The Score on Swearing
[Last Modified on 2007.02.12]
Okay, we admit it: we swear. A lot. Sometimes, perhaps, even more than is precisely necessary. But, in all sincerity, who the fuck cares?
Apparently the majority of folks that Jocelyn Noveck talks to do:
Nearly three-quarters of Americans questioned last week 74 percent [sic] said they encounter profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they think people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64 percent said they use the F-word ranging from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent).
Oh, horrors; oh heavens to Betsy...whoever the fuck she is. Stuff costs more than it used to, porn is freely available on the Internet to anyone with enough brains and/or savvy to click "I Am Over 18," and young people use curse words. Pardon us, but grow the fuck up.
Even Miss Manners feels the need to weigh in on this — though, to be fair, this is right in her wheelhouse:
The problem, she says, is that people who are offended aren't speaking up about it.
"Everybody is pretending they aren't shocked," Martin says, "and gradually people WON'T be shocked. And then those who want to be offensive will find another way."
Wait...gradually people won't be shocked — and this is a bad thing? People shouldn't be shocked. People should get over themselves. Besides, if people think we're swearing to be offensive, that misses the point of our usage of profanity so wildly, all we can say is: damn. (Change-up! You thought we'd say "fuck," didn't you?) Quite honestly, if we were using profanity purely for shock value, we'd use it far less than we do, since the occassional F-bomb from people who otherwise don't engage in profanity is far more shocking than the regular way in which we use the word.
But apparently, that lack of offense hasn't made its way to all segments of society. Between the FCC and the attitude of political correctness running rampant in the United States, a person who utters a swear in a public place can be made to feel like a criminal. Literally. There are many groups around the country who are actively trying to kill off swearing in one form or another (though Ginny Foster of hush-up.com seems to have folded up her amazingly hypocritical tents — she's the one who would practically criminalize taking Jesus' name in vane, but had no problem invoking Buddha for any old bullshit incident that might crop up). These fools incorrectly paint swearing as a violent, ignorant habit. And, in spite of the First Amendment, the government continues to try to ban or criminalize swearing in some contexts. A now-repealed 1998 Colorado law actually did make swearing in bars and restaurants illegal, even for the owners. Before the law was challenged by the ACLU and subsequently repealed, Colorado police had charged 18 people with...wait for it...using swear words. (How dare they?!) Want a more recent example? How about Thomas Leonard, who was arrested in Michigan in 2002. What did he do?
"All our client did was get up at a public meeting and express himself vigorously, and he was arrested for it," said Glen Lenhoff, Leonard's attorney.
At the time, Leonard's wife, Sarah, was suing the township over a towing contract. Thomas Leonard accused the board members in the meeting of cheating his family and saying, "That's why you're in a goddamn lawsuit."
Robinson [the cop] arrested Leonard, charging him with disorderly conduct and using obscene language. He was held in jail for an hour, and the charges were dismissed a month later.
Leonard is suing for violations of his constitutional rights, and the case is ongoing. The really sad part is that the district court that initially heard the case found that the officer did have probable cause to arrest Leonard, and it took an appeal to overturn that nonsensical decision.
Similarly, if you make the mistake of uttering the wrong word on television or on the radio, then get ready for a slew of complaints, fines, and legal actions. And all for uttering words that cause harm to no one. This shit is out of control.
Listen, here's the point we constantly find ourselves having to explain: swears, like all words, convey several layers of meaning which cannot be conveyed by the use of other words. This is easily illustrated: if we say that Jim is a jerk and John is a motherfucking cocksucker, you can readily understand the not-so-subtle difference in our opinions of Jim and John. It is a simple fact of the English language — and, in fact, language in general — that approximate or even exact synonyms, through common usage, take on their own uniquely varying flavors which entirely color our perceptions of phrases that contain those words. We're talking about all words, here; it's the same story if we say that Dapper Dan in the fourth race at Preakness is "excellent," while Goes The Mile in the second is "magnificent" — again, there is a difference that is conveyed by the use of the two different words. The difference itself may be interpreted differently by different listeners, depending on their own past experience with such words, but it's clearly there.
It isn't about being offensive (though sometimes we do mean to offend), it's about conveying the proper meaning and emotion behind our words. It's that simple.
