Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

Really bad words in the news

October 31, 2007


I curse. Not here so much, but practically everywhere else, including in the kitchen. Sometimes I feel bad about how much and how eloquently I curse, but mostly I think of it as using all the words available to me in our vocabulary, and that makes me feel pretty smart.

So I was delighted to hear that a certain amount of cursing can be good for you, unless you live in Pennsylvania.

First, there was this report in the CBC News on a British study that found that workplace profanity boosts office morale. The study, “Swearing at work and permissive leadership culture: when anti-social becomes social and incivility is acceptable” [leave it to academics to suck the life out of even cool topics], found that swearing at work [but not in front of customers] reflected solidarity, enhanced group cohesiveness and released stress. My friend Ronnie takes an interesting look at this study over at her blog Work Coach.

But don’t try this at work—or at home, for that matter—if you live in Pennsylvania.

In West Scranton, Pennsylvania, a woman was charged with disorderly conduct for cursing at her overflowing toilet in her own home. Turns out her neighbor is an easily offended police officer. He was off duty at the time of the incident, but took it upon himself to summon his on-duty brethren. And here I thought the only service off-duty police officers performed was to thwart the occasional liquor store hold-up. Even more incredibly, it turns out that the use of obscene language or gestures is an offense under the state of Pennsylvania’s criminal code. How do people in Pennsylvania express themselves or make it through the workday?

And finally, there’s this interesting look at why we curse and why bad words have so much power in our culture. It appeared on The New Republic magazine’s website and was sent to me by my friend Carolyn, who always finds the most fascinating stuff online. The article looks at the issue of cursing from many perspectives—how we store emotional responses in our brains, how the historical root of swearing is actually religion, the hierarchy of bad words, even why grammatical errors would have made the FCC’s proposed [but failed] Clean Airwaves Act unenforceable… Author Steven Pinker is nothing if not thorough. He’s also not shy about using really bad words in his exhaustive, entertaining article: He starts it with the F-bomb, in fact, and takes off from there. So be forewarned. Myself, I was just impressed.