Many years ago when I had my own radio program, I did a show with the title,” Sex guns and violence.” In the early eighties issues of gun control were as hot then as now, and violence and sex in the movies and on TV were becoming more explicit and common place; although without as much acceptance as seems to be the case today. Swear words were not allowed on their air or even voiced on TV or in films as commonly as they are today and were bleeped out; full frontal or any nudity and explicit sex scenes were not shown and violence was not depicted in such cold-blooded and even surreal detail. Yet even then I was concerned about how sex and violence were so closely associated in language, actually being correlated; and knowing full well how language influences behavior and how behavior influences language, I felt the need to draw my listening audiences’ attention to the facts of life from a different perspective. For what was once considered profanity and censored from public speech and even from literature had become part of the common vernacular. Not a sign of cultural progress, I thought, and dangerously careless.
When I was growing up, and well into my adulthood, swearing in the presence of a lady was a sign of disrespect and/or ignorance. I can honestly say that I never heard swear words spoken in my home or among my friends, fellow students or coworkers. I blushed when I was younger if someone said, “damn!” in front of me! And no one would tell a “dirty” or off-color joke in front of a lady, or in mixed company for that matter. Profanity was not common in social settings, least of all among the better educated.
My point on that radio program is the same as now, that our language and all forms of communication, including all forms of art, is a reflection as well as an expression of our level of intellectual and spiritual evolution as human beings: Also it tells the truth about us in terms of who we are in our own time and space as a culture; our values and concerns. I also think that language, like art ought to have a positive influence on culture as much as it reflects it. The fact is it is so many words that mean one thing are used to insult, express a violent impulse and in one way or another are used abusively. The F word, for example:Its true meaning misused. and in itself abused.
The way language is used now-a-days speaks reams to me of a continued trend towards a lower standard and less intelligent means of self-expression among so many in the modern populace, and articulates a less respectful attitude people have for one another.
I am not one to generalize, in fact I dislike and avoid generalizations: So I want you to know that I am not accusing everyone reading this of the use of bad language, or lack of decency and good taste in their choice of vocabulary; or accusing them of having given into the habitual use of the ugly common vernacular, which is certainly not a good representation of their intelligence.
I am saying we are all subject to the power of language and its persuasive influences on every aspect of our lives consciously and subconsciously. And therefore we need to heed this fact and be careful not to reinforce the negative.
I must admit I am troubled by the degradation of the English language in every day speech, because I know that language doesn’t just help us say what we think and feel, it also has powerful influences on our attitudes and thinking and our behavior. It communicates our self-respect or lack of it, and the attitudes we have for our fellow human beings. I will give more examples of this in a minute.
I want first though to make it clear that language is the most powerful of all human powers. I have learned to use it carefully and respectfully in my work for I know its ability to create and destroy, to harm, help or to heal. The most revered poets and great writers of all times knew it and knew how to employ their language skills with great impact. Great orators have moved people to war and peace with artful and persuasive employment of language since humans have been able to speak. The power of our own internal and external communications, both positively and negatively is evident in every aspect of our lives.
Our beautiful English language, which has so many opportunities for us to express our intelligence, our literacy and our creativity is so often misused and abused, it also actually encourages abuse and implies the acceptance of abuse, and this is what disturbs me, and the main reason for this blogs subject. Because I believe the consequences are that we, as a society, a culture whose premise is to promote peace and living our idealized dreams, and believing in respect for our fellow human beings, are being denigrated, and spoken to and are speaking to each other using bad verbal manners. I believe we need to reatin a sense of our dignity more today than ever before.
There are too many among us who have loud and well publicized voices who have taken free speech to mean that you can use language in its most base unattractive and irreverent ways, so that the vulgar and obscene seem to have universal acceptance. There seems to me to be no ligitimate or practical reasons for it.
Unfortunately, the fact is that the common vernacular reflects our attitudes about sex, and violence. Those who seem to speak for us on stage and screen are all too often implying that we lack the ability to understand any other words than those that speak to the lowest common denominator.
For me, it is troubling, more so because I understand the subconscious and how powerful language is in evoking responses from it. “Watch your language” is one of the first things I teach my clients. And I am not warning them not to swear, that’s not my role or my responsibility. It is my responsibility to impart the knowledge I have of how the internal and external communications between conscious and subconscious and the interactions we have with others influence everything!
It is said that we are judged by the company we seek. I say we are also judged by the language we speak.
Listen to those around you, (and yourself) and realize that every day communications are now replete with words that are used incongrunently,often totaly opposite to their actual meaning and as expletives when they were never actually intended to be.
For example “swear” words are used to express anger or insult or to degrade rather than to actually express their true meaning ; How they came to be swear words is part of the issue I am concerned with here. Normal natural human behaviors and functions have been converted in the use of language to serve distasteful motives and used in distasteful ways to express feelings and ideas. They are so common in every day speech these days that most people have lost their sense of shock when they hear them. And/or the true meaning of the words are often applied with violent or aggressive intent, which ultimately, in all too many instances, is expressed in violent behaviors.
