The Substance of Language


Hey there folks!


Maybe one of these days I will get myself set into a regular writing schedule at least in regards to this blog, but honestly probably not. I am just not that structured a person and as long as I am posting at least five days a week I am happy. At the very least I have gotten myself into such a habit of writing that on the days I do not write something to post here I have a voice in the back of my mind reminding me all day long that I have not written yet.


So last night while I was sitting around talking with my cousin over a cup of coffee an idea struck. I know surprise, surprise I was talking with my cousin again when I was inspired to write, what can I say we are just good like that. Anyway, I was thinking about the importance of right speech, as in saying what you mean and using your words effectively rather than obfuscating your meaning behind confusing language. Sincerity of character is a trait I cherish and I come from a family of people that love to use words as weapons, especially when angry. So, I have learned to communicate in very direct ways and I think it is important to do so.


This topic becomes particularly charged for me when it comes to swearing/curse words. When it comes to swearing there are two arguments which drive me up a wall. The first is the insistence that only uneducated or stupid people need to curse. The second relates to the practice of people trying to switch out words to sound nicer, so instead of saying fuck they say fudge. In both cases I feel that these actions are misguided at best and often times just plain ignorant. They ignore some of the essential attributes of language and its overall purpose.


I am certain most of us know someone who will use a word like fuck as every third word in their everyday speech, and this is assuredly annoying and demonstrates a distinct lack of vocabulary. However, vocabulary is an exceptionally poor measure of intelligence. The purpose of language is to effectively communicate; and as such, the skill is highly situational. If you go into a board meeting and start speaking like you are in the hood with your homies you are going to look stupid and out of place. Meanwhile, if you are at the local dive bar and speaking the queen’s proper English you are going to look stupid and out of place. Language, much like attire and behavior are situational and knowing what language to use and in which situation is by no means ignorant.


Another important thing to consider in this argument the definition of a word. Simply put, a word is a series of sounds put together to which we attribute a meaning, in other words, a symbol. Words like fuck, shit, or ass carry a certain emotional weight and severity, so at times using them is not only effective, but wholly appropriate to convey the meaning of ones message. If I say, “sit down”, or “sit the fuck down”, which one carries more urgency and tells you that I need you to sit down right now because ain’t nobody got time for this. By no means am I advocating blatant and excessive swearing for the sake of swearing. I merely want to point out that as with most things in life there is a time and place.


Finally, the practice of switching words to soften a curse is absolute horse shit. The power of the curse word is in the meaning and intent not the syllabic structure. Whether you say fudge, or fiddlesticks, or fuck it means the same thing, so all you are really doing by using one of these other words in place of a swear is sullying the reputation of an otherwise innocent word to make yourself feel better. If we all started using the word fudge in place of the word fuck then over a long enough period of time fudge would become every bit as reprehensible to our minds as fuck currently is. The ones that really kill me though are those that do this for religious reasons. An ex of mine was great for this because she was trying to get right with God she would change her swear words. One day I was frustrated with her about some random things and she said fudge instead of fuck, or some other such nonsense and I snapped. “Do you really think you are fooling God? Is it really possible to deceive the omniscient creator of the universe, and is deception really the way to get right with God?” Personally I could never believe in a god that was more concerned with the syllables I spoke than with the meaning they conveyed, but maybe that is just me.


At the end of the day, if I have a child that looks at me and says, “Dad go fork yourself”, I am going to smack his ass every bit as much as if he says, “go fuck yourself”. The disrespect is there no matter the choice of words. The point of all of this, think about what you say and what it means. Take whatever it is that is inside you and own it by speaking thoughtfully and with purpose.


3 thoughts on “The Substance of Language

  1. Totally agree and have even layed down the law on some people for this. I remember this one punk at the theater, didn’t last long (surprise surprise) who every other word, like you described was “fuck” or “shit” or whatever and you could tell he was just trying to be “hard” and cool. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am no stranger to swearing. Hell, I can be as bad as anyone, but still know when I start to do it too much. So imagine ME telling this kid he needs to shut his damn mouth because he’s not impressing anyone and he’s really just pissing me off. Kid didn’t say much of anything the rest of the night haha.

    As for kids and swearing, I know you were speaking more to intent, but with my son, around me, I don’t give a damn what he says. I’ve told him, I know kids cuss and as long as he’s not doing it at me, I don’t care. They’re just words and only have as much power as we give them, just like your example of substituting “fudge” for “fuck.” My favorite is how well Battlestar Galactica stuck it to the censors with “frack.” Granted at the time, I didn’t realize that it was a drilling process that had been around for a while, but there thumbing their nose at censors was hilarious and also allowed them to write dialogue that was SO much better and “real” compared to what probably would have resulted from self censoring.

    So, yeah, basically when it comes to swearing, it’s all about intent/message/tone versus the actual words themselves. There are looks that can say “fuck you” as well as the words.

    Another good post, man. Keep them coming and I will catch up in due time . . . maybe.


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