Friday, February 22, 2008

Teenage Cussing

I started cussing in junior high school. My foul language reached its zenith, unsurprisingly, when I was in the army, and has dropped off dramatically since then; being a father certainly has played a role in that drop-off. As a kid, though, I'd have been mortified if adults ever heard me cuss. Apparently, that behavioral control isn't as strong today.

Adolescents and preteens are swearing more publicly than ever – especially at school, experts say.

It's conversational swearing – in the hallways and in the classroom – that is on the rise, says Timothy Jay, one of the leading scholars on cursing in the United States.

Teens are more likely to drop casual expletives, or "fillers," than the generation before them and have more trouble adjusting their conversation to fit their audience. That means adults – especially strangers who cannot sanction the teens – hear more of the same language that the teens' friends hear, says Jay, author of "Why We Curse" (John Benjamins, $35, 328 pages) and "Cursing in America" (John Benjamins, $66, 272 pages).

He estimates that the average adolescent uses roughly 80 to 90 swear words a day.

So he's saying that kids aren't smart enough to know when they should and shouldn't cuss? I'm not so sure. I'm more inclined to believe that they have less impulse control--because too many haven't had to demonstrate any impulse control. I doubt it's asking too much for students to know that they shouldn't be dropping f-bombs at school.

I strongly agreed with one statement from the article:

"One of the consequences of excessive swearing is the inability to articulate," Forni says. "The profanities are the fillers. They take the place of a more sophisticated way of speaking."

As with all things, there's a right way and a wrong way, and an appropriate time and place.

4 comments:

DADvocate said...

This is a damn shame. :-)

My cussing has dropped off to the point where most people think I don't cuss at all.

Ellen K said...

It's funny, but I think most kids go through a period where they cuss. I know I did. I thought it made me sound tough and grown-up. In reality it made me sound like an idiot. What has happened now is that with popular media lowering the bar as to what is considered "family friendly", words that were formerly verboten are now common. I can think of a number of words on family hour sitcoms now, that would have been absolutely cut ten years ago. And that doesn't even touch on sly references to body parts, sexual proclivities and other things that simply weren't part of the mix. Is it any wonder that kids cuss? It's probably what they hear at home.

Mrs. C said...

:] I'm old. I remember saying, "like," a lot. Totally. Like, a lot. You could do that,like, anywhere. That was our filler, anyway.

Anonymous said...

"'One of the consequences of excessive swearing is the inability to articulate,' Forni says. 'The profanities are the fillers. They take the place of a more sophisticated way of speaking.'"

I disagree. I hear "you know" a fair amount on talk radio. Most of the callers are adults. I suspect that swearing is replacing "you know" (or, as mrs c remembers, "like") rather than swearing replacing (or preventing) more precise words.

I'd want to see the controlled study/experiment that establishes the *causal* link between swearing and lack of ability to articulate.

-Mark Roulo