So I was a bit of a wild man in my youth. In college, for example, I had hair down to my shoulders, a chip on said shoulders that the hair couldn’t cover, and wanted nothing more than to play my bass and skateboard.
I used to curse like I was in a Scorsese movie, owing probably to the “dangerous” music, comic books, video games, and yes, movies I was in to. Swearing was cool, it was hip, and much like nihilism, it was fashionably mature.
I’ll never forget the day I tried to stop swearing, or at least be conscious of it.
I was walking around a seemingly deserted part campus with two of my friends around sundown. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was in full angry young man mode, just embarking on my journey to waste my twenties.
I forgot what we were talkin about (probably something stupid), but something one of my friends said triggered a strong reaction within me, enough to make me turn to him, open my eyes wide, and yell at the top of my lungs, “FUDGE YOU!”
Except, you know, I didn’t say “fudge.”
I thought I was edgy; what can I say?
Remember how I wrote a “seemingly” deserted part of campus earlier? Much to my chagrin, not too far ahead of us was a young mother waking her son, who probably wasn’t much older than my son is now. They whipped around, and I saw the mother pull her child away and start walking faster.
It was getting dark and we were far enough away that I couldn’t make out their facial expressions or hear what they said, which was fine by me because I felt like a gigantic, immature jerk.
Which I was. But for the first time in my young life, I had the self-awareness to realize it.
I expressed something almost resembling regret and embarrassment to my friends, who assured me I was being a wimp and shouldn’t care. But that didn’t fee right to me. I’ve said it before: my biggest problem with modern life is that I’m a softie who’s way too sensitive to what other people think and feel.
So with this in the background, imagine my reaction when I saw the following story on the cover of the Metro, that free newspaper handed out on subways in cities across America:
This is something I had started noticing a few years back, and really started to pick up on at my current job. So it wasn’t just me then! And I definitely notice it in the Millennial women I work with.
This uptick in cursing–even at the office!–is also, and I hope you’re sitting down for this, a generational thing.
Man, woman, who cares, right? It’s Current Year! There are no rules! Let the expletives fly!
Nope. Not me. I’m not buying it. While it’s never good to be a chronological snob, one shouldn’t either accept “new” things as automatically “better.”
The litmus test for anything should be: are we better off?
I say that we are not.
Swears have a time and a place. They add emphasis, or they can be funny. And yet, like anything, the more they get used and overused, the lower their impact.
This article tries to discuss some benefits of swearing, but I’m not buying them, particularly in the workplace context.
“Unladylike.” This is how the article puts it, and there’s something to it. Contrary to the article’s characterization of cursing as a gender-stereotype-smashing anti-patriarchal “power move,” it’s a bad look. Yes, it’s largely a cultural thing, but women are generally viewed as more civilized than men, and not for nothing. At work, it might not be the best way to speak, in that you might just start to sound like a dumb guy.
Guys sound dumb too. Unless you’re in a rough, all-male trade, men swearing at work is also off-putting and unprofessional sounding. It comes across as if the speaker has no ideas about vocabulary or decorum, and does make them sound less-intelligent. This will ruffle some feathers, but I don’t care. I guarantee your blue-collar, rough-around-the-edges grandfather did not swear in public places, in polite settings, or around ladies. It’s all about understanding context, which is a type of intelligence, both intellectual and social.
It kills discourse. Shakespeare. St. Paul. Dante. Goethe. Homer. Chaucer (okay, maybe he’s a bad example). These writers wrote beautiful things with rich, evocative vocabularies that elevated the mind and the spirit. Or look at statesmen like Washington, Jefferson, and Churchill: What a command of the English language! What an near total absence of any words that could be considered curses.
I could go on with other mediums of expression, but you get the idea. These things are timeless for a reason. Trying to be a super awesome edgelord with your curses sounds more like an obnoxious teenager (or twenty-something) going up to the adults, metaphorically yelling “LOOK AT ME I’M A GROWN-UP TOO!”
In other word, you’ll sound like a BuzzFeed writer. And nobody ever wants to sound like a BuzzFeed writer.
So back to the little kid I cursed in front of. Now, I thought at the time, the mother is going to have to explain to her kid what the “F-word” was. In a way, I felt like I robbed that little kid of a little bit of his innocence. Innocence is already sold cheaply these days, and honest to God I felt supremely guilty about it–you see, even in my (slightly more) angry and bitter days, I still cared about things like this.
I still do feel guilty about it. And while I sometimes drop an F-bomb or Twitter or even here on this fair blog, I try to keep it in check.
And honestly–and I’ll speak to the young men here, since increasingly my writing seems to be directed more at them–swearing does not make you manly. Sounding intelligent, or at least thoughtful, does. I recommend cultivating an expressive, incisive, but not too obtuse vocabulary in lieu of swearing all of the time. People will notice.
And when you do swear, it will have maximum impact. Just…try to avoid it at work.
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