Just watch the news, read the papers and any form of media and note how often the negatives in language are expressed in actions.
Watching the comedy channel recently, I was disappointed to note that Bill Maher (whose intelligence and well-informed attitudes about politics and people in the public eye gets him a huge audience), was not only using four-letter words, i.e. the “F” word , but sexual gestures and animations depicting masturbation: The same was true when we watched George Carlin, the late and great humorist /social commentator who was also acting out with sexual gestures and speaking in obscene and violent terms; using the “F” word in aggressive ways, and advocating violence in a supposedly humorous way to make his point. In fact this is one of the things that promoted this blog content.
The truth is it is difficult to avoid exposure to such obscenity these days. Ribald humor had its place for a long time, though in the past only amongst those whose own sense of what was funny was the least decent of human behaviors and often included the indecent treatment of others.
I can only hope that people do not take the popular comics of today seriously, or use their style of speech as an example of what is expected or accepted; although I am told that comedians today are the voice of the public. That’s a scary thought: Not because they don’t always speak the truth and say it the way it is; some do and very artfully, but the way all too many do it is what concerns me and frankly I feel it ought to concern you, too.
The question is for me is, “Why do these intelligent well spoken educated people need to talk “dirty” to their audiences? Are these people so afraid they won’t be considered “hip” and so shockingly controversial that they will lose their audiences and ratings that they are willing to forget that the same points can be made without speaking down to their audience? And is their audience so afraid of not being “hip” that they feel the need scream and yell, whoop and holler their approval, even though they are being talked to as though they are low life’s. Is their aggressive and seemingly heart-felt agreement with the one on stage a sign of their own unexpressed aggressions? Do they relate all too much with the basest side of human nature? Can we hazard a guess?
I can take a joke: I love good “clean” comedy; I admire the wit and the often profound wisdom expressed by good comedians. I don’t need foul language to amuse me or help me feel down to earth and open-minded; for I am indeed those things. I don’t need constant references to private body parts or crude depictions of intimate sexual engagements to amuse me. I prefer the subtle and clever humor that depicts the facts of life in a way that enables me to see the lighter side; to laugh with others about our humanness, and about myself and bring the vulnerabilities and facts of our humanness to a level of humble appreciation. Not depreciation. I can enjoy a clever double entendre. I like it when a great deal is left to my imagination and personal interpretations; audibly and visually. I believe in free speech and truth-telling; however, I believe I can be greatly amused, even have a big belly laugh without private parts and obscene language to underline the messages or for me to recognize the punch line.
I don’t consider myself a prude, and I can’t say I have never sworn, (it’s rare when I do, then it’s usually under my breath) and I’ve created my own expletives to express frustration or anger, but I am sad to say that I am no longer shocked by the lack of communication skills of those in the entertainment world, and all too many people around me. I am however disgusted and disappointed and often times offended.
Also the sexual parts of a man’s and a woman’s anatomy have now become so demeaned that referring to them or a person in their name is often a deliberate insult. Just think right now how many times you have heard such talk; did you laugh because you thought it was funny? Or were you laughing out of embarrassment? Do you think you ought to be okay with such talk and figure it to be harmless? Do you feel you need to keep up with the times and yet deplore how times have changed?
I am not saying that sex is a subject we must never speak of; it has its place in our lives and the contexts in which it is acted out or discussed ought to be respectful: For all concerned at all times.
The use of the “F” word however is bringing the sex act into a context that it would be best left out of. It is so common now that there is a tendency to forget what “F—- really means; and that nowhere in the dictionary is there any suggestion that it is to be considered a violent act or intended to insult. Or if its true meaning is remembered it is often deliberately put into a context of violence towards women or another human being.
The “F you,” and other put downs or intended offences have a powerful impact on our consciousness. Yes, of course being called one of those “names” evokes anger because we know we are being treated disrespectfully and the instinctual desire to retaliate in kind is only natural: However to do so inevitably bring us down to the same low-level.
In truth, these much abused and misued words are not simple meaningless verbal tics, or benign habits of expression. Using them with or without negative intent gives them different and powerful meanings: Ones that ought to be reconsidered before use.
All too many words denoting human anatomy are not all being used in their dictionary definitions or the contexts they were created for. To describe someone you don’t respect, referring to him as an, (excuse me) – an “a– hole” is an example of how low we can go. Anyone can tell someone else to F off or that they p— them off; they could however make their feelings known more appropriately and glean more respect. Certainly there are enough words in our dictionary and in most people’s vocabulary to accommodate all of our needs for self-expression, positive, neutral and negative, without coming across rude crude or ignorant.
