Not at ALL What You Thought

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Does Your Breath Smell?

(Rated R for pervasive strong language)


I'm on Facebook (a LOT these days), and, surprisingly*, quite a few teenagers are my Fb friends, most of whom requested my friendship. This means, of course, I'm exposed to teenSpeak in its variegated forms. Most of the time, this amuses. But every once in a while, in fact, too often, it troubles. I admit it: it's the Language.

I am not referring to textspeak or slang. I'm talking about profanity, vulgarity and obscenity. For what it's worth, I'm really not a prude as far as language is concerned*. I am, after all, a wordsmith myself. I avoid strong language, but I recognize its place in dialogue. When I was a kid*, people cursed in public only when they were angry, drunk, or insane. If one adult cussed at another adult, there was a brief stunned silence, signifying (I believe) the presence of anger in the conversation. Maybe my adult friends grew up the same way: rarely does any one of them use Language in our conversation unless anger is there. (One of my colleagues, maybe ten or fifteen or twenty years older than I, no prude in any context*, and certainly privileged with the prerogative of cussin, has cussed only once in my presence. She was very angry. She also whispered the cuss word. I leave you to map out the implications.)

Then there is the thing about my faith. Because of the way I read the bible and follow the Lord Christ, I believe in the power of the curse. "The power of life and death is in the tongue," I was taught and I believe, because I've seen that power at work, for good and ill. So another reason I avoid strong language in my own mouth is the fact that I believe I am a woman of power. I believe that not only what I do, but also what I say has authority. Every idle word from my mouth smites my heart, bothers my peace for days, sometimes years. So even when I laugh and joke, I don't do it with strong language: contrary to current culture, I don't believe strong language is meant for joking around.

Which brings me back to my teenaged friends and their language. One young Fb friend used to status only about sex. One cussed profoundly about having to go to work. And to my horror, my own daughters began punctuating their Fb threads with LMAO and even LMFAO. These are the same people who gasped in shock when I called an ass an ass*, or when I said "damn it" after my older girl accidentally snapped me in the eye with a towel. (I use the word accidentally because, although she was playing around and meant to snap me with it, she did not mean to snap me in the eye with it. In response, I deliberately used the words damn it to help her realize that, even when playing, she should be a lot more careful.) In the same way, I recently told these people who live in my house that they should refuse to become "anyone's fuck buddy". And these people gasped in shock. (You see the hypocrisy --theirs and mine-- by now, I hope, because, I'm just not going to confess any more of my sins. In this essay, anyway.)

I'm reminded of Walter Mosley's character, Socrates Fortlow, the sixty-something ex-convict who, in the novel Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned,
caught a strange boy killing and stealing a neighbor's chicken. Fortlow makes Darryl clean, cook and eat the chicken, an object lesson in responsibility and accountability. When he asks the boy if he's ever had such a good meal, Darryl truthfully responds, "Shit, no." And then Socrates, the murderer-rapist (many times over, once outside and, consequently, the other times Inside) tells Darryl, "Keep your mouth clean, li'l brother. . . .an' then they know you mean business when you say somp'n strong." Some would argue, of course, as I used to, that there are many ways to "say something strong" without certain language. Point taken. But (again) I have come to recognize Certain Language's place in dialogue, even if I prefer to keep my mouth clean.

Among my teenaged friends, I'm just saying, I don't see even the knowledge of a distinction between regular usage and Strong Usage. There is no sense of propriety. There is no discretion. Why should your status say, "Take pride in your shit" when what you mean is "Take pride in yourself, your accomplishments, your standards, your creations"? Personally, I haven't taken pride in my shit since I was two. I flush it away, in fact.

So why, finally, is shit always in your mouths, little brothers and sisters? Aren't you aware of what that does to your smile and your breath?

Lord Jesus, my brother, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.

