American Vernacular

Posted: October 7, 2006 in Culture, Manners, Tacky

Read no further if you are offended by ripe language.

Overheard in line in queue at the store: “Who does that bitch think she fucking is?”Overheard in the movie theater: “This shit fucking sucks. Let’s hoof.”

Overheard as someone yaps loudly on a cell phone: “Yo, dude. You … like … don’t have to take that shit. Let the motherfucker deal with his own shit.”

Overheard in a fine dining establishment: “So we’re driving along, and this asshole cuts us off and flips us the bird. I couldn’t fucking believe it.”

Etcetera, etcetera. The common thread is that there are almost no public spaces where folks restrain their language from offending delicate sensibilities. So ubiquitous has foul language become that it’s the de facto vernacular in most of America. Few people are offended anymore, since such language is so normal. If we walked around slapping each other (literally, rather than the figurative slap a swear word used to connote), I supposed we would also get used that, too.

If swear words used to be effective in attracting attention when extraordinary emphasis was needed, they’ve lost that utility. And if we again had a strong prohibition against using them recklessly, even as the substitute for meaningful speech that they’ve become (filler, that is), I suspect some people would have considerable difficulty stringing together sentences. They would stammer and stutter and struggle to collect their ideas in the absence of utility pronouns (this “shit,” that “fucker,” etc.) or utility modifiers (this “fucking” shit) that don’t really mean anything.

Language is dynamic. We use language differently in different situations, and usage shifts over time. Vocabulary and turns of phrase fall into and out of use. What’s missing today is an influence that elevates our general use of language, giving us greater power of expression. What we now have in the American vernacular is instead a bastardization of language where scatology and new coin replaces perfectly good language in the sole interest of being hip or trendy. Those of us who have developed our speech (spoken or written) often find that we can’t communicate effectively with the putative man on the street because his level of understanding is that of a ninth grader (or worse), the level of the TV news. So we simplify and restrict ourselves to be intelligible to a lowest common denominator. Most blogs, for instance, are written in the same plain English that grade schoolers use. Ultimately, this trend makes us all less sophisticated, unable to think or communicate with must nuance or interest.

  1. grasshopper says:

    Didn’t our Vice President, Dick Cheney knock over the last bastion several months ago when knowing full well he was being recorded live, retorted to a Congressmember who had asked him a revealing, rhetorical question: “to go fuck yourself”? Not even my father was outraged, i.e, my father, whom for years we had to search for movies that would not infuriate his old-fashioned sensibilities. And if we failed to notice some gross sexual outburst, he would take my mother’s elbow, and make apologies to the women surrounding them, as he made a self-righteous exit. No more. He now enjoys the joke, perhaps more than people who’ve “gotten it” for decades, when some attractive young woman on video indugles in a scatalogical rant. I’m not sure, as he will not discuss it with me, but my guess is the change in his tolerance level began at business conference tables. If a powerful female businesswoman made her point favoring the same group my father was being paid to support, by adapting the vernacular of her male coevals, thus perhaps threatening to rip some delicate anatomical part off her adversaries, who was he to act offended?

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