50 Shades of Blue: The Use of Profanity at The Green Study

canstockphoto8636729A friend of a friend was directed to my blog. Her first comment, after reading one of my posts, was, “she uses a lot of foul language”.  All that writing, all that effort and her takeaway was the occasional swear word?

I’ve wrestled for years with my propensity towards the profane. As a parent, I managed to go the first 7 or 8 years of my daughter’s life without swearing in front of her. Lately, that’s been slipping, as I’ve struggled with health issues and exhaustion – just too tired of trying to do everything “right”. So a damn or shit or hell slips out. Then she and I have a discussion about language and I do penance by wondering how much her therapy bill will be in the future.

It’s not as if I don’t understand some people’s reactions. As a teenager, I was prim and proper and pious. I did everything I could to seem different from the Dukes of Haphazard with whom I lived. I didn’t swear, I didn’t go all the way and I believed that there was one way to be right – and a hundred ways to be wrong.

But I’m a grownup now and I see the hypocrisy of sounding perfect while behaving like a complete shitbag. It rankles me that some people get hung up on a word or 10, but are selfish, arrogant and unkind in all other nonverbal ways. I’ll be the first to admit that constant streams of profanity are tiresome, but they are tiresome in the way that overused words, phrases and acronyms are – grow the economy, stay on message, zombie apocalypse, LOL, OMG and most recently, twerking.

I love language. I love its nuances – the rhythm, the power, the melody. Sometimes the staccato of the profane livens things up, makes a point in a way that all niceties fail to accomplish. As a child, using naughty words was a way of rebelling against authority and there are still vestiges of that kid in me today. Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t find calling my friends bitches (as in “Hey bitches, how ’bout we meet at Applebee’s?”) particularly empowering or rebellious.

And there are limitations to meanings when swear words get overused. If what I read and hear is any indication, the world is peopled by assholes. Every other person is such an asshole. My first thought is “In what way? Can we be a little more specific?” Media, both entertainment and social, has made profanity run-of-the-mill, overused and unrecognizable in the steady stream of swear words that flows from every avenue.

On vacation, where I was overrun by fellow tourists, blue language startled me. It wasn’t the words, it was the context. In a public space, with children and grandparents, people were letting loose left and right, with little regard to the audience around them. I wondered at my prudish reaction. Why was I appalled – a person who could put sailors and truckers to shame (those stereotyped doyens of profanity)? Like spouting off about religion in a mixed crowd, a captive audience – there’s an issue of respect for the beliefs and sensibilities of others.

Context is important, but also subjective. There are no hard and fast rules. What is cringe-worthy for one person is everyday chitchat for another. I believe in boundaries, but it takes diligence and awareness to know time and place. The oft-repeated idea that the use of profanity shows a lack of education or is merely laziness, bothers me. I’m an irreverent person, so profanity, when used sparsely and concisely, amuses me. When used in everyday conversation, with no real point or emphasis, it seems a waste. And swearing at someone is inherently different than swearing about someone or something.

As to anyone taking offense to this blog, I am reminded of a quote by one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut: “profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.” It reminds me to always listen for the message under the method of communication. Is what is being said more important than how it is being said? As a writer, this is a constant battle I have with myself when reading others’ work. Do I let myself get hung up on typos or grammar or cursing or are they saying something worth paying attention to?

The brilliance of blogging is that if you offend, you only have to do it once and the reader is gone. Your audience is one of choice. My takeaway is that if you only get to offend once, best to go balls to the wall, whether it be with words or ideas. And so, The Green Study will continue with its usual tinge of blue. I hear the writer is a complete asshole.


Some Blogs to Be Offended By:

The Outlier Collective   I absolutely love this relatively new collaborative blog (and wrote for it).  I disagree frequently with the opinions expressed, but these bloggers are passionate and fearless when it comes to taking on the issues. And I always come away with so much to think about – the comments are just a bonus. Stellar idea, well-executed.

Melanie Lynn Griffin   She’s a writer, an activist and has strong spiritual beliefs. She, too, is a passionate person and involved. I don’t always agree, but I do admire her willingness to participate in the political process, to express her opinions loudly and to be optimistic for our future in this world.

Forming the Thread   This has been a longtime favorite eclectic blog of mine – strong opinions, travel, fiction. Talented writers, easily digestible posts. I love reading blogs that make me scrutinize my own beliefs.

Views from the Couch   This irreverent blogger makes me laugh out loud. If language offends, this won’t be your cup of tea. And no topic seems to be off-limits.