Much has been written about the profusion of profanity these days, and I’ve posted a few items about it here. This is merely the latest observation about today’s Age of Profanity:
Nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned last week _ 74 percent _ said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64 percent said they use the F-word _ ranging from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent).
I’m beginning to wonder if we aren’t worried about the wrong thing. People have always cursed and always will, for a lot of reasons. It relieves stress for some people and diffuses anger in others, in a way that is better than bashing somebody over the head. It is a way of testing the limits of taboos, in a less socially destructive way than, say, looking for laws to break. Cursing, for some of us, even helps sort our relationships into categories — we tend to feel freer to curse around people we are most comfortable with. It probably goes too far to say cursing benefits society more than harms it, but it does serve a useful purpose.
So what happens when we have no sense of forbidden words and more people feel more comfortable just saying anything in front of anybody? As one person says in the story, about the F-word:
That word doesn’t even mean what it means anymore," says Larry Riley of Warren, Mich. "It has just become part of the culture." Riley admits to using the F-word a few times a week.
The more we overuse the words, the less they will seem like cursing. They will just become another part of our vocabulary. I doubt if there can really be a culture without curse words, so one of two things could happen. People for whom cursing has been a way to blow off steam might find worse ways to do that. Or, more likely, different taboo words will come about to fill all our cursing needs until they, too, are overused.
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