Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Please Refrain. . .

. . . from using profanity while I'm in the vicinity."

My sister, Anne, and I were probably 13 and 14 years old and at the height of our cleverness when we came up with that little gem. What a perfectly polite and intelligent way to let those around us know our tender ears were being defiled by their undiscriminating vocabulary. I'm not sure we ever actually used it, though neither of us was reticent when it came to making our displeasure at the sound of foul language known to those who used it.

On one of our trips to Disneyland we heard some profanity and lots and lots of "Remain seated please. Permanecer sentado por favor", which was our inspiration for a little addition to our catch phrase, "Please refrain from using profanity while I am in the vicinity. Exit to your left and thank you for your support."

Oh, my. It really is a wonder we had any friends given our level of dorkiness. Sure we didn't actually say this to anyone but the very fact that our brains came up with it and we thought it was awesome are clear evidences that we probably did not deserve any.

Once in my 10th grade Spanish class we were taking turns reading some dialogue. When it came to me, instead of "Dios mio!" I said "Ay, caramba!" My teacher did not appreciate it and asked why I could not just read the text as it was printed. There is a slight chance that I was one of the few who understood her extremely dry and harsh sense of humor and the only one who responded with sarcasm, so she did not especially like me. When this incident happened I explained that I do not take the Lord's name in vain. She assured me that this is perfectly acceptable in Spanish. I assured her that I would not say it in any language. She stared at me in silence for a long while before moving on.

I grew up in a home where there was very, very little swearing. I remember running to my parents and tattling that one of my older brothers had said the f-word. My dad asked what he said, and I whispered in his ear, "fagot".

When my mother was at her whit's end she would say things like, "Oh, fiddlesticks!" or, on a really bad day, "Dang, dang, double dang!" I believe my dad swore on the very, very rare occasions he got really angry.

I remember the first time I ever swore when I was about 13. I had a friend who used mild swear words occasionally. She was at my house and we were sitting there chatting and I said, "What the he**" in the conversation. I stopped suddenly, in shock. My friend laughed and told me it was okay! I... started crying and never swore again until after I had children. (no more about that later)

So the concept of using bad language just to color your normal sentences is one I don't get. It seems so very jr.high and high school to me. Some of my old friends from high school still use language like that occasionally on facebook and I feel like, "did you never grow up?" The answer, of course, is "no". I mean, the answer is that they just live in a different world than I do. And also a different country.

And speaking of which: I love living in Poland. I never hear any swearing here at all. This is not because this is the only country in the world that doesn't have or use swear words, but because I don't know any of them. The only way I ever know that someone is using bad language is when my husband or children say something about it.

Teenagers over here live in the same world as teenagers (and former teenagers who became adults and still use obscene language all the time) in America . We were reminded of this one day when Greg was planning to wait in the cafe area of our grocery store while I did the shopping. As always, there was a group of teenage boys hanging out and being extremely cool. Their language was awful. Greg sat there for awhile and then told me that he could not stand it. I told him I was sorry for him and left to shop.

Forty-five minutes later I paid for the food, returned to the cafe area with my loaded cart and saw that the boys were just leaving the area. As they walked past Greg they gave him the "sup?" head tilt (what do you call that?) I asked him what in the world had happened.

He told me that one kid saw him looking at them in disgust and the kid asked Greg if he had a problem. Greg asked him if they had to use that kind of language. The kid was insolent. Greg explained that some people simply do not want to hear that kind of talk. The kid said that it doesn't bother them. Greg explained that he was sure it didn't but that it did bother many of the people who had to listen to it. It was as if this kid had never heard such a crazy thing.

The boys kept cussing but had somehow come to respect Greg for expressing his difference of opinion. They seemed to understand that he was living on a different planet than them and could respect his alien culture. Not enough to give up their swearing for a few minutes, but still.


MelancholySmile said...

Oh, I have so much to say about this post!

Firstly, great topic. I love that you always make me think.

Secondly, I was a dork as well. My best friend and I used to sit next to each other in Sacrament meeting and write notes back and forth in a notebook. We justified that we were still being reverent as long as we used 'scripture language'. So I have a notebook full of stuff like, "This meeting boreth me exceedingly." So at least your dorkiness was righteous. :)

Thirdly, I've had the same thought about people using foul language- "did you never grow up?" Recently, we bought a ClearPlay DVD player, and I'm amazed at how many really excellent movies earn an R rating because they insist on lacing every sentence with obscenities. I inevitably turn to J and ask, "How did anyone even WRITE that? I can't imagine talking that way!" {ClearPlay removes all the swearing and stuff, so while I know there is swearing, I don't have to be subjected to it.}

Fourthly, good for Greg! I find it surprisingly difficult at times to remember that I'm a grown up and can reprimand teenagers. Shortly after I had Baby R, we went to the park. Two teenage boys showed up at started smoking weed. I gaped for a moment, wishing someone would yell at them and then remembered- oh yeah! I can! So I told them they shouldn't be smoking that in the first place, let alone around CHILDREN, and if they didn't get out of there I was going to gladly call the police.

Greg somehow told them {teenagers} off while simultaneously earning respect. He is awesome.

