On July 13, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC broadcast standards for “fleeting expletives” was too vague to enforce. I’m sure that it was. Personally, I would like the burden to be shifted from the broadcasters to the explitive utterers, at least in some cases. When an athelete or a soldier or a construction worker gets a microphone pushed into his/her face for a reaction to an expletive-laden event, he or she should be forgiven for a candid response. When professional performers, however, are at televised awards shows, they should be able to control their remarks.
The whole thing brings up, once again, the subject of censorship and the morality of speech. There was a time when profanity was avoided by educated people although it has always existed. Mark Twain, for instance, wrote admiringly about the virtuosity of mule drivers concerning foul language. But, even though Twain was self=publishing, he did not record any of the mule drivers’ actual speech.
I think that the breakthrough for profanity came with Lenny Bruce. He was a brilliant observationalist, although not a terribly funny comedian. If the authorities had ignored his use of blue language in his routines, he might have faded into obscurity. Prosecution, and repeated prosecution, made him a star for social liberals, the hip set, and the wannabes. Maybe the best thing he did was prepare the world for George Carlin.
Carlin was both a genius and truly funny. Unfortunately, his use of profanity led a couple generations of comedians to believe that dirty words were an essential part of making people laugh.
Now, men, mostly, and some women who sit at desks in air conditioned offices use language that was once the province of those who actually labor for a living. In some cases, it is because many Office Andy's think the abuse of language makes them cool (or whatever is the current equivalent). In other cases, they think is makes them sound as tough as they wish they were.
I don’t consider myself part of any camp, but I have known and worked alongside people who do rough and dangerous work. I would not dishonor them by trying to imitate or pretend that I am the same.
To be honest, from an early age, I did make an effort to be cool. For me it is about knowing yourself and being true to that knowledge. I am who I am, and I do what I do, and if there’s a price to be paid for that—and believe me, there is—then it’s mine to pay. Language and clothes and music don’t conceal what is underneath.
Words are neither moral nor immoral. However, profanity is destructive to the language I love. Early in Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words routine, he says that there are more words to describe dirty words than there are dirty words. But then, he misses the point he just made. That wealth of vocabulary is the beauty and strength of the English language. It is something to celebrate and encourage.
If you haven’t read it, or haven’t recently, thumb through John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, better known as Fanny Hill. It is a book with a sexual adventure on practically every page. That is not the point. The point is the richness of the language he uses to describe our common and more vulgar body parts and their uses. Cleland is not Shakespeare wrestling with great themes, but while sitting in a debtor’s prison, he adorned his prose with sparkling gems, and not a “dirty word” in sight.
Profanity takes away that richness. The four-letter word for sexual congress is almost never used to describe that delightful activity. Instead, it is used to indicate abuse, but not only that. It has gone from being a verb to also being a noun, adjective and adverb. It is used in moments of surprise, anger, joy, etc. It is an all-purpose word that replaces dozens, if not hundreds of more descriptive words. Its use dumbs down society. “Go [bleep] yourself” now passes for wit. With acceptance of this practice, we are impoverishing ourselves.
Yet, English is fast becoming the world’s language. Native speakers should take care to preserve and nurture it, so that it remains something worth adopting.