Friday, September 01, 2006

An Effing Plea for Clean Language

I want you to keep what I am about to tell you to yourself. Don't tell anyone. I mean it! What I am about to disclose is embarrassing to me, and I would hate for anyone to know about it.

Hold your breath. Don't keel over in surprise. Ready?

Here it is: I have been known, on occasion, to use a bad word or two. I'm not proud of it, but there it is. When I whack my thumb with a hammer, when I drop my keys into a snow bank or a mud puddle, when someone backs into my car in a parking lot and doesn't leave a note, I am likely to use an expletive, usually that very versatile one that is often used as adjective, noun, verb or adverb. You know which one I mean, don't you? Chances are you might have used it yourself, once or twice.

Just knowing that I am not the only one to use such language, especially under very trying circumstances, doesn't make me feel any better about it. I dislike hearing others utter numerous variations of that word in sentence after sentence. In fact, in some conversations, often it is the sentence that doesn't contain some variant of that word that stands alone, unusual, strange.

Movies? Cable TV shows? Stand-up Comedians? Take out all of the effing effs and what is left? No dialogue. No jokes.

My son and I like to watch the show "Entourage" on cable TV. It offers interesting characters, interesting scenarios, and lots of colourful language. Would the situations be less 'real' without the vulgarity? I don't think so, but then I appear to be really out of touch with reality sometimes.

As I was unpacking and organizing things in our new home yesterday, I could hear workmen outside yelling at each other as they worked. For two or more hours, I heard dialogue like this:

"Hurry effing up! Move the effing thing over there."

"What the eff is your problem?"

"Didn't you effing hear what I effing said to you, you stupid eff?"

"Eff off!"

And so on.

Everyone in the block must have hear this. Was I the only one who raised an eyebrow at the language? It seems that way. In shopping malls, on the sidewalks of our city, in restaurants, in fact just about everywhere, language like this erupts from teenagers and adults alike. Why is that?

Is it laziness? Is there a need in us to utter sentences of a certain minimum number of syllables, and in the absence of a developed vocabulary we use every effing variant we can think of? Is it perhaps because of the bad boy or bad girl cachet that we think accompanies the use of language like this, and the notion that it sets us apart from everyone else somehow? If so, how can that be, if everyone else is doing the same thing? And if we really want to be different, why can't we just wear stripes when everyone else is wearing polka dots or vice versa?

I just wish that everyone would make an effing effort to try and clean up their effing language. I really do give a flying eff and don't want my son to speak that way.

I guess it had better start with me, hadn't it? I am, after all, the example my son is most likely to follow.

I'll do my best.


  1. Ah, this is a big pet peeve of mine, too. Drives me absolutely crazy to hear all the profanity in public settings, especially when there are children nearby. I, too, am guilty of using a bad word now and then (more often than I should, that's for sure!), but I try to remember this golden rule: Know your audience. If I'm around people who will find my language offensive, I take care to choose something a bit more gentle. Why can't the rest of the world be more conscientious? And speaking of TV programs, have you ever watched Deadwood on HBO? We rent it from Netflix and boy, the first few episodes were enough to make me say enough! But the show is incredibly well-written in spite of (literally) every other word is the eff word. There's a strong Shakespearean tone to the program which is probably the biggest draw for me and hubby.

    Great post.

  2. What the eff is your effen point? Maybe if you would realize what a powerful word this effen expression is, you would not use it in such a crass way. "Eff" is the corrupted form of an important legal phrase, which is "Fornication and Unlawful Carnal Knowledge". It also means in agricultural terms, "the farmer went out to eff his fields", which meant he cast seeds upon the earth.
    No get the hell out of here and show some effen respect.

  3. Interesting where the term came from.. but how in the world did it go from a legal phrase to acronym? And, how did that acronym come to become a word all on it's own that means what it does now??

    Yes, I am guilty of occassionally using that word.

    We were at the park the other day and some men were tarring the roof of the community center. And they were swearing ever second word, but they were just talking basic, regular, every-day, average-joe, b.s.. they weren't even angry. That really bothered me. All the kids and parents could hear them.

  4. Les: I've surfed by Deadwood a number of times but have never watched it. I'll give it a try. I love good writing. William and Penny: I have heard that acronym too, as an explanation. However, there is a German verb, ficken, which means, well you know, and I suspect that it is the real source. Occam's Razor again. I don't know for sure, of course.

  5. As the song goes, "If You See Kay, tell her I love her."
    Been fighting this endless battle myself. Most notable among the casualties was a fellow I schooled with named Jason McKenna, but everybody called "Rufus" because of his long, red hair (Or, atleast that was the given excuse, though I suspect it also a synonym for rough-***). Dude spoke rather loudly always and could NOT utter a sentence without using the God**** and f***-bombs atleast once, usually in some conjunctive form.
    We were at lunch one day and Rufus asked if he could sit with (Everything about him was clean and well-mannered, except his mouth, which made it even more hilarious to the rest of us).
    As he started to ramble and rant, the girls around our table/seats started to vacate and the boys started to crack up. He noticed and said something like "Where the - *three guesses what* - 's everybody goin'?" I confronted him thusly (though now, I doubt I'm one to do so):
    "Rufus, you're a great guy and all. You'd be even greater if you'd lose those cusswords."
    Rufus: "What the God****ed f*** are you talkin' about?"
    Me (cracking up): "Forget it, dude."

    I call it "Ozzy Osborn Syndrome". There are actually people like this in the world, which I believe accounts for atleast SOME of what we've been dealing with. I strongly suspect the situation has proliferated dramatically in the 26 years since!

  6. I have much more fun being colorful with weird outbursts: "For the love of all frogs green, please hurry up!"

  7. I know a guy just like Rufus. Great guy, just can't seem to speak without 'cussin.'

    AGK -- nice to hear from you. I like your approach too. It gets the point accross and takes the sting out of a rebuke or admonishment by being funny.

    Glad you're enjoying your new life in Colorado!