Whatever Happened to Civility?   8 comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or were born fairly recently, you probably have noticed the decline of American discourse.

Join the Open Book Blog Hop while we discuss swearing in our society today.

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First, let me clear the air. I am quite capable of turning the air blue with some filthy language. I grew up on Alaska, where the social norm is that there are no social norms, so men and women both swore openly when I was a kid and usually asked us kids to not do it in front of Grandma when she came for a visit. I’m sure there were parents who washed their kids’ mouths out with soup in an effort to keep them from imitating their parents, but mine were not among them.

There are times when a swear word is perfectly appropriate. When you’re falling off a cliff to your apparent death — “golly gee” is probably NOT appropriate. We can all think of the words we would use as we lost hold of the cliff edge and euphemisms wouldn’t cut it. That said, I think we overuse swear words A LOT.

F***ing is not an “adjective.” It certainly isn’t the only adjective available in the English language. Yes, it has a certain impact, but that impact diminishes with overuse. Some derivative of that word is used in pretty much every movie and novel written in the last 20 years, usually in every scene, so that, for me, it has pretty much lost its impact.

I first noticed this law of diminishing returns when I read Catcher in the Rye. I read this great novel before accepting Christ as Savior, so it had nothing to do with morality. Remember what I said about how I grew up. I could swear like a diner waitress by the time I was in high school. The use of “goddamn” at least three times every page made me long for Mark Twain’s editor. About halfway through the book, I told my teacher that I thought JD Salinger had a limited vocabulary. I understood why he did it, as a slap in the face of societal constraints on language in his era, but it was just overdone. Surely, he had other words at his disposal. Why not use them? Because he was unfamiliar with those other words and didn’t own a thesaurus? I doubt that. Later, in college, when I reread the book, I had a different reaction and that was the reaction Salinger was going for. Overdone, yes, but also disrespectful. By that time I had become a Christian and I cared if God’s name was taken in vain. Salinger was seeking to offend people who cared about civility and he managed that in the first 10 pages of the book … he then went on to belabor the point into overuse.

I apologize if any readers who are offended by the graphic to the right that illustrates the modern example of this pattern. Remember what I said about appropriate use of swear words? The best way to illustrate their overuse is to, for a sentence, over use them.

I’m a free-speecher. I do not advocate any laws that would prevent people from speaking as they will.

BUT … I think it’s downright rude how people today talk out in public, in front of children, and little old ladies. Looking back, the adults around us swore, but they also knew when to curb their speech … not in front of their own kids, but in front of the neighors’ kids … or the neighbors themselves if they weren’t potty-mouths. In one of the many houses we lived in during my childhood, there was a pastor living next door and I had a conversation with my mother about my language. No soap involved, but she was of the opinion that I shouldn’t embarrass the neighbors and thereby, embarrass her and Dad. My generation was afraid of our parents’ wrath, so I practiced not swearing in our backyard. It was good practice for when Grandma came for a visit.

There are times and places where swearing is acceptable, but maybe we need to just voluntarily hit PAUSE and think about what is coming out of our mouths right at that moment, whether the people around us really need to hear it and whether the situation really warrants it. Are we just using language with casual disregard or are we trying to offend? And if it’s the later, why? We who would never use the n-word to a black person will casually let slip highly offensive language to random strangers. We recognize the n-word as a slur and an affront that might get our ass righteously kicked, but it’s somehow considered okay to subject our Christian neighbor to the f-word every other sentence. Whatever happened to civility? I’m not talking about making speech codes. I’m talking about controlling ourselves so that we are not offending the people around us.

And … just to point out … I am not myself offended by such language, but I notice its effects on others and regret that I was the cause of that in the past. I didn’t know and I’m sorry. I don’t do it anymore … unless I’m falling off a cliff.

In my writing, I don’t use a lot of swear words. I do use them because when the world ends, it’s appropriate to swear at least a little bit. But I really think we need to scale back our use of these words if only because we diminish their impact when we overuse them. It’s like the exclamation point. Great little punctuation mark, unless someone uses it five times on every page and then it becomes annoying and, ultimately, meaningless.


Rebecca Lovell is a romance writer with a series of short stories and a book for publication in development. Find her here.

Posted January 18, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

Tagged with , , , , ,

8 responses to “Whatever Happened to Civility?

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  1. I agree we do diminish the impact every time we use them and public places are not the time to do so! But I admit I can have a pretty nasty mouth when I fall off my horse!


  2. I agree, too. Overuse has desensitized us. And swearing in public is always inappropriate!


  3. I love your graphic! I rest my case.


  4. Swearing, like any other form of language, can be an art form.


  5. Yep, I am a firm believer that we have been desensitized to the vulgar.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes you sometimes do need swearing to make a point, but too much of it in films or on TV has me reaching for the off switch!


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