The use of swearing and vulgarity in language
June 6, 2018
I believe that most thinking people would have to agree that the culture of the United States is greatly coarsened today, compared with just a few decades ago. This is most obviously represented by the ubiquitous swearing and vulgarity that one encounters in the media outlets of television, radio, and the Internet. This public vulgarity is seemingly widely accepted as normal and appropriate. Whether it’s a popular comedian calling the president’s daughter the “C word” on her television show (and being presented with an award the next day), other highly rated television shows routinely using the “F word,” or celebrities, politicians, and talking heads flinging the most vile and cruel insults at each other, it is now apparently considered admirable to behave and speak in ways that would have earned career-destroying punishments in the 1970s or 1980s.
As a professional writer and editor, I find the quick resort to simple vulgarities easy to criticize. And, of course, I never use such language in my professional discourse or work. However, I must admit that in my personal life, I am a frequent swearer. I have a blue-collar background, and I’m a down-to-earth kind of guy who values bluntness, directness, and honesty. Sometimes, in personal conversations, there is value in expressing bluntness, directness, and honesty through swearing. In addition, sometimes you just have to honestly express anger and displeasure with things. The F word, the BS word, the SOB word, the A-hole word, and the GD-it word are among the expressions I use in private. They get right to the point and tend to make a bold and brash impact. But I would never use them in my professional writing or conversation, and if I was a talking head on television, I don’t think I would ever use them in front of the camera. (However, in the midst of a debate with one of those unreasonable leftie group-think zombies, I’m sure I would be tempted.)
Nevertheless, I, similar to most people, have a double standard. If I like somebody, I may excuse their use of vulgarities in public. And if I dislike somebody, I usually condemn their spouting off of vulgarities. I suppose that is just the personal bias inherent in human nature. I like Trump, and although he is never as vulgar as some of his hateful, deranged left-wing critics, his language and attitude can obviously get pretty course and rough. I am usually amused and entertained by it. But when the leftie “comedians” reach into the toilet to throw their sh-- at him—people like Stephen Colbert or Samantha Bee—I get angry and disgusted at them.
Another guy whose verbal coarseness amused and entertained me was Ozzie Guillen, the manager of one of the most colorful, exciting, joyful baseball teams of the 21st century—the Chicago White Sox of 2005. That team brought a World Series championship to Chicago for the first time since 1917. (It was the Sox who won that year. Prior to 2016, the Cubs had not won a championship since 1908.) My favorite player on the ’05 Sox was A.J. Pierzynski, the catcher. He was—and still is, now in his role as a game announcer/analyst—an extremely witty and intelligent guy with keen observation skills, a great sense of humor, and a never-give-up drive. And he cleverly knew how to take advantage of opponents’ mistakes. Baseball people used to say that A.J. was the kind of player everybody loved to hate—unless he was on your team, in which case you just loved the guy. He's the only batter who ever helped get his team into the World Series by "stealing first base." It's true; it happened in the ninth inning of the second game of the American League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels. Read about it and watch it here: https://www.mlb.com/news/looking-back-at-game-2-of-2005-alcs-vs-angels/c-133609664.
A.J. was the most colorful player on the ‘05 Sox. But Guillen, the manager, had him beat when it came to colorful personalities. The Venezuelan native especially shined in his post-game press conferences, when he would always give the journalists plenty of juicy quotes to report. Parts of many of the quotes typically had to be "bleeped" out in television, radio, and newspaper reports because of Ozzie's frequent cussing, especially his use of his favorite word, the F word. If he used a lot of nasty words in 2005, when his team was winning, you can imagine how he expressed his feelings in subsequent years, when the White Sox were losing a lot. Here’s a classic, crude, rambling, and hilarious Ozzie quote from May 2008, when he was annoyed at negative media coverage of the Sox during a five-game losing streak:
“That’s what ticks me off about Chicago fans and Chicago media: They forget pretty quickly. A couple of days ago we were the fucking best stuff in town. Now we’re shit. We won it a couple years ago, and we’re horseshit. The Cubs haven’t won in  years, and they’re the fucking best. Fuck it, we’re good. Fuck everybody. We’re horseshit, and we’re going to be horseshit the rest of our lives, no matter how many World Series we win. We are the shit of Chicago. We’re the Chicago Shit. We have the worst owner [Jerry Reinsdorf]. The guy’s got seven fucking rings, and he’s the fucking horseshit owner. How about the Cubs celebrating that Lee Elia bullshit? How many times do I curse people out? I will make a lot of money with my shit...”
How could you not laugh out loud at that deliciously delirious diatribe? But it wasn’t simply crazy cuss words. Ozzie is an intelligent guy, and he was making an excellent point, which was this: Even after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, they never got the media or public respect that they deserved. Chicago has always been the Cubs’ town, even when they were perpetual losers for decade after decade. The lack of respect had to be terribly frustrating for Ozzie.
But even when Ozzie was winning, he loved to swear. He explained that when he first came to the United States, the first English word he learned was "f---," and he said that "f---" would always be his favorite word. I always got a big kick out of Ozzie—and I still miss his personality in baseball, which has become a rather boring sport in terms of both personality and play.
The points that one wants to make in a conversation can be made either much more positive or much more negative with the addition of f---, depending on the context. The word has shock value, of course. But Ozzie used to use f--- so often that it tended to lose that value because you expected to hear it. The much-repeated, versatile word took on another kind of value then. It became a kind of pepper, spicing up the dialogue a bit. And the value of its earthiness continued. That is how I viewed Ozzie and his vulgarities.
Today, the F word is heard so often in so many different media outlets, that the word may have little value of any note left. That is probably why Samantha Bee resorted to the C word in her Trump-hating rant of May 2018. I suppose the C word is the new F word.
But so much of today’s media nonsense is BS, isn’t it? The BS word, as an extra-powerful synonym for lies or falsehoods, is probably my favorite swear word. “That’s BS!” expresses so much more than simply saying, "That’s a lie!" When you describe something as BS, such as the latest pronouncement from a politician or some supposed expert that you know is full of it, it goes way beyond saying that he is a liar. It expresses profound disgust and contempt for the individual and his pronouncement. No other word so clearly, cleanly, obviously, and succinctly conveys those feelings. I find myself increasingly exclaiming, or at least thinking, “BS” these days when I watch the Fake News media do what they do best—twist the news to advance their own agenda.
So, yes, I sometimes swear and I sometimes cuss. And I tend to take a liking to other people who swear in their personal lives, because I think that swearing generally represents honesty and down-to-earth realism. There is nothing I detest more than dishonesty, double talk, and duplicity. Yet, despite the swearing that day-to-day frustrations and annoyances draw out of me, I maintain that swear words should ideally not be used in intelligent, civil, professional society. The fact that the most vulgar and mean-spirited forms of swearing have become common public expressions by “professionals” of various sorts is a depressing sign of societal decadence in the United States. I mean, a baseball manager in an unscripted seat-of-the-pants press conference is one thing; a television personality in a scripted, rehearsed, taped monologue is another thing entirely!
In summary, as a person whose career is focused on language, I generally condemn the use of swearing and vulgarity in the public realm. In the private realm, however, I value swearing as an expressive, emotive, and effective way to immediately and honestly convey strong feelings and ideas and to emphasize and strengthen particular points.
Swearing is one of the many tools of language. Language is a wonderful thing. None of its tools should be completely avoided. All aspects of language have a purpose—but only in the appropriate circumstances.