Language and Behavior

(This is the “language rant” I will link to it as appropriate). : )

The subject of language came up in a faith-walk facebook group in which I participate. Members are of disparate beliefs and backgrounds, but we discuss matters that are close to our hearts and struggles that we encounter with a shrinking, increasingly faithless world. The dialogue sprung forth from this incident and article: The Onion, the C-word, and Lent.

I think that my comments from our discussion will suffice for my “language rant.” I’ve edited for context and cohesion:

I have worked a lot with animals for my entire life and the one thing that I think is consistent, species to species, is that the intent of the words far outweighs the actual words. I use “profanity” often among my close friends, some times for emphasis, most often for humor. I do not “curse” at people. I do my best to avoid regressive words in all forms, whether or not they would appear on the movie ratings systems or be bleeped out on TV.

One of my favorite history professors always stressed that “words mean things” and they do. But those meanings change over time, in different circumstances. That said it isn’t enough to say “I was just being funny.” That may have been the intention, but that intention has to be weighed against the most likely outcome. In the case of the Onion–being what they are–they probably meant it as funny, but I can’t imagine that they were naive enough to believe that such a slur was harmless. We have to be mindful of the world against which we pit our intentions.

We should be mindful of the words that we choose especially around children who do not have the experiences and reasoning to understand nuance such as the difference in shouting obscenities at your friends while playing video games versus speaking harshly to someone in anger (no matter the words). Too many people think that they have the right to be, say, do whatever they want, whereever they want. We are no longer held accountable for how we verbally treat people, and while that is not a job for the government, it is a job for us as an ever growing village. There used to be a much greater distinction between private and public spaces. People need to understand that in public spaces we are ALWAYS ‘out of context’. We cannot expect that people know us, our intent, our motives, etc.

As in the case at the beach, we should always be mindful of what ears are around us. I may call my friend a horrible name when we are sparring boxing, but that is affection. I don’t call my friend that name when we are in public where someone else who would not know that it is affection could over-hear. It is my job to make the appropriate choices, not the job of others to ignore me. That said, I think it is also our job to teach little ones right from wrong, and sadly the world is filled with behaviors to which we can point and say “little one, don’t do that. here’s why.”

There are certain codes of conduct for when you are in public. You do not have the right to inflict yourself upon the world. This means that you don’t get to shout “you stupid f-ing wh#*$!” at your friend at the beach or in a restaurant, even if your friend is not the least bit insulted by it, and is laughing and returning her own horrific sounding insult. 

There is a difference between cursing and cursing AT someone. There are also some words that bear so much history, regression, and malice that there is not an acceptable format for their use beyond that of education. 

In private spheres or appropriate venues, however, there is nothing wrong with colorful language. I deliberately use the more benign “colorful language” because that’s all it is. There are generational disagreements on this, of course, and don’t get me started on the religious, but there is no malice, no harmful intent behind someone  using a carefully constructed chain of obscenities to tell their video game avatar that they’re not performing satisfactorily or voice displeasure with a stubborn or foolish acting power tool. My Mum could make a sailor blush when she was at her sewing machine (they had a love/HATE relationship). I didn’t grow up irreverent, crude, or disrespectful because of it. More importantly, I didn’t grow up assigning hurtful language to people. (Most days).

All of that said, I will use colorful language. I like to make up my own words sometimes but that doesn’t sanitize them no matter what people think. I have an acquaintance who taught his children (go ahead and get the shudder of revulsion ready) to call African-Americans “mondays” because “no one likes mondays.”  That word “monday” coming out of their mouths was a slur. A horrible racial slur. Doesn’t matter that they could say it in public and not get noticed. The flipside to that is that I know my made up cuss words are still cuss words. I just like mine better. 

I do not condone, encourage, or tolerate hateful language, however. G-D (which I can’t even fake type) is not a pair you will hear me say or see me write. I do not use negative racial language, or negative gendered language. If I use bitch, it is usually as a verb or in fondness for it means “female dog” and I love my little bitch Princess Gnarlslag. She hears that word and comes wagging. The rest…the rest is just words, and words mean things. Until they mean something else.

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