Swearing's on the Increase -- Have you Noticed?


Back in 1930 when Freud's "Society and its Discontents" was published, profanity was seldomly used publicly, but when it was, it was used creatively. Nowadays it seems to be an everyday thing, sometimes an every-other-word thing....and especially among young people.

The Cincinnati Enquirer does an informal survey, including observations by librarians, teachers and students, most responding that parents and the media are to blame.

So watch that shhhhh thing...you might get a four-letter word back in response.


If you "Search inside this book" for "Bull," you get Scott Adams' take on this phenomenon.

Actually, what is being seen is the prominence of lower social class people expressing themselves in public. Much better they should bow and scrape in silence and pull their forelock as they did in the past when we superior folks strutted by. For the last 1,000 years, people could tell the class of others by the type and style of language they used- think of "My Fair Lady." One of the clues was whether they used French or Latin terms, which were high class, and Anglo-Saxon terms, which were lower class. "Shit" was bad, but "Excrement" was not. "Fuck" is a bad word, but "Intercourse" is not (think of the famous town in Pennsylvania).
      Also, there are the famous euphemisms. Everybody swears, but those who use accepted eupemisims are forgiven. "Goddamnit" is wrong, but "Goldurnit" is not, even though both are used in the same situation and for the same reasons. One term shows lower class affiliations, and the other does not, in much the same way as using double negatives in a sentence or inappropriate use of "them" for "those."
        Swear words are power words, and are used by those without power to express their control over people and events. If they don't shock and thrill, they aren't useful. Thus, many pervious swear words, often religious, are no longer powerful. Hell and Damn are used so frequently, they are no longer considered wrong for even young children to use. "God's wounds" and "God rot you" are so unfamiliar to modern Americans that they are no longer used or understood. One minister said that the word from the Psalms, "Selah," which isn't understood today, is what David said when he broke a string on his harp.
        Many past words which weren't considered swear words, fortunately, now are. Racial and ethnic slurs are now not used in public, where often they were flung around with abandon. Gender and sexual swear terms are still used, and "Bitch!" and "Bastard!" are certainly used more often today in conversations than "Kike," "Nigger" or "Spic".
        Finally, nothing needs changing so much as other people. When we use bad words that others don't like, it is freedom of speech. When other people use bad words we don't approve of, they are low class fools that need to be punished.
          Let's concentrate on important things. After all, if someone used non-anglo-Saxon swear words, say from Arabic or Hindi, where almost no one in the US would know what they meant, and thus wouldn't be offended. We are only offended when we know what they are saying.
        Shazbatz! (Is this a swear word or not? Are you offended or bewildered?)Lee

Does this mean that Vice President Cheney is of the lower social classes since he uses this sort of language? In fact, I can think of quite a few wealthy people in the local business community who use this sort of language.

I work at a boarding school where the children of millionaires come to reach the education goals their parents set for them. These kids use expletives all day long. We call this being "out of standard" and punish it with hard, physical work. However, I've heard some of the teachers use this language as well, so it's no wonder the kids ignore this "standard" so regularly.

While I agree that the words in question can be powerful words, I find that power has been diminished with overuse - I am not shocked these days to hear them used in everyday conversation.

My personal favorite treatment of foul language is in Clyde Edgerton's book "Killer Diller" in which Wesley is released from the juvenile detention center and determined to turn over a new leaf and give up cursing. In order to break the habit, he decides to change the initial letter of each swear word to an "n", upon which he finds himself saying things like nit! and nodnammit! These outbursts elicit confusion from the other characters rather than disapproval, just as Lee Hadden explained above.

An informal survey by a second-rate paper doesn't do much to convince me that any spike in swearing is underway ... I'm pretty sure folks in the past were every bit as rude and obscene as were are ;)RS

Subscribe to Comments for "Swearing's on the Increase -- Have you Noticed?"