Conversational Apartheid

Whenever I told my Mama so-and-so had permission to go/do/wear something, Mama’s response usually started with something like:  “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” She had no appreciation for polls, and for the most part, I’ve inherited that trait.

Nevertheless, the following poll caught my attention. Is swearing ever appropriate? Coming from the Christian publication, Christianity Today, I’ll accept CT posed their “provocative” question to drive traffic and discussion. Since only 164 votes were cast, though, I wonder how much discussion actually resulted.

As to the question, I’ll ignore the word “ever.” (That would be a discussion unto itself.) Let’s concentrate on interpretation. Does “swearing” include mild oaths, only serious profanities or both? Does “appropriate” refer to suitability and fitness of certain words or acceptability? Acceptable for use on all or some occasions or only in the absence/presence of adults? Consenting adults? Should I conduct a poll before I swear? Every time?

I might have been 10 when a friend told me about a unique dictionary in the school library that included all the cuss words! My friend’s revelation didn’t stir my interest as he had hoped, but knowing some words warranted “bad” word status, that intrigued me.

As a wordsmith, I regard words — all words — as currency. Some words have high value and others a lesser value. Some words we use everyday; others we reserve for particularly appropriate occasions. (Hmmm. There’s that word appropriate again.) If I bastardize a word (through overuse or misapplication), I have cheapened the currency of communication. Shame on me.

Take Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s recent media dust-up. When she used the N-word on her radio broadcast, she inadvertently demonstrated how certain words are so politically charged, a rational discussion about their use or abuse becomes impossible. A teachable moment became instead the basis for racism charges against Dr. Laura.

The mavens of 21st century culture have dictated (with jihadi-like fervor) only certain people are allowed to speak the N-word. They’re permitted to speak it often, proclaiming the actual word — unrestrained — in supposedly humorous or jesting contexts. [Using the vernacular, of course, WTF was Dr. Laura thinking? Has she forgotten her “place?”]

When skin pigmentation (or some other random value) determines which words are (or are not) available for our use, communication suffers! Will the hysterical language-mavens issue further redactions whenever it suits them?

Apartheid and segregation are despicable tyrannies. Why would we stand by quietly as our language is gradually taken captive to the same indignities?

In a better world, we would reach the same conclusion I grasped as a child:  our language is rich and every single word is useful, coined purposefully and for precision. However imperfect, we remain stewards of an incomprehensible gift.