At the office, on the plane, in the grocery store, at school … profane language seems to be everywhere.
Some argue the capacity to curse is built in, while others say it reflects ignorance and laziness. Whatever their reasoning, Americans seem to be more and more comfortable with trashy talk.
An ABC News poll in 1999 revealed that 48 percent of men and 37 percent of women said they had cursed in public recently, according to a June 8 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article. A few years earlier, Gallup found that 33 percent of adults believed swearing was “wrong for all” but “should be tolerated.”
“There’s a way in which this language is very true to our emotions, and we really can’t control it,” Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, told the Journal-Constitution. The capacity to curse is built in to us like a horn in a car, said Jay, author of Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech.
But James O’Connor, president of the Chicago-area Cuss Control Academy said that is bunk.
“There’s too much swearing in public places, and it’s contributing to a decline in civility and contributing to the dumbing down of America,” O’Connor told the Journal-Constitution. “We don’t have much sense of shame any more.”
The social acceptability of profanity can be seen in things like the recent Grammy Awards, which awarded rap singer Eminem a Grammy for best album. The rap artist’s “venom spewing” lyrics, while shunned by gay and lesbian and women’s rights groups, was validated on national television when he performed with Elton John at the Grammy Awards Ceremony and was presented with the distinguished award.
USA TODAY reported that Eminem’s nomination and performance, boosted credibility for the Grammy’s, “long accused of favoring pablum over derring-do.”
Even George W. Bush was caught swearing during the election campaign. He thought a microphone was turned off when he pointed out a reporter at a rally and referred to him as a “major league a——.”
Atlanta’s Riverdale High School valedictorian received his diploma three days after his classmates were presented with theirs because he used profanity in his commencement speech, the Journal-Constitution reported.
Parents Television Council reported that profane language had increased more than 500 percent from 1989 to 1999. Also, the profane words used were “far harsher” in 1999, the article read.
“Even during the family hour you’ll find obscenities and profanities that 10 years ago would have been unacceptable,” Mary Caldwell, PTC director of research, told the Journal-Constitution. “There should still be a stigma against using obscene language, but popular entertainment has made it so acceptable, there really isn’t anymore.”
Few studies have looked at the prevalence of profanity in the workplace, but last year 43 percent of U.S. postal workers reported being cursed at.
Some companies are even writing policies against cursing.
O’Connor contends that people can put an end to their indecent speech.
“Most people are not doing violent acts. Most people are not taking drugs. Most people are not cheating on their spouses,” he said. “But most people are swearing. It’s a minor offense that can easily be corrected to make this a more pleasant environment.”
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.