Saturday, April 17, 2010

Careful Choice of Words

Okay, think of a bad word. One that you definitely wouldn't say to your grandmother. Pretty bad, isn't it? Perhaps unambiguously so. It may have something to do with bodily functions, excretions, or reproductive activities - or perhaps it is an ethnic slur.

Now, say what that word is in a way that's not offensive, to your grandma or most anybody else. It's not very difficult - there are plenty of substitutes at hand for even some very vile words and concepts. Sometimes those substitutes were developed specifically for use in polite company in the place of their vulgar counterparts.

What is this? Every offensive idea has a non-offensive way of expressing it? Believe it or not, in our society we don't take hardly anything itself as offensive. Rather we have duplicate terminologies - one for polite use, and one for when we intend to be offensive.

Thus to us it is the word and not the thing that is bad, and we inoculate ourselves against the sin of profanity or vulgarity by a careful choice of words. Is this proper? If we angrily and vehemently hector another driver who makes an incautious error on the road, does it matter whether we use good words or bad ones? Arthur Henry King once pointed out that it makes little difference whether he gives voice to his frustrations with "fiddlesticks" or something worse. What matters is the thought and sentiment that gives wings to the word. What matters is what's in his soul. If THAT is vulgar, then so is anything he says, no matter how polite.


Jen said...

Interesting thoughts, Love. It's true, the feeling behind the words have more power than the word itself. You're such a good writer. Love you!

Jamon said...

I have thought about this before and for the most part I agree. However, there are a couple things that bother me about the argument. You claim saying things like "garbage" or "shoot" out of anger are akin to saying typical swear words because of the feeling behind it. We can go one step further and say whenever we get mad it is like we are swearing up a storm. While I agree that we need to gain complete control over ourselves, I have learned that everything in life is not black or white, good or bad. So when someone exerts some level of control by using words "less offensive" according to popular opinion, they are that much better for having done so. Nevertheless, your argument is well taken and reminds me to never be content with being just a little more polite than everyone else.