I dislike profanity for the most part, but it has its place. There are some thoughts which simply cannot be expressed adequately without it. Nevertheless, I find it painful to wade through mounds of casual vulgar language on the Internet, where it is far more ubiquitous than it is even in so-called "real life" (at least in the circles in which I move). And most of the time, the use of profanity adds nothing to its context.

Most people on the Internet who learn of my dislike of profanities, vulgarities, and obscenities usually just dismiss it as prudery or squeamishness on my part. While that evaluation is not entirely untrue, it is an oversimplification -- and more importantly, it is preemptively dismissive, which annoys me. Sensitivity to modes of expression, just like sensitivity to certain odors, varies from one person to another; just because my sensitivities may be slightly different from the norm doesn't mean that they are wrong or invalid. I am surely not the only person on the Internet who feels this way about foul language.

My position also doesn't mean that I automatically condemn all uses of vulgar language; heck, I happen to own George Carlin's Class Clown album (on vinyl!), with the "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" monologue, and I laugh my tush off listening to it. The fact is that I support and applaud freedom of speech and expression; I just think that vulgar language should be the last resort to express something, rather than the first or most common choice, especially if you want your views to have the appearance of maturity and intelligence. Even if your views are both mature and intelligent already, they might not seem so to the audience if they are laced with words more closely associated with "gangstas" than philosophers.

Think of it this way: If you dress like a bum, you are seen as a bum, even if you're a millionnaire. Similarly, in speech or in writing, the words in which the thoughts are "clothed" can make a lot of difference in how those thoughts are perceived, and a PhD can come across as being no more intellectual than a drunk longshoreman if he expresses himself with the vocabulary of one.

So I would ask that before you post, consider your vocabulary choices -- how they reflect on you and how they might color the perception of the ideas you are presenting. If you still think profanity is the best choice to use in expressing a given thought, then use the freaking profanity. But if other words might serve as well or better, consider using them instead of lazily resorting to the same old overused Anglo Saxon monosyllables.

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Comment by Chrys Stevenson on August 11, 2008 at 12:37am
Of course, as an Australian, I have a patriotic duty to use use 'bloody' as an adjective in every bloody sentence.

My Dad was the most patriotic bloody Aussie I ever knew. Not only did he put bloody in every sentence, he put it between syllables - thus he would gush, "Isn't that absa-bloody-beautiful?"

When I was in the UK and writing letters home, my mother was so appalled at my language she wrote a poem called "Bloody Hell"!:

"If with words you're not expressive
or your adjectives excessive,
use the phrase we know so well,
that good old Aussie, 'bloody hell!'

I'm glad I sent my child to school,
and had her taught the 'golden rule'.
She learned well the English grammar,
voice control without a stammer,
Now she writes her tales to tell
and punctuates with 'bloody hell!"

"Don't waste your time with fancy phrases,
let your English go to blazes.
Dramatize, you'll do it well,
and exclaimate with 'bloody hell'
Comment by Mark on August 11, 2008 at 12:32am
Ken Oath, Kristy! Ed Zachary! ;)
Comment by Wordplayer on August 11, 2008 at 12:20am
Thanks, Mark! I appreciate the supportive comment.

As for sensitivity to language being "conditioning," I think that's a fair way to put it. It's essentially a values issue. If I had been raised with the idea that multiple spouses was right and proper, seeing a lot of families like that around me, I'd probably be polyamorous; but I wasn't, so I'm not.

Obviously, conditioning of this sort affects some people more than others (or, to put it another way, some people are more prone to overcome or simply flout their original conditioning than others), or there would be very little fluctuation in such values as sexual mores or language sensitivity.

If I had some strong reason to want to become polyamorous, or to wholeheartedly accept profanity as standard vocabulary, I suppose it's possible that I could do so, though it would be very uncomfortable for me for a long time until I could get used to it (and that time might never come); but since my values work for me quite well as they are, I have no interest in changing them, let alone making a strong and difficult effort to do so.
Comment by Mark on August 10, 2008 at 11:56pm
I wholeheartedly agree.

Unfortunately I think many people don't care for improving their ability to communicate when, in their experience, profanity works just fine.

Fizzy, sensitivity to language is no more chosen than any emotional reaction to words. It's learned, or more accurately, conditioned. It's about as chosen as one's religious beliefs. And like religious beliefs it can be discarded, but that's a process which requires a lot of effort.
Comment by Wordplayer on August 10, 2008 at 11:04pm
(*sigh*) I know my position is an unpopular one -- especially on the Internet. But thank you all for reading and commenting, even those who don't agree with me. I do appreciate your input.

Kristy, thank you in particular for your supportive comment. I especially like your observation, "Profanity loses its effectiveness when used as punctuation." Nicely put! That is indeed a major problem.

When vulgar language becomes standard usage vocabulary, it loses the punch and ability to shock that it normally would have had if it were used only rarely. The result is a sort of linguistic inflation: The more commonplace profanity becomes, the harsher it has to get to have any potency. Thus, when people are already using gutter language to convey ordinary thoughts, there is not much of anyplace left to go, wordwise, to express thoughts requiring greater intensity or pithiness.

Thank you, everyone, for weighing in!
Comment by Chrys Stevenson on August 10, 2008 at 8:47pm
Profanity loses it's effectiveness when used as punctuation. Sometimes, only the 'f' word will do but I'm against using expletives against people - e.g. fucktard, asshat, etc. Firstly, I think it shows you've run out of rational argument and have had to move to a personal attack. Second, I think it's just plain mean - we tend to forget that there's an actual person with feelings on the receiving end. Thirdly, it completely puts your opponent offside and switches them off to anything meaningful you might have to say. In other words, it's self-defeating.
Comment by Fizzy on August 10, 2008 at 7:40pm
The difference between sensitivity to odors, as you put it, and sensitivity to language is that you choose to be sensitive to language. Even if one is socialized to react that way in youth, the adults who retain the reaction have chosen not to discard it.

At this point, obscenity is simply another rhetorical style. One might as well be personally offended by clichés.
Comment by The Good Atheist on August 10, 2008 at 7:06pm
Why should you ever be concerned with what other people think? Vulgarity is potent. it takes people out of their comfortable little worlds. I believe in them. I like em.

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