The following reflection is by Kate VanHaren.
April 15, 2013
I have been thinking about the use of using curse words and swearing lately. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in several conversations about why, when and where we use them. When working with adolescent kids, you just have to accept that you are going to hear them on a regular basis. You have to pick your battles with the kids and I usually will let most swear words slip if they are not directed at a person and used on an infrequent basis. Last week, it got so bad that I had to call an end to it. My curiosity was sparked and I looked up the definition and history of “cursing” and found some interesting statistics. Warning: They come from Wikipedia so should be taken with a small grain of salt. Apparently of the roughly 80–90 spoken words each day, 0.5% to 0.7% of all words are swear words. In comparison, first-person plural pronouns (we, us, our) make up 1% of spoken word. I am sure they averaged the vastly different vocabulary of people like my grandmother who blesses herself every time I raise my voice and average high school students.
Wikipedia listed several definitions, but the one that really caught my eye was profanity is used to show strong or intense emotion. The article then described that every culture in the world has their own versions of cursing and listed how it’s used in the great books of writing, including the Bible and Shakespeare. I also began thinking about the more famous movie quotes and instantly thought of Clarke Gable from Gone with the Wind and Al Pacino’s character in Angels in America describing the sorry state of 19th century voting rights in the country.
I am not totally condoning the use of cursing. As I lectured the kids, I attempted to describe that many curse words originated from outdated and prejudiced terms. A person who curses all the time is seen as unintelligent and rude. We have too many other colorful words in our language to use other than curse words. I believe intelligent people realize that profanity and swearing are only to be used in extreme and rare situations when a profound point needs to be emphasized. As people age and gain wisdom, they learn what these appropriate situations are.
I witness this with the kids in My Future on a regular basis. After the swearing “incident “ last week, several high school students came up to me and told me it had been the middle school students who were being the loudest and they were really immature. I don’t think the high schoolers were entirely blameless, but I know that they are already learning what’s appropriate in certain situations. When a song with a large amount of swearing starts playing on their I-Pods, most kids will give a sheepish look and quickly switch to a less offensive song. Some seniors have already told me that they actually prefer listening to what they call “more old person” person now. For me, Eminem and Tupac were eventually deleted from my playlist, but I do enjoy drinking out of my mug with Shakespearian curses every morning.
© David B. Bell 2013