To Swear Or Not To Swear- Why Are People Uncomfortable With Profanity?

The topic of swearing has been on my mind lately. Several bloggers and I have been talking about the touchy subject of using expletives in our writing; if you have read my posts before, you are probably well aware of my penchant for profanity.

I do not swear in all of my posts, but there are certain anecdotes, particularly those that were emotionally charged in the moment, when I use profanity to punctuate the intensity of my feelings. I am somewhat foul-mouthed in my “real life”, and I strive to present as honest a picture as possible of my daily life; I think that mothers especially benefit when we do not sugar-coat our parenting experience and can be as down to earth and truthful as possible when sharing with one another.

However I would be lying if I said I never felt uncomfortable or conflicted about my use of expletives in my writing. Mostly because the “nice girl” in me is afraid of making other people uncomfortable, and I realize that not everyone swears in their daily lives. Being a people pleaser, a “Yes” Mom, and desperately craving approval, I don’t like the idea of people being put off by my “color.” Ultimately, though, my desire to be true to myself wins, and in certain posts, I allow myself to include the profanity that presents itself naturally during the writing process, albeit it doctored at times by conveniently placed asterisks. As if we don’t all see the word f*ck and think “fuck” in our heads anyway.

I wrote a post awhile back called “Alterna-Swears: Things To Say Instead Of Using Profanity In Front of Your Kids.” I have a lot of conflicting feelings about children and profanity. I will admit that sometimes when I hear adults using expletives conversationally with their children, it makes me cringe and I feel judgmental. Somehow I feel that my shouting “God Dammit!” when I stub my toe is better than another person telling their kid not to step in the goose shit. Hypocritical, I know.

Cussing Children?

The idea of children running around shouting, “Fuck that!” to one another is equally offensive. When my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher taught the class to say, “Mr. Padinky!” when they were upset, frustrated, or hurt. I didn’t reflect much on this until recently, when I came to the realization that she was essentially giving them a social acceptable expletive to express their feelings.

And I have to say that I think children need their own version of an expletive; I place great value on teaching my daughters how to identify, own, and express their emotions. It may be one of my greatest assets as a parent, in my opinion. Children are filled with rage, fear, grief, elation, and sorrow. Why shouldn’t their vocabulary hold a word that is large enough to bear the weight of their heavy, precious emotions?

Many years ago I was talking to a mother who had brought her two boys to my music class. As we chatted, her boys, ages 4 and 6, wrestled on the floor. “You barking dog!” one of them shouted angrily at the other. The mother smiled apologetically and said, “It’s a good thing they don’t know curse words!”

I thought that was so amusing when I heard it, but now I think there is a lot more to it. “Barking dog” is pretty much the same thing as “fucking asshole”. The intention is the same, the underlying emotions are the same- only the semantics and the level of social acceptability are different.

swearing childWhile I have admitted that I feel uncomfortable with the notion of children swearing, let me play devil’s advocate. If there isn’t a difference between a child yelling “Rats!” and “Dammit!” when they strike out at baseball, why do we balk at the latter? And as adults, why are some people so uncomfortable with reading or hearing expletives? Is it because these words indicate a supposed lack of decorum or disregard for propriety? Or is it because the underlying emotions- the anger, frustration, disappointment, or even the most terror-inducing: rage, are too shameful to be brought to light?

Is Profanity A Healthy Way To Express Emotion?

There is a certain societal discomfort with wholly expressing emotions, particularly ones that are perceived as “negative.” How many of us have spent months or years in therapy trying to bring suppressed emotions to the surface? And why do we bury these feelings to begin with? Because we are taught that the world cannot tolerate them. They are ugly. And shameful.

Not all swearing stems from anger or disappointment. What about the high-five-accompanied “Fuck yeah!” when you receive good news? Are we equally uncomfortable with the other end of the emotional spectrum- joy and the subsequent lack of containment?

While it may be argued that our culture rewards colorful characters, passion, and extreme displays of emotion, evidenced by our celebrity worship and reality-TV addiction, it seems that the Puritanical value of temperance is still a deep undercurrent. People who seem to be in poor control of their emotions, who somehow exude a lack of moderation or composure, are undoubtedly frowned upon. I have definitely squirmed when in the presence of a person who appears to have no “filter.” But where do we draw the line?

Even I agree that excessive profanity can make a person seem unintelligent. I too have flinched when reading a blog post speckled with gratuitous “fuck this” and “fuck that”. There is a line, and expletive use can cross the line from being an effective form of expression to a tasteless display of ignorance very easily.

Does this tangent seem a bit far-fetched? Am I over-thinking things? Perhaps I should just accept that many people still embrace the value that using profanity is simply in poor taste, or illustrates bad manners. But I can’t help but think that many people are even more uncomfortable with overt displays of emotion, considering this lack of composure to reflect poorly on the honest person who happens to be expressing himself.

While I don’t argue that we should teach our five year old to holler, “Son of a bitch!” the next time he falls of his bike, I think we need to teach our children that the brilliant spectrum of their emotions is acceptable. We need to give them an outlet to express even the ugliest of feelings, and assure them that we can handle it.

I am eager to hear your thoughts: What do you find objectionable about profanity? Is there a place for it? When does it go too far? And what do you think is at the root of people’s discomfort with swearing?

 

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