A couple years ago I was melting my brains while adding to future melanoma woes at Spring Training in Phoenix.
It was scorching hot, or did I already say Phoenix? I was a few rows back of the third base dugout, sipping at my ice-cold beer, lazing on a sunny afternoon. Through the peaceful quiet of a meaningless ballgame came a shrill shriek and a blue streak of swear words, more than enough to last me a month. She wasn’t finished.
“She” looked to be about 12 years old. The focus of her wrath was her cellphone. The young female (“lady” would mislead) swore some more until her father mildly inquired. Dear daughter, it seemed, was suffering from inadequate wifi coverage and was making everyone in the park know it.
I was startled. Her profanity suggested a veteran user of swear words delivered at high volume, unencumbered by worries she might be violating social norms. She was dressed in teen fashion of the day. Dad was the picture of niceness: Quiet, helpful and possibly unaware his daughter was swearing like a Boonville logger who had just chainsawed his left leg off.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago in Santa Rosa, where Trophy and I sat outdoors having lunch. A guy we would typically identify as homeless or crazy was seated nearby and was having a loud argument with the pavement. His commentary was all angry profanity of the sort we are beyond familiar with.
Swearing, once rare and the exclusive province of adults, has seeped downward and outward. Swearing is now common among children and is the universal language for morons. Thus it’s everywhere.
Even in so-called polite society cursing is as common as soft cheese and white wine. There’s no safe space provided to those who find coarse language offensive, and in fact it’s an invitation to up the voltage with more and more “Eff this! and Eff that!” Then, with a wink and a smirk, comes the occasional “Oops, pardon my French!” witticism.
Swearing has served as a verbal crutch for inarticulate loudmouths through the past 50 years. That it was once rare, and often shocking, was its chief appeal to a generation that believed shock and rudeness were vital tools in the war against uptight parents.
Today’s purveyors of profanities enjoy two (2) options. The first is to accuse another of perverse sexual practices, mostly involving one’s own mother, and the second is to hurl filthy insults at God. That’s it: MF and GD.
(A few fringe novelty curses exist, but Mother and God make up 90% of the swearing to which we are routinely subjected.)
This means every longtime blasphemer has been repeating himself endlessly all his life. No new verbal outrages have yet been invented, which is no surprise given the shrunken vocabularies and stunted educations of most practitioners of the dull art. My theory, time-tested: The greater the percentage of swear words, the lower the IQ of the speaker.
And we all know the irony of those who believe they are exhibiting a fierce independence by shouting outside the lines of conformist conversationalists, and who think cursing demonstrates courage and brash honesty. Maybe among your parents.
But swearing long ago invaded and conquered so-called polite society with sheer mass and volume. Far from being the voice of the rebel, misfit or outcast, swearing is as common on TV as canned laughter.
Programs aimed at kids (I’m thinking of one of my favorites, South Park) feature fourth graders stringing together 22 minutes of foul language, start to finish. It wouldn’t be South Park without it, and I love the show.
But still. I mean, you know?
At the movies it would be strange for a film to go 15 minutes without a barrage of swearing, ostensibly loading gritty realism into the script.
Late night comedians chuckle while delivering lewd and rude commentary that bring guffaws and delight to the dimwitted drawn to low fare. There will always be a market.
It’s like pornography. Our generation has reduced what once was truly transgressive into everyday fare consumed by our country’s children. Is there a nine-year old who hasn’t been exposed, repeatedly, to acts historically understood as adult-oriented and / or perverted, but are now mainstream? As part of this pathetic package, all these children swear, and frequently.
We have friends and neighbors who think this is progress.
(Tom Hine sometimes writes under the TWK byline. The first time he ever heard a parent swear was when he was 10 years old and dear dad muttered the word “crap.”)