Culture · Education · Self and Society · Social Science · Society · Sociology

What is “Bad” Language?

Let us start with the idea of what vulgar language is. It is a social construction which I have never quite been able to comprehend. What makes a word like bitch, which means “female dog” less appropriate than calling someone a harlot, which is an actual human being who sells their sexual power for money? Both terms are pretty insulting, especially when taken out of context. Why can you say poop, but not shit? Are they not both terms for the same thing? I won’t get into the various colloquialisms for penis and vagina, but you get the point. The King James Version of the Bible even uses terms which modern society would decry as profane. 2 Kings 18:27 refers to men who “eat their own dung, and drink their own piss.” If the prominent religious text which is largely credited by the founders of our country can say “piss”, then why can’t we? I can honestly say I do not know.

If we allow for societal norms, regardless of whether or not we understand them, society has, in fact, deemed certain words as “bad.” I would argue that language is fluid. Any culture around the world has multiple influences on local vernacular. I would dare to say that slang is much more prevalent in America than we would give it credit for. English has its roots in the ancient Germanic languages, but it also borrows heavily from Greek and Latin. Modern authors of Webster’s Dictionary did not exist when early medieval Englishmen began to alter the current writing and speaking systems from Anglo Saxon. I would also like to point out that vulgarity is not a trend that is only found in modern American English. Each culture around the world has their set of slang and profanity. We are not unique.

Language is a fluid social construction, and English dates back to the 5th century. Why then should we not drop f-bombs at will, regardless of whether our teachers, parents, or children are around to hear it? I enjoy having an extensive vocabulary. I can use language with poetic license and appropriate prose in any social setting with the beauty of a sunset. Why would I want to jeopardize the power I gain from an erudite use of symbolism and splendor in order to whimsically throw out a word which would cause auditory harm to the listener. In short, it is off-putting; like nails on a chalkboard. It would be like listening to a splendid string quartet and having a tuba blow a C-sharp. Regardless of whether or not it is in the proper key, it is out of place. Some would have us believe that we should all be playing tubas, but it does not take a well-trained musical ear to know that the cello is a gentleman’s instrument. I am not saying that using foul language is akin to the sounds of brass or the monosyllabic grunting of primitive man, but there is no reason why we should not all wish to raise our individual standards of communication.

Language is a strange concept. Words can mean different things to different cultures. One day bad means bad, the next it means good. I would like to think that we, as a society, could agree to not destroy one another through the use of insults or harsh language. I would like to see all of us communicate with one another with respect and compassion, rather than debase our own intellects by reverting to immature displays of profane parlance. I take pride in my command of my native language. While I agree with the idea of having ownership of our words, I wish to take more responsibility for my actions, not less. Is that not how civilized societies are supposed to behave, even evolve? Maybe not.

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