharp reaction with just a well-timed utterance; otherwise you’d have to pour icewater down their cleavage to get the same response. But let’s be serious: this hardly applies to any grown adult using expletives to emphasize their point, and claiming that it does is only a lame attempt to make the claimant feel like a superior twat.

Moreover, the use of a phrase such as “goddamn lawnmower” has functionality only in that it is a shameful term, defined by culture to indicate a level of frustration. We create these curses to be used as curses, and then pretend that instead they came from somewhere else – aliens, maybe. We’re long past the point of believing that words could invoke demons or protection therefrom, or that we could actually send a lawnmower to hell. Avoiding the actual psychological functionality of curses is not only pointless and irrational, it can even increase our frustration rather than release it. Shouting, even forcefully, “misbegotten lawnmower!” is likely only to make matters worse as your kids not only fail to get out of your way for a while, they start giggling uncontrollably, the dickheads.

The issue becomes even more absurd when one considers the myriad ways that words can actually do harm, for instance by our reliance on the impression and interpretation that they’re given. Countless people in this country still actually believe that the US invading another country with excessive force on the ridiculous premise of either a) ferreting out terrorists, or b) protecting ourselves from the threat of “WMDs,” can still be considered proper and just – solely because that’s how it’s been presented through our media (I’m hoping you haven’t failed to notice the ludicrous nature of killing people under the title, “Operation Enduring Freedom.”) We are inundated with catchphrases such as “life begins at conception” and “marriage as god intended” and, if we’re stupid enough to think that repeating words gives them greater impact, we actually accept a premise invented solely to push an agenda. The hidden fault here is that we are far more concerned with our interactions with others than with thinking critically, with recognizing that something they said is irrational or unsupportable. It can’t even be described as letting others do our thinking for us, because this implies thought is actually involved. All too often, we find ourselves gasping at curses, confident in the majority opinion that this is ‘bad’ but unable to explain why. Alternately, we’re often completely unwilling to expose outright lies, frauds, or manipulation, despite the demonstrable harm that they do. That’s fucked up.

By all means, pay close attention to what people say – but know why you’re doing so, and what to look for. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, yet will readily admit this is anecdotal and perhaps unsupportable by a proper study: it’s not the people who swear openly that comprise the vast majority of those trying to promote bullshit – it’s the ones who will never use the word, “bullshit.”

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