Erin said...

Oh, here's one way that we (and by "we," I mean our family lives growing up) are different!

My dad swore all the time. Never f-bombs, just run-of-the-mill swearing. It kind of disgusted me growing up. In seminary, in ninth grade, I heard a quote: "Vulgarity is just a feeble mind trying to speak itself forcibly." I always loved that quote.

(P.S. I hope I don't sound judgmental. I have a post milling around in my head about judging others and I don't want to come across that way at all!!)

Barbaloot said...

I've always had a serious aversion to swear words...but that doesn't seem to stop my brothers from using them:) I gave up that battle long ago.

I love the response to your teacher about not saying it in any language. Of course, if you had added the please exit to your left bit I would have loved it even more:)

Lara said...

I love this post. I, too, really dislike hearing swear words and rarely say them. (I didn't until I had children, either! No more on that later, either! )

I have always found it a conundrum while singing opera arias, though. Not that they are particularly vulgar, but there are words. Especially the Lord's name in vain. And while I LOVE your solution for your Spanish reading, I couldn't do that. So I just always hoped that I would be forgiven.

Kimberly said...

One of the characters in my book keeps trying to use mild cursing. It's highly aggravating.

I've somehow got into the habit of saying "Crap" rather a lot and I'm in the process of trying to rub out that bad habit. I don't want to be the kind of person whose language makes someone else grimace in disgust, you know?

Great post!

Alison Wonderland said...

I've never been much of a potty mouth, although I get the idea that maybe I am one by your standards, I've not been averse to using them when it was warranted. That's my real problem with the junior high cussing mentality, when you drop the f-bomb in every other sentence what do you say when you're really mad? When I was in JH and HS my friends knew that if I was cussing there was something seriously wrong. And after all isn't that what those words are for?

Lindsay said...

Love it! I especially love your response to your ridiculous teacher, and Greg standing up to the hoolies. Also, being reminded of hoolies. Loved it all!

Melanie Jacobson said...

I swear very little and never around my kids, but I get a wicked little thrill from doing it and find it hard to stop. But I gotta.

Thora said...

The last time I swore (out loud) was when I was seventeen, and a boy broke my heart - I swore at him. Well, good thing that was a vulgarity well spent, since I'm sure getting swear words thrown at you is the way to changing your heart, right?

Although, growing up we weren't allowed to say crap, and I still don't, most of the time. But I have noticed, when other people would use swear words, I say crap. Maybe it is a swear word...(to me at least - since swear words are usually used as expletives - therefore if I explicate with a word, am I then swearing?)

I also, the older I get, find myself not just eschewing swearing, for the same reasons you do, but also any sort of vulgar language. I had friends in high school who in every sentence peppered their speech with so much strong language that both their speech and those words seemed to lose all meaning. Based on those experiences, I definitely think that swearing can be a sign of a small vocabulary, or a vocabulary not extended.

I love your posts, Lisa! I know I never comment, but I just have to tell you, I love hearing about your life in Poland, and you are also Avram's favorite blogger that I read. It's true. (He reads my blog roll, but then insist he doesn't, but I know the truth - he reads his favorites - and he's even told me you were it). I wish we could somehow magically meet in Utah for some conference, with all my favorite bloggers, and it would be awesome. Maybe someday.

Becky said...

I grew up in a home where I heard it all. From fiddlesticks to the other word that starts with an F. Even today, when I get angry, I end up swearing like a sailor in my head, though it rarely comes out of my mouth. It's incredible how hard it is to get that stuff out of your brain! I hate it. It's a constant struggle.

I very much agree that people who use those types of words need to brush up on their vocabulary. It makes them sound like they don't have - or don't know - anything intelligent to say.

Melissa said...

I can proudly say I have never said a swear word. Out loud. I've sworn plenty of times in my head. But I was like you--in high school, always trying to get people not to swear. My senior year, it was predicted in the school newspaper that my best friend and I would form an organization called MAP--Mothers Against Profanity. The thing I've thought of to say now (but never have, mostly because I'm chicken) is "You're a better person than that" whenever I hear someone swear. Maybe one day I'll actually say it. If I ever stop swearing in my head :)

Susan said...

You must not have worked with Dad on the car very much :) You have also forgotten Mom's D, D, double-D. But then maybe she got better at keeping it in her head as she got older (hope for those of you who've commented on trying to stop: maybe your youngest children will never remember it if you stop now!)

This is so pertinent though to me now, with our bookgroup it is really hard to know what the profanity level is going to be in a book. Unfortunately books don't have a rating like movies. So I have read waaay more profanity than I would ever listen to in a movie (I'm going to have to see what Clearplay is, wish there was something like that for books. The last book I read had me wishing I could black out all the Lord's-name-in-vains so I could recommend it.)

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Erin already mentioned it, but a quote I love to teach my EFY kids is, "Profanity is the the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly." (Spencer W. Kimball.)

I said a bad word in my head when Natalie spit out all of her medicine on the floor and then I knocked over the garbage can. And then I said sorry in my brain.

King of Heaven said...


"Profanity is the the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly."

seems to be you are very caring....pretty good..