Jason Brooks wrote recently of a “Vicious Old Person” whose foul-mouthery belied her “sweet old granny” appearance. In addition to using racial slurs, she also dropped an f-bomb or two, all said conspiritorially to Jason as if she assumed he’d agree. He was, understandably, shocked and disturbed by the incident.
My natural response to this would be a railing against racist stereotypes, and an analysis of a southern culture which contains a great number of adults who were adults during the Jim Crow era, and whose sensibilities were shaped when societal norms and notions of acceptability were as different from ours now as Mandarin Chinese is to French. However, as with all things, I am going to take a left turn here.
Although I can’t condone the use of the ‘n’ word, I can’t say it surprises me that a woman who probably didn’t know another descriptive word for what she was describing until she was twenty or so let it slip. Nope, what interests me more about that anecdote is the ‘f’ bomb. That is what seems out of place to me. Scarlett O’Hara or Miss Daisy or any of the Steel Magnolias or even Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies dropping the f-bomb? Oh heck no. It seems more like a sort of late-onset Tourette’s or a function of dementia to me than inherent foulness.
Like George Carlin, I believe that words are just collections of letters and sounds, and don’t have any inherent power. The interpretation of certain words lies solely in the ear of the listener. Use of the word ‘hell’ is a prime example that requires no further discussion here. The power of a word exists only to the extent that we allow it power. But we have given words incredible power. “Love” “hate” “kill” “stupid” “ugly” “perfect” — these are all words which can change the life of someone when used in certain ways. That’s pretty obvious. But the word “duck” is mild and inoffensive, and preschool friendly. Change the “d” to an “f” and in some situations you can be charged criminally for its utterance. Why is that?
I don’t know. I’m better at asking questions than answering them. All we need to know is that, rational or not, certain words have a great deal of emotional power, if we choose to allow them to have that power. When used properly or improperly they can start (or end) a war. Powerful situations sometimes call for powerful words. It’s just that you wouldn’t give someone a lobotomy when an aspirin will do. The more we wield power, the more commonplace it becomes, and the less impressive and powerful it is.
This is all kind of rambly. Like many times, I’m not sure what my point is or even if I had one. I just think of my friend Jason and how wounded he was by two powerful words. Even our coffee cups have safety warnings of the inherent danger in them these days. All responsible hunters are careful about locking the safeties on their guns because they don’t want to do accidental harm. Perhaps we should check the safety locks on our mouths as well. Sometimes those weapons can be just as dangerous.