Words Not Fitly Spoken

 

Warning: A number of words, phrases and implied words in this article are offensive, so please stop reading now if you are easily offended. 

 

I walked into the high school’s two-story high central hall for work one morning, greeted by giant banners firing up the football team before their next game. I was shocked to read one that proudly proclaimed the football players were “PIMP!” I asked one of the teachers if the students knew what ‘pimp’ actually meant, and she said ‘pimp’ meant something good now. I cringed.

 

I looked up the word in the Merriam Webster dictionary fifteen years ago, and I looked it up online today, and the dictionary’s definition hasn’t changed. To pimp is to run prostitutes. To pimp something up is to make it more showy and impressive, and usually not in a classy way. How do bad words become good and good words become bad?

 

I’ve noticed other words or phrases that used to have negative or offensive meanings are now used as something good or complimentary. 

  • “That’s sick” means that’s cool or awesome.

  • “You’re a beast” means you’re really good at something or show great determination.

  • The word “bad” in Michael Jackson’s song meant seriously cool.

  • When someone says you have “mad skills,” they are praising your abilities, although mad used to only mean angry or insane. 

  • “Wicked” used to mean evil, but now it describes something really good.

  • “You slayed it” or “you killed it” means you performed or did something well.

  • Calling someone an “ass” was calling a person stupid or that they were badly behaving, but if you put the word ‘bad’ in front of ass, and ‘bad’ used to always mean something negative, 'bad ass' somehow turns into a compliment. 

  • ‘Dope’ used to mean a ‘stupid person’ or ‘illicit drugs’, but I just heard the following on a commercial: “These leggings are superdope!” meaning something or someone is awesome. 

Are you keeping up?

    

And the following words or phrases that originally meant something good are bad now or are bad in certain contexts:

  • “Bless your heart.” Somebody decided this was a Southern way of insulting someone, and everyone seemed to pick it up and run with that definition. I’ve used that phrase many times throughout my life, and I never said it in a demeaning, sarcastic or patronizing way. But sadly, I rarely say it anymore because I don’t want people to think I’m insulting them when I’m not. But if I do say "bless your heart," it’s meant to sympathize, express gratefulness, or when someone ought to know better, but doesn't.

  • Theodore Roosevelt often said “Bully!” when describing something good, but today ‘bully’ is thought of only in negative ways.

  • ‘Extra’ used to mean ‘in addition to’ , but now it means trying too hard.

  • When I refer to my son as ‘my boy’, I mean it in a most loving way, but the word ‘boy’ is highly offensive to many Black people because of its history being used in a demeaning way. 

 

Former highly offensive words that are now in common use: 

    As a verb, “screw” was commonly used in a vulgar way to describe sexual intercourse or as a milder version of f***. If you said “screw you,” that was telling someone off. Today it’s common to hear the term, “screwed up” or “screw it up” in most any setting, including church, to describe messing something up. 

    Hearing or seeing the “F” word in common language today or print still sends shock waves through me because growing up, that was the absolute worst word someone could say or write. It’s become so common today, though, people use it in most every part of speech as a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc. I’ve heard people pepper their sentences so often with the word they don’t even realize they’re saying it anymore. It’s become the knee jerk, go-to filler word. It unnerves me to hear little children say, “What the…” when they don’t even know what it actually means. They are just mimicking what they’ve heard. 

    

I wish we had a more honorable choice for this generic, blanket-use word. It’s like a steroid— used often, but not clearly defined or actually understood why it’s being used.

 

Would our language change if we really thought about what we were saying and how we were using certain words? Here are some examples of what I mean using some familiar phrases to show how unfitting the meanings of certain words can actually be.

  • “Don’t expel feces on my parade!”

  • “You are such a penis head.”

  • “Stop acting like an anus hole and help me get this done.” (And how does an anus act?)

  • “Urinate off and leave me alone.”

  • “That son of a female dog stole my parking space!”

  • “My boss is such a female dog.”

  • “Don’t do business with that illegitimate child.”

  • “Who the sexual intercourse do you think you are?”

