At the end of 1939’s classic film, Gone With the Wind, Vivian Leigh, as Scarlet O’Hara, asks Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler what she is to do without him, and he replies, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” It was the first time the word “damn” had been allowed on film and shocked audiences everywhere.
Today we live in a world of expletives. They are the staple of reality TV and, to our vast discredit, we have been totally inured to them. “Fuck you, bitch” is the new “I don’t agree.”
Expletives are symptomatic of far more than the relaxing of our linguistic morals; they represent something far more serious and far more dangerous to our society. At their base, expletives are a response to our sense of loss of control over our lives. They are a lashing-out response to our sense of helplessness, a gut-level expression of frustration, anger, and contempt. The more deeply these feelings are felt, the more frequently they are expressed.
While I don’t know if any scientific research has been done on the subject, I would think it is axiomatic that one’s use of expletives is often in direct proportion to the limits of one’s education and financial security.
I watch a reality show called Hardcore Pawn and never cease being frankly and totally disheartened by the number of expletives used and the volume with which they are delivered. There is no civility, only an escalating anger and hostility. For the people featured on this show, expletives are cardboard swords wielded by those who have no other means of defense against perceived injustice; a desperate and pathetic attempt to raise themselves up by putting others down. While there is no excuse for such egregious behavior, they at least reflecting their socioeconomic limitations. There are unfortunately countless other shows that lack even this poor justification. The wildly if incomprehensibly popular shows like The Real Housewives of Toilet Gulch deliberately seek out wealthy, spoiled, contemptible bimbos to see who can be the most obnoxious in glorifying vulgarity, rudeness, incivility, and bad behavior. The most common form of address on non-scripted shows today seems to be “Bitch!”
It could be argued--and certainly would be by me--that the producers of such shows are, in exploiting bad behavior for ratings and lucrative sponsorships, even more contemptible than the people who appear on camera.
Expletives serve a useful purpose for those who are too lazy to take the time to look for more appropriate words, and by those who think that expletives somehow give the impression of authority or being whatever the current term for “cool” may be. They are frequently used as adjectives and adverbs by those who don’t or can’t take two seconds to find something more appropriate.
The English language contains from a quarter million to a half million words; that people take the path of least resistance by using expletives as the glue to hold sentences together rather than bother themselves to use more traditional words is, to me, a total and sad mystery, as is why expletives have lost the ability to shock. Right, bitch?
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).