We all know that there are connotations as well as denotations and literal as well as figurative speech. And the context, tone of voice and posture, body language that accompany our use of words contribute to their effect. I, of course, take that all into consideration. However, even when I know it is a habit of someone’s speech to use the F word, or some other poor language, I find myself wishing I had not heard that. It gives me the idea the person has an inadequate vocabulary, or I wonder if he or she wants to give me the impression that they are savvy and comfortable with today’s common vernacular. I tend to think of it as a disrespectful way of talking to me whether intended or not. How about you?
As with many words in the English language, and I am sure in other languages as well, too many people have come to employ language in badly and in the wrong ways and way too often.
Power is often what is intended to be expressed in the use of bad language; the power to hurt or demean. Maslow’s theory of psychology was dominance, and it surely seems that dominance is given precedence over peace sponsoring communication in our modern vernacular don’t you think?
Owning guns gives some people a sense of power and security. But they needing to own one is inevitably the consequence of the fear of violence that is expressed in speech, and the excessive exploitation of violence in the so-called “entertainment” and news media. Sex and violence sells; how sad for us as a people!
The use of guns and violence and sexual exploits and crimes are given more attention in the news than any acts of kindness. Headlines draw attention to how we are all encouraged to feel vulnerable in a world where violence seems commonplace in words and deeds.
But if it were that commonplace, why would it make the headlines? Headlines are written to draw attetnion to the subject. Do we as a people really have such a great appetite for that kind of information? Because truly in most cases local headline news focusing on neighborhood violence has no real impact on us on us personally? I may understand the voyeur mentality, and the psychology behind the need to know, and the subconscious sense of relief we feel (albeit guiltily) when it happens to someone other than ourselves: And people can be horrified and at the same time, in spite of themselves be attracted to the blood and guts involved. However, is it not the responsibility of those who report to us to provide a genuine balance of what life is really like in our neighborhoods, or country, in our world?
And why sell sex guns and violence as a commodity to be paid for by commercials and bought by the public without intelligent discretion? Is that what you truly want from your media?
We must be aware that guns and other dangerous weapons sell the idea that we need violent ways to protect ourselves from violence; after all how can we feel safe in a world where the language itself threatens and abuses us?
Four letter words that insinuate other meanings, when used as they are so often today, in my view express our society’s obsession with sex and violence, and that there just might be a correlation between violence towards women and the language used to articulate
aggression towards them. Obviously not just against women: although rape is known to be an act of violence. Think of the difference between the words used when a man wants to make love to a woman, and when he wants instead to F— her.
I have a serious concern that we are so inured to the ugliness and violence in every genre and in the use language that we think nothing of it, or that we have assumed by our regular use of that kind of language that violence and aggression is to be accepted as readily as the words that are used to describe it.
I just ask that from now on, that you to listen more carefully, and reflect. How do you really feel about the use of sex and violence in our every day world and in our every day language?
Take some time to think of words that would more appropriately and effectively express your intelligence as well as your thoughts and feelings. Make up some words that you keep exclusively as your own personal swear word vocabulary. The need to “cuss” at times is only human, I understand this. It’s fun to create your own vocabulary and those words will work better for you than any already in common use.
Always keep in mind that the words we use to express ourselves, reflect not just attitudes, but our unquestioning agreement with their colloquial meanings.
Your subconscious doesn’t automatically discriminate between the dictionary definitions and the implied ones. It feels language; it responds to it, it interprets it based on your educated sense of what the words actually mean. It has its own dictionary definitions, too.
One of my links the chain of command for Mind Mastery is “think about what you want to say and how you want to say it, and ask yourself does your inner and outer voice match each other?” For if they do not, you will never feel comfortable with what you say, and the responses you get may not be what you’d like to get.
You can influence and impress and have impact on others with graceful and articulate forms of speech. If you are angry, say you are, you don’t have to say an F word or use excrement to explain your feelings or describe someone else. You will get more respect when you show your knowledge of the English language, and use it in ways that do not insult, but inform.
It is true that we speak what we hear. It’s probably how so many words have become so ill-used and so often (not that’s a good excuse for continuing the trend). That’s why my English accent is now mixed with my American one. However, I hear myself and make note of when my well-educated English is falling into misuse and then I correct myself. My ways of speaking have brought me compliments. It’s not just my accent; it is how I use language to express myself.
I was raised by an elocutionist, a refined and wonderful woman who taught me that my word is my bond, and that language is an art form, and therefore must be beautiful in all of its expressions. She never swore, she was able to express indignation, disgust, anger, dissatisfaction, love, frustration and all of the human emotions without ever a trace of violence or rudeness or vulgarity. Nothing of her intensity of feeling was ever lost by not using what she would refer to as bad language. Nor will yours be when you refine your speech to reflect your intelligence and best intentions.
My mother’s lessons and the ones I teach in my courses can upgrade us, help us refine and better define ourselves as intelligent communicators and therefore cease to contribute to the downgrading trends in communications that result in violence and disrespect.
Keep in mind the power of language, and how it can be used to create or destroy, to help or harm.
TTFN with all the best, always from Elaine Kissel