February 24, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

How do we curb the use of smutty words?

Remember when it was taboo to use curse words in print, films and television? Perhaps if current younger generations of readers see this column, they might say, “Really? No kidding?”

Conversely, these youths might not know that in recent years, right here in our Hoosier state, an employee was told that she could not say “Have a blessed day!” to co-workers or customers in person or during phone conversations—a situation that was eventually deemed ridiculous even by a court. How can this be objectionable?

In December, there was much public outrage when some companies and shops, as well as some of the media, decided to stifle the very essence of Christmas by removing “Christ” from print and greetings. However, that’s another story—one very aptly covered in a December Criterion “Cornucopia” column by Cynthia Dewes.

She reminded readers that prayer and Christmas traditions were once even practiced in public schools, but added, “We should be able to compromise on public religious expression.” Since then, the subject has been debated often in the secular press, too.

I, however, now address language itself, especially the grossly inappropriate dialogue found in many TV sitcoms and other TV and radio programs, films, music and print.

For a long time—and still at times—offensive words are bleeped out, as though the viewer or listener could not fill in the bleeps. With cursing in print, the practice is to use only the first letter(s) of a smutty word—as though readers cannot fill in the blanks.

Sometimes, I play a word game with myself. When I see a letter standing alone with space behind it, representing an unprintable word, I then fill in the other letters to form a more acceptable word, whether the meaning is correct or not.

For instance, I turn words that begin with the letter “f’ when used as adjectives into “frightful,” “futile,” “fatuous,” “filthy” and so on, depending upon what might be appropriate for the statement. I turn the curse word that begins with the letter “d” into “dastardly,” “difficult,” “daring,” “dismal” and so on. And the “s” word? “Shameful,” “shocking,” “shunned” and “shallow” are some of my substitutes.

Perhaps parents and teachers could assign this kind of busy work to their children and students when smutty language crops up. Of course, the bottom line should be what my Catholic school teachers and parents declared when I was a girl: It might be easier to use bad language, but it also demonstrates a person’s ignorance. There are more appropriate ways to express shock, frustration, anger and other unpleasant feelings. Legitimate language is much more powerful than obscenities and coarse language.

Remember: Don’t let the “lowest common denominators” and shock elements of our society dominate us. And please let advertisers know why their doing it is unacceptable, too.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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