Profanity seems to leak into everything nowadays.
But does it, really?
On occasion, with the wind at my back, in a situation that warrants it, I have been known to use ‘colourful language’. Warranted situations comprise of things like, burning toast -watching an underdog come through to win in the last seconds – waking up to Mussolini type dudes receiving the keys to the Whitehouse – receiving a tax bill that will leave me destitute – receiving a tax rebate – being stuck behind a slug on the motorway when I’m in a hurry – being hounded by someone in a hurry with a snazzier car than mine, on the motorway – being diverted at various points on a 1am journey home, on the motorway – other things on the motorway – and more besides.
I have a reasonable vocabulary – I know words like ‘elegiac’ and ‘vapid’ and ‘saturnine’ and ‘sagacious’ and ‘flapdoodle’ and ‘wimple’, but apart from ‘flapdoodle’ I wouldn’t use these words very often. We do this all the time. We have stockpiles of stuff we never use. When, for instance, did you last use the word ‘refrigerator’? You know exactly what it is, but you always use the shorter stem – fridge. This is like my sock drawer. Socks, long past seeing a foot, somehow cling to the bottom of the drawer or hide under other, more plump, hated, used socks. I shouldn’t use the plural. Each, of course, is a widowed sock, eyeing up other sock widows for possible fraternising when I close sock-shop for the day, as I peel on a smug pair of walking socks that are a gift to the foot, a caress of wool, a kiss of cotton, or a combinatory canoodle of both. Forgive me, as usual, I digress.
Words. Some words just don’t get it done. If I whack my thumb with a hammer I’m not going to scream ‘deep folly’ or ‘curses’ or ‘confound it!!!’. I need to spit out a word that salve’s the savage in me – a word that gets to the point – that doesn’t fuck around. I need profanity at such trying times – I need to be tested and I need to fail, miserably; to hug the loser in me.
Embracing terms of endearment.
When I was younger, I was surrounded by women. Mother, Sisters, Aunties, and I was their ‘love’ or ‘dear’ or ‘darling’ or ‘swine’ or ‘little get’ or ‘bloody melt’ (a term of anti-endearment, used by my Mother on many occasions, and one, even though I haven’t the slightest idea of meaning or derivation, I thoroughly deserved). The point is, I picked up a lot of the gentler terms – ‘love’, ‘darling’ etc, and I have used these all my life for both men and women. Most don’t mind, others get pissed off or feel patronised. And not just pissed off. I’m talking anger here. And it’s a ‘you have no right to question it, there’s no need for debate, shut the fuck up’ type anger.
Well, I can’t do that. That particular stance is creeping slowly into ‘conversation’, not just to burn the bridges of connection (dear, love, darling, petal ) but with a view to closing down free debate and suppressing any dissenting opinion, which is a far more serious threat to the kind of egalitarian society that most of us espouse. This seems to be happening more and more in places where speakers are made to feel that their opinion is not worth the hearing, and, furthermore, that they will actually be stopped, physically in some cases, from expressing it. That, I’m afraid, teeters on the fascistic. The pile, the pyre, in fact, of books that differ in opinions from yours, will be next. A new testament to an old testament. Do not have a voice. ‘There is only one voice. His. And by default, mine. Do you hear me?’ Do I fuck. Language, however archaic, has to be celebrated, surely? If I see another eye-roll at some completely innocuous use of ‘love’ or ‘dear’ or ‘petal’ etc offered as a mini hug or a simple offer of understanding by some guy or gal in their twilight years, I’m going to eye-roll the eye-roll. I understand how the patronising use of ‘calm down, dear, take a chill pill’ is annoying and dismissive, but that has different intent. That has ‘shut up, I don’t want to hear you’ written all over it.
Listening to diverse opinions.
Shut up, I don’t want to hear you.