But apparently, it's not that simple. Over the two-plus years that our site has been in operation, we've had countless comments, both public and private, chastising us for our liberal use of profanity. In addition, the recent explosive popularity of one of our Rants on Sylvia Browne has drawn the credulous crowd out in record numbers, and since they can't counter our actual rational arguments against psychics, they simply resort to calling us rude, mean pottymouths (in so many words). So here's an essay that's been two years in the making — an answer to every lurking (or de-lurked) dipshit that has problems with our language. We'll address the more common complaints below; then, whenever someone drops a comment on our site that is comprised solely of a complaint about our use of profanity, we'll simply pick it up, and drop it into the Rant that says the same thing that this Score entry does, where a ready-made answer already exists. Voilà! No further need to waste time giving them the same old answers. So without further ado, here are the most frequently heard assertions about our use of profanity, and our responses to each of them.
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1) Profanity is a sign of a lack of intelligence or education.
Feel free to judge for yourself what our level of intelligence and education is (Zeus knows we'll be doing that to you), but if you are using our liberal use of profanity as a guide, then you're barking up the wrong tree. We have no idea where this idea comes from, but it's patently incorrect. Anyone can use profanity, from the highly intelligent to the outrageously stupid; from PhDs to high school dropouts. We've seen profanity from both ends of those spectrums, as well as most points in between. The fact is that there is no correlation whatsoever between the use of profanity and the level of intelligence or education of the person using the profanity. If you are aware of a study showing a different result, please, by all means, let us know. Otherwise, please stop repeating this asinine and demonstrably inaccurate claim.
We're pretty confident — hell, make that fucking confident — that our level of intelligence and education is showcased on this site via our arguments, our writing style, our creative endeavors, and our humor. While you may not like everything we do or say, we submit that it is simply incorrect to refer to us as either uneducated or unintelligent. If you want to refer to us as such, we simply ask that you make your case by attacking our logic, our arguments, or our conclusions — something that most people who complain about our language seem unwilling or, far more likely, unable to do.
2) There are children reading this site.
Yes, there may be children reading this site. Wise people know that their children already know these words, and they teach them the appropriate usage of such words — that is, emphasizing that they are not used in "polite conversation." Trying to keep children ignorant of such words — in addition to being an exercise in extreme futility, no matter what time and place you're living in — only hurts them in the long run, as they will obtain such vocabulary informally in other venues, and will then not be properly educated as to its appropriate use. Understanding these facts means that you are living in the real world, rather than the pristine fantasy with which many people choose to blind themselves.
Further, since they already know these words, it's important to note what children can gain by reading this website. They can learn valuable critical thinking skills, which are woefully lacking in today's schools. They can learn about science and technology — two more subjects that, in our opinion, are not taught correctly or emphasized enough in school. They can learn how to argue their points, and how to defend their own positions. So even if a child finds one or two colorful phrases on this site that they hadn't heard before (we're willing to agree that's a distinct possibility, given how colorful we sometimes get), we believe that the benefits of being exposed to the content of our site far outweigh the perhaps unwanted expansion of their vocabulary.
Of course, parents are free to block our site, and those like it, if they so choose. There are plenty of technological tools available to parents for just this purpose — it doesn't have to apply strictly to pornography, folks. And in our opinion, active parenting is another skill that is missing from too many homes. Don't count on us (or anyone else) to refrain from publishing content that you don't like, and don't turn to the government to mandate that your personal views are codified as law. Instead, be a parent, and take responsibility for raising your own children.
3) Profanity detracts from or renders moot the arguments being made.
Some people seem to believe that the presence of emotion negates reason, and that our use of profanity shows that we are emotionally involved in the topics we write about. That's half true — we are emotionally involved in the topics we write about, and that's one reason why we write about them, and why we use profanity so much. However — and this is the important bit — our emotions do not color our logical analysis of a given subject. We look at an issue rationally, applying scientific inquiry, rational thought, and logic to it; we think through our point of view, construct our arguments, test our assertions, and reach our conclusions. Then, if we find we've come across a topic that still pisses us off — or excites us, or worries us, or cheers us up, or emotionally affects us in any other way — we write about it, often emotionally and with great passion.
But the emotion, the passion, and the profanity (and, yes, the frequent use of italics and/or bold for proper emphasis) are our style — not our substance. The style is how we express ourselves, almost as an afterthought, to accurately convey our strong opinions on these subjects; the substance itself is thought out and carefully considered for hours (rarely), days (frequently), weeks, or even months before we publish a final draft (this very Rant has been in one draft form or another for nearly two years!).
