A few months ago, I was out to dinner with my boyfriend and his siblings and their kids to celebrate his brother’s 50th birthday. We were in a very nice restaurant and it was a lovely evening. That is, until a man at a table not far from us start talking loudly and using expletives. Every other word was something that would be bleeped out on TV. It appeared that he had a little too much to drink and as the evening wore on, the folks at that table were getting rowdy.
We were all embarrassed by this. No one at our table was making eye contact. And there were several young children with us. My boyfriend got up and quietly said to the man that there were children present and it was making us uncomfortable to hear all that swearing—could he please tone it down? The man apologized profusely and so did the others at his table. And they quieted down.
I was thinking about that lately because it seems like I hear more and more profanity in public places. I’m not a prude, but it does startle me sometimes.
When I was growing up, my parents were very strict about “swearing,” that is, about using profane or obscene words. Lately in our culture, this seems to less and less taboo. Still I cringe when I hear others (and myself) use those “bad words.”
I feel conflicted about this. I was raised to think using that sort of language was vulgar, a sign of bad manners. I was taught that talking with those words meant you weren’t educated enough to have a real vocabulary—you didn’t know any good words so you used the lazy, ugly words. My teachers and parents conveyed the idea that if you wanted to be classy and make a good impression, you didn’t use expletives. That was that.
Yet, many people do not have the same reticence. They do not have the same prejudice about those words. Really, it would be hard to go to a movie or read a novel without encountering expletives. I don’t want to be alienated from our culture over something so trivial.
What do you think? Am I being too squeamish? Is it OK to use “bad words”? How do you feel about hearing them in public places or in the media?
Kate Elliott, editor of Gather, makes her living with words.