Use of Colourful Language

What language is appropriate? And in what place and time?

It seems like the unwritten laws of acceptability change all the time. Is it okay to say “damn” now? Can you say “hell” or do you have to use the less offensive “heck?” And is a euphemism actually any better than the word you substituted?

There are a lot of words that might be considered bad words that I don’t see a problem with. I have said, “piss me off,” “heck,” “crap,” and “suck” in the classroom before. I know that these probably aren’t the best words to use in a school but they are far from terrible. Most of my students have heard much worse, and on a daily basis from movies, television, and music.

That being said, I do really watch how I speak and what I say, but sometimes things just come out. Sometimes there isn’t another word or phrase that fits. I never take The Lords name in vain. But I hear people doing so all the time. It is even okay to say it on TV. I didn’t used to be.

I don’t even say “gonna” in my class or the informal “guys” when addressing the class as a whole. I try to model proper English but the problem is that I don’t know if we really know what is proper anymore.

I once made the “mistake” of showing a class Back to the Future. I wanted to share with them one of my favourite movies from my childhood. No one had seen it in my class and I remembered it as being fairly tame. And it is. But it did have the word “shit” in it about half a dozen times.

Last week I read a story to the class that had that word in it too. I skipped over the word as I read because I know that it isn’t really appropriate. Was this the right thing to do? I’m not so sure. If the author wanted the word “shit” in it, who am I to call him on it. It was not gratuitous and I was not offended by it. Couldn’t I use this a teaching moment about when such words are appropriate and why the author chose to use that word there?

I don’t want to expose children to lots of swear words but I’m sure they wouldn’t have heard these words first from me. I also don’t want my blog to be littered with these words. I am the type of person that does not swear on a regular basis. I think the words, and frequency in which I use them, to be acceptable. But am I just rationalizing here? Maybe I am. Which brings me back to my main question of this post,

What language is appropriate? And in what place and time?

8 responses to “Use of Colourful Language”

  1. Always act your best – you can’t go wrong with manners and elegance.

    I can recall two instances in which I used the f-word. I’m very ashamed of this, because as I’m not used to swearing and cuss words (not even lighter ones), it wasn’t a “slip of the tongue.”

    My opinion is that there are too many bright and clever people in this world who use cuss words – intelligence should be associated with style, not vulgarity. If an author felt the need to use a certain word, than too bad for him, and he’s not really that good, if he can’t express the idea another way.

    I respect people’s freedom of speech. But I have a hard time respecting foul-mouthed people.

  2. Thanks Trisia. Those are words we could all live by. It just seems to me that more and more people are using words that probably shouldn’t be used. And it is easy enough to fall in with them. Perhaps I really need to clean up my words and not just rest on the fact that they aren’t “as bad” as others.

  3. I work with kids and hearing the little kids use those words is shocking! Why would you use that language in front of kids? You know there are going to repeat if eventually. You never know what kids will say fits right in with this? In school you hear you even hear the teachers use the langauage. And if a student wanted to they can turn that teacher in and that teacher will get in trouble for the use of that word. But not as much as you or they would of back when the words first came out. So no matter how old we should watch our mouths because we don’t know if someone is listening and they get very offended by the words that are coming out of your mouth.

  4. Hi Chase,

    I wrote about this on my blog. Several people used my statement of i.e., “I want my blog to be rated “G”, to write blog posts of their own basically defending their “freedom of speech”.

    I don’t normally swear, but have been known to let a curse word slip out if I stub my toe or drop something. I have read books, blogs and have seen movies that are filled with curse words. I don’t care to read them, nor hear them. Hence, I don’t frequent blogs that use curse words.

    Although I know times are changing, I still believe in “old school” teachings.

  5. Hey Barbara,

    I want my blog to be “G’ rated too. That’s one of the reasons I have comment moderation on.

    This post and all the comments really having me thinking about my use of colorful language. I consider myself to be somewhat tame. I don’t swear often. There are quite a few words and sayings that I will not use, ever. But some of the things I do say aren’t that good. I think I need to clean that up. I will try to do it. Thanks everyone.

  6. This is a good topic. Those of us who savor words, who dig into etymology and poetry and such, do ponder the rogue crowd from time to time.

    I did not swear in high school and it was noticed. I remember the agony of trying to read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath aloud in class, as we were required to do, and struggling with his salty words.

    I still do not use naughty words, with the exception of a teasing damn or hell now and then.

    I am of the perhaps snobby circle who finds foul language to be lazy and even damaging to the diversity of our verbage. People used to say angry, enraged, infuriated, apolepctic, upset, irritated, annoyed, etc. Now they just say pissed to cover it all.

  7. This topic has been quite illuminating. ECD, you are so right, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say they were infuriated.

  8. Ahahahaha, I used to swear more as a child than I do as an adult. Especially in a conservative society like where I grew up, it wasn’t looked very well upon but I had this notion that words were just guttural sounds whose meaning was agreed upon by all and that we only give power to these swear words anyway. I’ve since learnt that different people have different views on the subject.

    I agree that there’s a time and place for swearing however I disagree that using a swear word means that you’re unable to express yourself otherwise. I think that’s a very narrow-minded view of the subject.

    Kudos, however, to the promotion of good English. There was nothing more frustrating to me as a child than speaking better English than my teachers.