By all means, though, don't take our word for this — test us. You can do this easily by testing our arguments and countering our conclusions. If you find that they hold up to scrutiny, then chances are pretty good that we are successfully withholding emotional attachment when we form our positions (no matter how emotionally we present those positions in their final form). If you find that our logic flounders, then it's a good bet that we aren't keeping our emotions in check. Of course, everybody's prone to occasional slips where emotion trumps logic, and we're no different — we are humans, after all — but we'd submit that such instances are the exception for us, and not the rule.
All that said, we have no idea where people get the idea that emotions — especially anger — somehow negate an argument. That's blatantly incorrect. In fact, it's bullshit. Scientists and critical thinkers can and do get passionate, even angry; and, in fact, they should get angry when confronted with people who are trying to hurt others by advancing their own asinine agendas (be it ideological, financial, or whatever). Quite simply, anger, just because of its presence and expression, doesn't in any way detract from the points being made; and if you can't get past our language (or our anger) to see our actual arguments, then that's a shortcoming that you need to work on...not a problem somehow inherent to us.
4) There's no reason to be so rude to psychics, religious nutbags, crooked politicians, my favorite celebrity, my pet woo organization, me, et cetera, et cetera...
Bullshit. No, worse than that: bull-fucking-shit. Let's look at the people that we are routinely rude to, shall we?
We are rude to self-proclaimed psychics. Why? Because they leverage the pain and suffering of others to make a buck. They are leeches on society, and they deserve every ounce of anger that we can send their way. Imagine someone charging a grieving husband $3,000 for a funeral for his wife, then absconding with the money, without providing any funeral services. Talk about kicking a person when they're down. That's a good analog to what the popular so-called "psychics" of today are doing. Not to mention warping their victims' true memories and experiences of a lost loved one, and completely replacing their real final moments with some fucking bullshit they pull out of their asses, which — however potentially comforting, temporarily, to the credulous — is simply untrue. These fucking fiends are disgusting, and frankly deserve far worse than what we do to them.
We are also rude to religious nutbags; like Pat Robertson, as a perfect example. Pat routinely makes statements condemning those who don't agree with or comply with his totally twisted worldview (like feminists, homosexuals, non-Christians, and, oh, anybody else who isn't in his particular fold). He is on the record making incredibly rude and even physically threatening statements (sometimes directly, sometimes hiding behind his magical superdaddy) about other people, and he spends his time trying to get people mobilized to codify bigotry, hatred and narrowmindedness into law. Please, in all honesty, tell us: how is someone like this not worthy of rudeness or, especially, outright loathing?
Similarly, the politicians who try to legislate the same bigotry and intolerance offered by assholes like Pat also draw our ire, and rightfully so. Politicians are also, by and large, greedy, corrupt liars with no thought whatsoever put toward what they're supposed to be representing (like, oh, maybe their constituents and the principles of law and liberty?), but plenty of thought and effort put into their own personal beliefs and political needs. They're voted in for a reason — how many of them live up to the promise of those reasons? We don't even feel the need to delve too deeply into today's most shining example of egocentric, delusional, dishonest, avaricious idiocy (and yes, the man isn't remotely intelligent by our standards): that pathetic fuck sitting in the White House, hell-bent on destroying what's left of national achievement and international relations.
All of these people absolutely do cause harm. They hurt individuals (financially, psychologically, physically — in any way), they dismantle basic civil liberties (and/or exhibit a complete disregard for them), and they set back the progress of civilization and the human species by generations, if not centuries. That's why we can't understand the people who seem surprised by how angry we are at these pricks. From our perspective, anger is the natural and, more importantly, appropriate response to these kinds of behavior, and we can't fathom how any rational and caring person could feel otherwise. Frankly, the anger that we feel toward people like these absolutely warrants the language that we use, even if we weren't in the habit of using it so freely. They are vile individuals who willingly exploit others in order to advance their own agenda and/or to make a buck. Anger is the appropriate response to these people, and we have to question both the intellect and, even more tragically, the compassion and humanity of anyone who feels differently.
5) I'm offended by your profanity.
First and foremost, let's make this clear: you do not have the right to "not be offended." Being offended doesn't cause you harm, and it doesn't infringe on your rights in any way. Sorry, that's just a fucking fact of life. Just like how you're free to change the channel when you come across a television show that offends you (or one you simply don't like), you are free to surf to another site if you are offended by our writing. Remember: we didn't thrust our site on you — you came to us.