*Because my older daughter refuses to befriend me or her aunt. And the younger one unfriended her aunt when she was called out on the LMFAO thang.
*I am, however, a prude in other areas. Deal with it.
*Yes, a hunnert years ago.
*She and her husband actually follow The Dead around. Nuff said.
*Yes, I use this word advisedly, but only in reference to certain people, never a certain part of their (or anyone's) body.


  • At 4:04 PM , Anonymous Bethany/Satinswan said...

    I've come to a point where I use language more often than I'd like, but I at least try to use it to make a point. And mostly only around friends. And almost never on Fb - my grandmother's on there!

    I have decided that my two favored curses for small things (stubbing my toe, dropping stuff, papercuts, etc) are "crumbcakes!" and "crabapples!"

    Mmm... crumb cake...

  • At 8:06 PM , Blogger Gine said...

    Bethany, you kill me.

  • At 3:56 AM , Blogger Elayne said...

    I follow, and mainly agree with, your line of thinking - where we differ is that I don't feel affected by "language" in the sense of cusswords. It doesn't require, or necessarily signify, anger (though sometimes of course it does). Those are not the "idle words" that stick with me and eat away at my peace.

    I went through a period, coupla ten-fifteen years ago, where I deliberately and determinedly eviscerated all the "cussing" from my language and, as best I could, my thoughts, because people assured me that it would be a blessing... that my spirit would be lightened and enriched and purified. I did get to a point where, when stubbing my toe or slamming on the brakes, I instinctively thought/said, "Ouch!" or "Oh no!" instead of ... well, you know what, I think out of respect, perhaps not on your blog. (c:

    Anyway, although I did internalize that "clean mouth" much more successfully than I'd ever have thought, I did not feel or realize any upside to it. In fact, my friends at that time remarked rather frequently that I seemed listless and sad and unanimated - I assume because they were used to me tossing out an off-hand ribald remark to liven up conversations, and I was no longer doing that.

    It was probably about three years, and one day I realized that the only one who seemed to benefit from it was the people around me, who felt entitled to tell me what kind of language was and was not acceptable. (Note: This does not apply to you. You're not really the type to demand that others conform to your preferences, but some people are.) Then one day I was reading a book printed in the 1920s or 1930s, in which one of the (male) characters said, "Blast!" in the presence of some of the other (female) characters. He was roundly castigated, sent from the room in disgrace, and was not allowed to rejoin the group for meals until he had sent written apologies to all the ladies for his "beastly and unconscionable" language, AND had spoken to the vicar about a suitable penance.

    At that point I started thinking about the ever-changing nature of language, how something that's a vile word today might be considered perfectly innocuous by all by linguists 100 years from now. And, this is a little weird, perhaps, but I actually made a conscious effort to start cussing again - which was kind of funny, like a preteen trying to be tough. "Darn it - I mean, shit!"

    My parents seldom cussed in front of us - but there are phrases and lines of thought in which I was immersed as a child. They were second nature to me, and I never realized how negative and toxic they were until others pointed them out to me. ("No good deed goes unpunished." "If it's not one thing, it's another." "Well, if that [unfortunate event] isn't just typical luck of the LastNames!" "I don't know why I ever expected anything different" [when something unpleasant has happened]. Even my mother's constant, "Come on in, I'm sorry the house is such a mess" whenever we had company, no matter that she'd spent 9 hours cleaning it from top to bottom. Just constant negativity and expectations of, almost embracing, the worst.)

    So I do the same sort of reflection about *that* type of language, and I would say that I don't think *that* type of language is "meant for joking around." I make a conscious effort not to indulge in that, but it's hardwired, man, and sometimes I'm in the middle of saying it before I even realize - and other times, I can't bring myself to care about NOT saying it. But those are the "idle words" that haunt me, what makes me feel like I have dirt and filth in my mouth.

    I should probably put this over on my own blog instead of typing a thesis in your comments, but, whatever - here's where I am, here's what it is. (c: I hope you can tolerate my breath!

  • At 7:27 AM , Blogger Gine said...

    I love you, Elayne. And I completely agree with you about THOSE kinds of "idle words." They sap the soul, IMO, much more than any other.


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