Apologies for not updating in a while; the city moves fast and time moves so quickly its easy to forget the little things!
At any rate I wanted to address a growing trend in language as I’ve witnessed it as both a former college student and as a (semi) functional member of society. In high school, many may remember the trials and tribulations of conquering the English language: studying those pesky SAT words until your eyes bled, mastering the art of the elaborate college essay, and perhaps even learning to decipher Shakespearean.
In college, those essays became magnificent reports, spanning pages with any elaborate word that could boost your page count before resorting to the dreaded size 14 or 16 ‘.’ marks. In some cases competition would arise in classes with presentations, and you may have found yourself ransacking dictionaries to trump your classmates with fancy words like ‘elucidate’ and ‘explicate’ to make yourself seem more informed. If you were an English nerd, you probably even made flashcards of words to toss around regularly to stump your opponents in arguments, hoping to shut down an overconfident instigator with verbiage that seemed both alien and intimidating.
Or you may have just been ‘queen of the powerpoint’.
However somewhere along the long walk to receive that diploma or perhaps when you finally finished your studying to settled down to watch a reality show in television, you may have noticed a jarring contrast in the way language was changing; one might even say ‘devolving’.
When we were younger, words like ‘internet’ and ‘Facebook’ entered the dictionary to address new standard nouns found in our culture. In 2012, alongside words like ‘copernicum’ which described a very specific scientific endeavor, words like ‘sexting’, ‘aha moment’, and ‘man cave’ joined the pages of Merriam-Webster. As I sit and type this post, ‘bougie’, a noun some may recognize from rap lyrics, has been newly added to the ranks of prestigious words.
But it isn’t just the words we use; it’s the words we don’t use anymore. When I was little, I’d be called ‘moron’ or ‘idiot’ or ‘nincompoop’ (admittedly more so by older people) but would rarely encounter outright obscenities. Nowadays anyone we find displeasing is more often referred to with words that requires asterisks to shield their true identity: it’s not enough to be a “stupid idiot” anymore, now everyone is a “f***king idiot”. This is most visible in our pop culture: our movies, our stand-up comedy, memes, our television shows, and our music are now riddled with enough obscenity to make a grown sailor blush.
It’s almost as if our culture has either grown too lazy to think of clever ways to dispatch a good insult and has relied on our dulled sensitivity to the words to get away with just about any artful arrangement of ‘f***ks’ they can muster (sometimes even utilizing the word as every part of the sentence). Comedy roasts in particular has devolved so far that it is nearly impossible to have 10 minutes without a ‘bleep’ noise from the censor (who must have exceedingly impressive muscles from the sheer volume of ‘bleeps’ he must administer, I’m sure). In the original Dean Martin roast of Betty White, there were far less lewd mentions and obsessive profanity:
However when Comedy Central re-roasted Betty White for her 90th birthday, the sheer volume of lewd, profane, and truly graphic ‘jokes’ was a horrifying display of how far our humor had devolved. And the most shocking part of all was how completely normal this type of humor was received by both Betty and the studio audience…as if no good joke can be told without an accentuating ‘f***k’ for good measure.
Our reality television highlights some of the most foul-mouthed and quick-tempered of persons; often exhausting blurred mouth patches and ‘bleep’ noises so often that it becomes tricky to even discern if the person is speaking English or fluent ‘swear-anese’.
It would seem that in 2013, language is already on a tricky path downward into the underbelly of ‘lazy insults’ and ‘easy jokes’ all with asterisk-ridded “swear words” firmly rooted at the core. Will we ever return to the days of witty comebacks devoid of a wholesome helping of obscenity?
Who f***king knows.