In addition, what so many people don't seem to grasp is that what is or is not considered offensive differs widely by geography, background, and personal values, and even changes wildly over time. For example, in some parts of the United Kingdom, the term "bloody sod" is considered offensive. In the United States, it conjures up a mental image of a sanguinated roll of grass. And for those who believe in the Judeo-Christian God, the term "God darn it" is highly offensive, as it takes the lord's name in vain, while to those who do not subscribe to that particular fantasy, it is nothing but a (very) watered down exclamation. Come on, folks, just a while back, a "tart" was a whore, while today it's a yummy breakfast treat (which, admittedly, isn't much of a change for some of us). Here are some more examples, from an article on CBS News:
For example the s-h word - "shoot." "Shoot" used to be a swear word - "shucks," too. In the early 1900s, you weren't supposed to say "Gee" or "Jeepers." For crying out loud you couldn't even say "for crying out loud!" - it was a euphemism for Christ.
In the 1800s, the big swear words were "drat," "doggone" and - cover the kids' ears! - "Jiminy Crickets."
When early settlers came to America and stubbed their toe getting off the ship, they would have said, "Odsbodikins!" - a swear word that meant God's little body.
So who's to judge which terms are offensive enough to not be used, and which are okay? At the end of the day, people who are attempting to do so are merely trying to make their idea of what is offensive apply to everyone, which is both self-centered and exceedingly ineffective. Hell, we could say we're offended by constant invocations of mythological deities (we're not — we just find them stupid, silly, and counterproductive), but that doesn't mean that our idea of "offense" should dictate what everybody else has to do and say. The bottom line is that a conversation's context (including the setting, participants, and purpose) and the intent of all involved parties are the sum total of factors that should dictate what words you use...not the whimsical or fanatical conventions of any person or persons who may be observing, particularly those who contribute nothing of value to the conversation itself (we're looking at...oh, fuck it, most of the idiots who complain about profanity on our site).
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So, boys and girls, that's the lowdown. Our "frequently asked swearing questions" — our FUQ, if you will. But there's still a bit more to say.
Language is meant to be used, folks. It develops and changes as society changes, and an intelligent, rational person simply adapts to this change — those who cannot adapt just fall behind, and we personally make fun of them mercilessly...the stupid fuckwits.
Hey, we feel for Miss Manners, we really do; she's got a thankless job, simply because, honestly, who the fuck cares what she thinks? The people who actually need her to tell them what to do are the same nitwits who need someone to tell them everything they do, think or say; and the rest of us are going to ignore her. Has she got any point whatsoever? Sure! It's absolutely fair to say that an "educated" or "polite" person would be wise to refrain from swearing in a "formal" setting; but this is simply due to common etiquette and an understanding of interpersonal relations, which should be practiced as a matter of course in all of your relationships with other people in your community (at the local, national, and global levels). There are certainly times when it is appropriate to swear, and times when it is decidedly not. The well-adjusted individual comprehends the difference between these instances, and behaves accordingly.
Here, on our own blog, we're on our own virtual property. We do whatever the fuck we like, and the prudes can just suck it up. Funny thing: when we comment on other folks' blogs — even folks who are like-minded and wouldn't give a shit — we actually tend not to swear (go ahead and check up on us...it's true). That's our own idiosyncrasy, a simple acknowledgement of the fact that we're not "on our own turf," and we should behave accordingly. Similarly, we tone ourselves down in a public restaurant or store, because there's no need to impose our own modus operandi on someone else's turf. We'd expect the same courtesy of folks treading on our property (though, of course, we don't give a fuck if they feel like swearing).
The bottom line (yeah, we've always got one of those, haven't we?): swears are just words. They convey specific meanings that simply cannot be conveyed by other words. We don't use them solely to offend, but when we do use them in that way, it's because the target of our verbal salvo is wholeheartedly deserving of being offended. And if you can't see the merits of our arguments because you are unable to get past the colorful language, then that's your problem, not ours.
So to those people who can't see past our use of profanity, all we can say is that we're disappointed that the only thing that you took away from our site was...offense. Whatever you may mean by that. Maybe someday you'll be ready to look past your preconceived notions of impropriety and offense, and take part in the larger debates on issues that actually make a difference to anybody outside of your own tiny little box.
But we aren't holding our fucking breath.
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[ Filed under: % Bullshit % Civil Liberties ]