Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Playing with words

Someone once asked me what my favorite toy was. [I wish I could remember the context, because in retrospect, that's a strange question!] After a little thought, I chose the English language.

Now, given that I have a degree in Rhetoric (which is essentially a license to play with language), that might not be too surprising. I love words. I love what people can do with words. But at the same time, I'm also pretty appalled by what people do when they thoughtlessly abuse them.

What brought this to mind was a posting on another blog about profanity. I don't like it, either. Doesn't mean I don't use a little, now and then. But I don't like it. Not because the words themselves offend me, but rather because of the sloppiness of thought they generally represent. Much as I loathe hearing the word "like" popping out of every other phrase in some conversations.

So really, it's not swearing per se that bothers me, it's the overuse of it. Movies get downright ridiculous; I think it was Casino that I just tuned out, verbally, because every sentence was so laden with "F-bombs" that it was just too hard to parse out the actual meaning. I think it was a pretty good movie, but just too hard to listen to.

And that, in turn brings me to a recent work-on-the-house day with a couple of friends. After stuffing insulation into the attic for a few hours, somehow we decided we were all from Brooklyn, and suddenly had these outrageous accents, dripping with flying F-bombs. It was fun, for a while, but we were all self-consciously saying things that we had heard other people (often actors) say; we did it for ironic effect.

And a few days afterward, I was passed by a kid (well, teenager...early 20s at most) walking down a suburban street, talking to someone on his mobile phone. He wasn't angry, at least not that I could tell. But his calm, relatively friendly conversation was so laced with profanity, you just wonder what this guy is really like. I almost wanted to stop him and say, "You talk to your grandma like that, son?" But I doubt that would have been well received.

I hope it's not just a generational thing. Not because I mind being on the older side of that gap, but more because I'm worried about the viability of a generation that thinks that somehow profanity in profusion is eloquence, rather than a woeful cover for its lack.

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