Fourteen-year-old McKay Hatch got fed up with cussing. So he created the No Cussing Club in 2009 and enlisted thousands of members. He even got the California General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring a No Cussing Week in California.
Although I rarely hear profanity in my day-to-day life, like Hatch, it repels me when I do. For the speaker, profanity is inconsiderate and often uncouth. It injects a coarse spirit into human interaction, especially when done without the consent of the listener. For the hearer, profanity is unpleasant and often offensive. Cursing assaults our civic mores and stains our popular culture.
People who swear know it is not acceptable, because they modify their speech if any “ladies or children are present.” As grateful as I am for that, there are others who beg the same exemption. A young professional woman made it clear in a meeting I attended recently that she would have used the strongest language if so-and-so weren’t there. I wondered why she thought it would be acceptable in my presence.
When I encounter profanity, I politely ask the offender to refrain from it. I must say that almost without exception, he or she does so and most often apologizes.
The two biggest purveyors of profanity are movies and Internet magazine and news comment pages. Indeed, the f-word in such an article came up in the Google search I made in writing this article. Even PG movies often contain a raft of swear words. And a PG-13 movie is a lost cause. Most children and teenagers watch movies containing multiple swear words — many uttered by their heroes — and now even their superheroes. We can confidently predict where this will lead them.
As I sat at a stoplight one evening, next to me some children were watching an animated children’s movie in their Suburban. I recognized it as a very popular movie. It has only one swear word in it — only one. But it struck me that these kids will watch that show over and over and will be thereby conditioned to use that swear word in some way at some time.
Taking God’s various names in vain has become commonplace — TV shows do it nonstop. This practice violates holy, sacred feelings about Deity for faithful worshippers and ought not to be countenanced.
Consider how George Washington responded to a report of his officers using profanity: “The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice heretofore little known in our American army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will … endeavor to check it and that both they and the men will reflect that we can have little hope of the blessing of heaven on our arms if we insult it by our impropriety and folly. Added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense and character detests and despises it.”
Profanity is mostly used for emphasis, to underline, to make a point more strongly. Teenagers are drawn to swearing because they want to be more dramatic, more authoritative and more emphatic. They want to be taken seriously, so they use the most emphatic expressions they know. Mature people realize ideas should speak for themselves. No manner of profane underscoring will make a little idea big or turn a lame joke into a funny one. Speak your piece as clearly and articulately as possible; then let it run on its own. Let the idea vie for attention. You might be surprised how far a good idea can run on its own. Swearing gives it no legs. Nor does cursing portray one as tough, adult or glib.
Am I saying the growing plague of profanity threatens our very civilization? No. But it is a “broken window,” which with other broken windows will let the vandals know that no one cares about this “neighborhood” anymore.
Greg Bell is the former lieutenant governor of Utah and the current president and CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.