Breaking News and Four Letter Words

If you think this is in response to Anthony Scaramucci’s much publicized vulgar rant of several days ago, you are right. It is, but only in part. I don’t want all the credit to go to him — he doesn’t deserve it.

This blog is related to him only to the degree that he had caused me to write it now, but I have other reasons as well. Good reasons.

Web outlets and TV stations have broadcast his rants all over the world, not only casting a level of crassness onto the current administration, but institutionalizing swearing much like a little over two decades ago the Clinton/Lewinski scandal had moved oral sex from the intimate space between two partners into living rooms everywhere. Since I’m bilingual, I know curses not in only one language, but two. I know how easy it is to succumb to cursing. And I know how it burns like molten wax dripping on naked skin.

Vulgarity uttered to express anger or used for the purpose of entertainment, rubs me the wrong way. It’s not colorful and it is not adult. A long time ago, as a young man, I decided there must exist more eloquent ways of expressing the feelings of frustration, envy, or lust than by using vile four letter words. The English lexicon — any lexicon — is rich and nuanced. For sure an intelligent person can come up with something more creative, funny, and descriptive of strong emotions.

My decision not to use profanity was made at a time when most young people around me took pride in peppering their talk with four letter words. It was their way to rebel, to outgrow the past and its rigorous schooling, parental nagging, and the traditional value system. Cursing was freedom, the anti-norm. My father, who was a physician, a surgeon, cursed a lot. All doctors do, they say.

I confess. If I’m alone and smash my finger with the hammer, I curse at myself. It’s simple. It’s fast. But if somebody else is present, I’ll react with a grunt, a sigh, or a joke. If I’m in a meeting or at a party and a person makes a comment that upsets me, I won’t curse at the person and embarrass myself, but I’ll try very hard to respond in a manner that is both appropriate and laced with an irony that cuts deep and is difficult to forget.

Those guttural sounds come to mind first and foremost. But why not control your impulse? What is the difference between a simpleton and an educated, civilized human being? In my opinion, the ability to control one’s reaction makes that distinction.

The frequent use of the f-word in movies and television bothers me. Not because it is used, but because it is overused. It seems to me that authors and actors think it is the only way to sound true, realistic. Yet in the real world, at least the one in which I live, I don’t hear the word that much. Many famous comedians think vulgar is funny. In my opinion vulgarity is easy and cheap. The Seinfeld Show reigned a full decade without using a bad word once.

Not f-ing this or that doesn’t mean you are weak or old or saccharine, but it shows that you don’t go along with the trend. Good writers, great writers use four letter words when they must. But they know exactly what they’re doing. The language of a James Salter, John Updike or Philip Roth works well, even when dripping with vulgarities, because those words belong exactly where they are. They provide specificity and local color. But when vulgarities are used because ‘everybody does it,’ or because one thinks that it makes one appear courageous and strong and not afraid to call a spade a spade, than the result is fake. Hemingway refrained from using slang, because slang is short lived (as opposed to his work which will last forever). Imagine Shakespeare f-ing this and that in his plays. It wouldn’t sound right, would it?

How we speak and write is a personal choice. Many people will not agree with me. Scaramucci said he’s from Queens, and that people in Queens are direct and if they want to stab you, they’ll do it facing you. It’s time for those people to grow up. Besides, stabbing and swearing are not the same thing. Stabbing requires guts.

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