February 12, 2007



There are 26 letters in the alphabet, and all we need to do to form words that help us communicate with each other is to rearrange the letters into different groupings and combinations. There are different types of words, and all of them can be found on a continuum, based on their type.

On one end of the continuum, we have the highfaluting words. These are the ones that sound pretentious, arrogant and highly sophisticated. It is difficult to understand someone who uses highfaluting words unless we are of the same calibre as the person speaking. Have you ever spoken to your doctor about your clinical test results and didn't understand the meaning of the words being used? Other doctors would know what was being said, but the common layperson would leave the office feeling confused. What about parents and teenagers who try to understand each other, yet aren't able to get past each other's jargon? There are different levels of highfalutent language.

On the other end, there are the primitive types of words. This would include swearing, vulgarity, profanity, cursing and the like. Even though swearing sounds colorful and flamboyant at times, and it is one form of verbal communication, it is not always the best choice of self-expression. Swear words do not sound classy. After all, they can be found at the other end of the continuum, which is the furthest away from the sophisticated ones.

Most people choose to use words that exist in the middle of the continuum. These are words that most people understand. They are simple and basic, yet classy. Lets call these words, STANDARD ENGLISH.

The words we choose to use during conversation or when writing reveal something about us to others. We can choose from anywhere on the continuum depending on our audience. There are the multi-syllable, highfaluting type words on down to the primitive, four letter words, and everything in between. This article will focus on the "four letter" ones. I think it is safe to say that most of us have decided to cuss (slang) at one time or another for whatever reason. Why do people use profanity? Basically, there are three main reasons:

1) Feeling angry can set the stage for us to swear. The "F" sound is very cathartic.
2) Sometimes people swear to get others to pay attention to them.
3) Some people swear because they have a limited vocabulary and won't think of other words to use.

There is a social stigma associated with swearing in public because, often times, it is inappropriate. Many of us have been taught as children that "to swear" means we have a "dirty mouth" that needs to be washed-out with soap and water. In today's world, any attempt by a parent to wash-out their child's mouth with soap and water could lead to a home visit by a worker from Children's Protective Services. Is it just me or is there a weakening of that social stigma taking place? Maybe society is changing the way consequences are given to children. When an adult parent hears their child swear, it is more socially acceptable to take something away from the child (privileges, materialistic items) than to use the soap and water routine.

It is still unacceptable and inappropriate to swear during a job interview. It doesn't make for a good first impression with a prospective employer even though our choice of words is protected by the first amendment that affords us freedom of speech. To appear hostile or unsophisticated during a job interview doesn't lead to many job offers.

On the other hand, I hear radio disc jockeys and talk show hosts throw out a few cuss words here and there, for whatever reason, to make a point on their radio show. It isn't the most classy way to make a point, but done nonetheless. Swearing is becoming more common place on TV, too. People who swear on public air waves are not very distinguished. It's an example of stumbling over ones words. It's like the baseball player who gets a hit, but then stumbles and trips while running as he rounds 2nd base. It's another undistinguished and clumsy public display.

A few years back, when Ted Nugent (singer, musician, hunting advocate) owned his own radio station, "The Bear," there were occasions when some of his on-air personalities could be heard swearing on the radio. I took offense to it because it sounded inappropriate so I wrote a letter to Nugent. A few weeks later I received a hunting supply catalogue in the mail. An interesting and funny response, I thought. What a way to get on somebody's mailing list!

Neither any one gender nor age group holds the exclusive right to use profanity as a form of communication. Swearing is an equal opportunity behavior. It is no longer limited to athletes in the locker room or service men on the battle field. It is common to hear men, women and even children talk in like manner. However, it is interesting to note that when a man talks "dirty" to a woman, it can be defined as sexual harassment. When a woman talks "dirty" to a man, it is $2.99 a minute.

Even though it seems like more and more people are choosing to swear, whether it be in private or in public, there is no consistent application of the consequences. Even the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears less stringent in enforcing standards established only a few decades ago. (Please note some of the language that is allowed to air on TV and radio merely because swearing is becoming more common place.) That "drunken sailer" behavior (mean, angry, hostile and intrusive) most sober people have grown to know and abhor can be anybody nowadays. This could prompt some of us to ask at least one of three questions, based on the reasons people swear of which I make reference at the outset of this article:

1) How angry are we as a society?
2) How starved for attention are we as a culture?
3) How many words in the standard vocabulary: 500 or 10,000?

It is refreshing to note that we all have a choice relative to the words that come out of our mouths or the ones we write on paper:

We can use highfaluting words when we talk, but at the risk of being misunderstood by others.

We can talk before we think and risk using a primitive form of the language. Behavior like that is rarely associated with the word, "classy."

We can speak to others in a civil and assertive manner, which in turn acknowledges and validates everybody in every way in an adult and classy way.

We choose one of the three when we decide what kind of relationship we want to have with others. Each of the three choices can be the stone that sets off the ripple in the pond.

This article shares information and opinion specific to the Stoolman's three main reasons why most people choose to swear. Sometimes shocking and offensive behavior like swearing is a symptom of something much more serious than underlying anger, attention seeking or having a limited vocabulary. It is essential to rule out brain conditions like, "Frontal Lobe Syndrome," or "Tourettes Syndrome", each of which is a medical condition that reflects a brain injury, that could cause a person to act in primitive ways. Please consult with a Specialist if you or a loved one needs to rule out an organic problem that may have been precipitated by a stroke, head injury, a broken blood vessel in the brain or beginning signs of dementia.

Thanks to the Director at Neuro-Psych Services, PLLC, Kelly Gardiner, RN, MSN, CS, NP, for helping to frame the disclaimer to this article, "Four Letter Words."

Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor

Stooltime Counseling can help turn a cloudy, rainy day into a sunny feeling! Thanks for showing how it's done, Amy!

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