  • “That person who has intercourse with his mother cut me off."

 

Is this the best we can do? That last one turns my stomach to think about what the words are actually implying, and yet I’ve seen some memes that said they need a stronger word than f*** now since it’s lost its shock value. The natural tendency of profanity is to get more and more vulgar over time when the worst words we can think of don't go far enough anymore. Why is that? Do we put so little thought and meaning into the words that come out of our mouths? Maybe if we stopped and thought about exactly what we were saying, the shock value would return.

I'm not ragging on people who use occasional swear words for emphasis or relieving stress, or when hitting their thumb with a hammer. But I don't want to get used to reading, hearing, or even saying the most obscene words to the point I am word- blind, deaf, or oblivious to their meanings. But that is the natural progression, and I shudder to think how much lower obscenity can go to maintain that shock effect. I'm sure there are even more vulgar words I'm not aware of, including some I cannot even acknowledge, and I cannot use God's name attached to a curse word, even in an article like this. It's taken a long time for me to get to the point of writing the implied f***, because I'm determined to remember what it means. 

I've seen articles say that cursing is a sign of higher intelligence. I would put that statement in the file with other things like, “If you can find the ‘N’ on this page of ’Ms’, you are a genius” and other such tests making the rounds on social media. But even as I write this, I would not deny anyone their freedom to say whatever they want whenever they want, although we can't yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. 

 

As I pulled weeds in my yard one day, a guy in a car stopped to talk to a young girl walking along. I could hear her going through her repertoire of all the bad words she knew trying to impress him. I wondered what or who made her think that vulgar conversation sounded cool? The descriptor, 'higher intelligence', did not come to mind.

 

Every generation has its slang, and most of those words go out of style after a while, except for the word ‘cool’, right? : ) I can’t seem to let go of that one. Word meanings continue to evolve, for better or for worse, and it can be dizzying trying to keep up with the latest slang or which bad words mean something good and vice versa. 

 

But regular use of the most vulgar profanity in conversation lowers the bar on language. My favorite comedians don't drop the “f” bomb or worse every few sentences to have me laughing out loud. Obscenity takes no thought to express.

 

I cringe when I think about foreigners watching many American movies and assuming that Americans look, speak, and act like what they see in those movies. If those were true, we’re loud; we show little self-control; we rip off our clothes and jump into bed every time we find ourselves alone and staring into each other's eyes for more than 3 seconds; we carry guns, especially in Texas; we drink to celebrate, we drink to handle stress, we drink to dig out bullets after being shot; and we all cuss like sailors (no offense to sailors). Movie makers say they just film what is happening in real life, but I believe they also create new realities, too. 

Some of the people I love and respect use swear words occasionally, and I don’t love them any less because of it or run around with a curse jar collecting money from them. I’ve used the word ‘crap’ too often myself. But we’ve gotten sloppy accepting vulgar profanity in books, entertainment, and in conversation as the strongest (and best?) way to express ourselves when there are more fitting words to say what we actually mean. 

 

I have to confess that a rumored accidental slip of the "S" word screamed by a much-loved pastor skiing too fast down the mountain before he learned how to wedge or traverse across the slope still makes me chuckle because it was so out of character for him. So please understand I am not condemning anyone for the occasional swear word. But we can raise our language standards by not elevating the most vulgar profanity in normal conversation to the point we don't even realize what we're saying anymore.

 

I know I'm speaking to the choir for most readers of this article. And I risk offending those who are proud of their ability and freedom to drop the "f" bomb at will. But bless our hearts and minds, we can do better. 

Donna Van Cleve

August 2020

Keep Learning

References:

https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/campuspress.yale.edu/dist/a/1215/files/2016/05/Giordano-rg5y5r.pdf 

Bless

Your Heart

 I threw this one in for fun. 'Damn'  is mild by today's standards. 

If you have to express yourself through graffiti, write some good stuff,

& credit your source if it isn't your own! : )  This is by William Shakespeare

Aren't they worth  giving them our best words, not our worst?

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