Are we going to have to invent some new words to “delete” from normal conversation and save for the moments we really want to make an impact?
A few weeks ago, I happened to be in our local grocery store and passed by some young shelf-stockers carrying on a conversation near the items I needed to purchase. Their conversation was laced with vulgarity. They were not conversing very loudly, but certainly loudly enough as to be heard by anyone within a fair distance. And in a grocery store, that often includes some young children. Yet, they carried on, with just about every other word being of the “expletive deleted” variety.
What struck me most about the incident was that not only were the conversing parties totally oblivious to the fact that others, including children, were likely to overhear their conversation, but also their profanity-laced conversation was not part of an angry rant or a necessary release of pent-up emotion. It was, rather, a relatively civil and casual discourse in which many words that would have been an occasion for a mother of my day wanting to wash their child’s mouth out with soap, were uttered freely and indiscriminately. For a moment, I stopped and stared. It was then that the participants in the conversation took notice. But that fact didn’t alter their conversation. Vulgarity simply appeared to be a matter-of-fact and almost ignored essential element of their communication style.
The incident in the store “sensitized” me to some things I’d always noticed but not to the degree that I began noticing them for the next few days. When I was over at my son’s house and he was “channel-surfing” through cable programs, I was struck by how many TV shows try to capture their audiences by pushing the envelope of outrageousness and by attempting to make the crude seem chique. I also realized how desensitized we have become to the increasing vulgarity around us.
When mothers of old used to threaten to wash our vulgar mouths out with soap, they weren’t actually condemning us for being human. They were trying to cajole us into fashioning ourselves into more refined beings worthy of respect. True, the level of repression to which they drove some of us was enough to plague us with undue neurosis. But there was indeed some degree of method to their madness, and I’d certainly like to think that there were some genuine benefits from their efforts.
Now that vulgarity is so commonplace and we have become so “desensitized” to it, one wonders what outrageousness it’s going to take in the future to shock us or grab our attention. We’ll probably have to invent some new words to “delete” from normal conversation and save for the moments we really want to make an impact. We’ll have to do that because all the old “shockers” are now part of everyday discourse.
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