This mindset closes down channels of debate. It prevents the possible unveiling of an idea that might have, hitherto, been hidden to us – and the minority who use tactics like insults, misrepresentation, etc (you’re a bigot, a racist, a sexist, patronising, insert slur, ad infinitum) for even asking such questions as ‘what’s your country of origin?’ or saying things like ‘I love your accent’ or even ‘can I help you with that?’, often leave the majority confused, or worse, frightened to express an opinion that could possibly be deemed offensive, however slight that opinion may be, and too often a person can be demonised for a totally unintended offence. The problem is, an offence taken claims the moral high ground over an offence unintended, and the internet is the perfect place to turn a misunderstood comment into the work of a crazed bigot intent on victimising or pressing their fascistic agenda. ‘Did I just hear you say, Hitler was an artist?’…. ‘No, you didn’t’…. ‘I rather think I did…. Hey, you know what she just said?’…. ‘She said WHAT!!?… She said Hitler had a point!!!??? … OMG!!! ‘….. Now, I agree, some folk (is ‘folk’ ok?) have a bigoted, racist, sexist, misogynistic agenda and have no intention of engaging in dialogue or parts thereof. But, for the sake of armchair warriors everywhere, for the sake of dissenting voices, for the sake of weeding out the banality of opinions that say a woman’s place is in the home, or that deny the Holocaust, or use dogmatic rhetoric to bully us into a frightened silence, for the sake of all that, let’s encourage dialogue – divergent opinions – cognitive conflict – and who knows, when we advocate discourse, especially with those we disagree with or find obnoxious or even incendiary, we could influence an opinion or two, and/or in turn, have our own long held beliefs brought into a new perspective.
It can be difficult for those who are accepted into a baying mob, slapped silly with self righteousness, to offer any dissenting opinion. We accepted you, we’re family now and your voice must melt into the whole, it must mouth the words of the one god, created for your safe passage through a tough life strewn with sullied opinions that we must not tolerate at any cost. And the deal is, we get to say what those vile opinions are. In the words of Upton Sinclair “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” But here, it isn’t a salary – It’s the approval of a group. And that horrid opiate, individual bias, can mutate into collective bias, and if you get sucked in to the vortex of fixed opinion, you are doomed to call someone out for just wanting to hear a ‘controversial’ stance on gender, race, class etc etc. Of course, everyone is biased, but me.
I’m outraged over the outrage about the outrage.
‘I hate everything she stands for. Her book should be banned’. ….. ‘Have you read the book?’….. ‘No. I don’t need to’. …… Seriously? You punish someone based on a whim? You take a negative view, assume, judge on those assumptions, and condemn, on hearsay?
I read somewhere that a home for the elderly had been reported because the staff referred to the residents as ‘love’, ‘dear’ etc etc. Linguistic tyranny? Some thought so. But I wouldn’t want to condemn on hearsay. I want to find out more. I don’t want to quote-mine articles that confirm my stance. I want to challenge my own assumptions. I do not want to grab for epithets on a whim. It’s too easy. It’s just so easy to look for the people that we know will confirm our long held positions, and all shout ‘He’s a douche’, ‘She’s another bad word’.
We can choose to take something someone says in the worst possible way, giving it an intent that was never intended, (check out the reaction to your being offended, as a hint – it’ll be startled confusion) or we can choose to take it with a light heart and a smile.
I do wonder if we can learn to accept and ultimately welcome the possible unease of exchanging viewpoints with people whose ideas differ from our own, even to the point of offending us, and with enough exposure to such views, maybe cultivate sobriety and elegance, creating a place that is not so fearful of expressing age old terms of endearment, a place that isn’t so ready to water down vibrant colours, one that promotes quality listening, that doesn’t make it fashionable to shout down a perceived dissenting voice, that doesn’t demonise or scoff at alternate views, but shows them a consideration and compassion that gives some worth to the oft used term ‘celebrating our differences’.
And, if ‘celebrate’ is too difficult a stretch, then at least we can strive to understand those differences. Sometimes my own truths are better seen through the rantings of others; as are my misconceptions.