A Little Saturday Morning Rant

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve barely been online. Yesterday, however, I had to do some work which reminded me forcibly that many apparently civilized people are now incapable of expressing any sentiment in English without using expletives. Before you smile an arch smile at monastic naivete, please take a moment to consider: I wasn’t always a nun, and most of my lay working life was spent in an almost exclusively male environment. I’m not shocked by swearing per se (although I do think it’s often rather repetitive and boring). I am more troubled by the laziness of thought it indicates, especially when it appears in written form.

English is a rich language with a large and expressive vocabulary. If one adds in all the loan words and expressions from other languages, it’s probably the richest and most expressive language on earth. Why, then, resort to a narrow range of adjectival cusses as though one were incapable of finding the mot juste? Of course, it may be that one is incapable of doing so; but if that is the case, why display one’s inadequacy publicly?

I’m tired of the constant stream of language that isn’t as colourful or vigorous as its perpetrators claim.  It’s just lazy and ugly. But I clothe my most damming indictment, not in the ‘decent obscurity of Latin’, but in the awful clarity and precision of French: Le style est l’homme même. Ouch!

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12 thoughts on “A Little Saturday Morning Rant”

  1. Is it less to do with laziness than with the general sense (taught, of course, by our society) that we make our points through *force* not subtlety or even precision. It’s the equivalent of mass bombing: “That’ll show them who’s boss!” And the audience of this kind of language is, alas, so unsubtle that they are glad to be given such easy language to respond to.

    Chesterton has an article called, I think, “Electric Evil”, discussing the way pornographic imagery immediately charges our imagination before we can even be aware we’re being assaulted, as though we’d been touched by an electric wire. This kind of language is electric evil like that too. But most people just enjoy the electric thrill, not seeing the evil. And not seeing that in order to remain effective, this electric wire needs to have an ever-increasing amount of electricity sent through it.

    I wonder if the people using this language would be found on the burning sands of the Violent against God in Dante’s Inferno, or in the circle of the flatterers, immersed in human excrement, as an image of the way they have turned human language into filth.

  2. Laziness in the use of language is a besetting failure in imagination in my view. I don’t understand the ‘trend’ among some well educated people who drop in a swear word in conversation without a blush?

    I like you am not a prude, 43 years of Army life means that a day didn’t pass, when someone used a swear word of some sort, even Officers, who are supposedly Gentlemen or Women were as guilty as the soldiers. And I have to admit in my younger days, I was probably as guilty as them.

    But something in my nature found the use of this sort of language actually painfully embarrassing so I curbed my tongue early in life and observed that I didn’t need such language to express myself. So, stopped using it. Although, I know that when I’ve hit a thumb with a hammer, I might have used a substitute word to express the pain, surprise and stupidity I had exhibited by being such a poor workman.

    I fear for our young people. If you walk down a street and pass groups of young people, even school children, their conversation is littered with swear words. Whether this is cultural I don’t know, but when I hear young mothers swearing at their children (quite often sadly) you realise that the problem is much more ingrained in our society than I am comfortable with.

    A sad state of affairs when generations are being raised with this sort of language as the norm, what sort of life are we condemning them too? Where will they find a job if their conversation is dominated by the lazy use of a swear word, where a normal word will suffice?

    The good thing is that our grand children have been raised without swearing in the home – although you can’t shield them from what their peers are doing at school.

  3. So true Sr Catherine! I long ago came to the conclusion that people use expletives because they do not have the vocabulary or expressive skills,which is actually quite tragic. For many years my mother cared for the mentally handicapped,when institutionalisation was the norm. She never ceased to be amazed that among the “patients”in her care,who could hardly communicate at all,there always seemed the ability to scream expletives.

  4. How about the misuse of “like”? Overheard too many times “Like then I went like and…” “I’m like, yeah, like…so…” all in a gravelly voice accompanied by peculiar jerking gestures. Unfortunately these young people are now making their way into the work force and it’s difficult to understand what they’re saying. I think the swearing is part of that culture, along with made up words “fawesome” comes to mind. I fear for the future.

  5. My mother always used to say “bad language is a sign of a poor vocabulary”. She was right. I’m amused or bemused by the number of folk who apologise to me for swearing (but continue to do so)!

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