Most Profanity Is Just a Sign of Laziness

A study shows that, over the past five years, profanity has risen 69% on broadcast television.  Click here for more details.  Now, I am not a prude who thinks that certain words should be forever censored, but I also think that some writers today fall into the easy trap of overusing crude language.  Whether in speech or print, on stage or screen, in song or in other art, profanity tends to be nothing more than a sign of lazy communication.

Comedian George Carlin had a classic bit about "the seven words you can never say on TV."  Aside from the laughs, it made me realize how silly broadcast television's limitation on language really was.  Words, in and of themselves, have no power over us except what we as a society choose to give them.  Language evolves over time.  In the 1950s, Ricky and Lucy Ricardo could not utter the word "pregnant" on I Love Lucy.  Now, far harsher vocabulary is standard. 

Writers can avoid those "forbidden words" and still manage to be offensive to some. It is all a matter of context.  Since movies and Pay TV have no real boundaries when it comes to so-called "adult language," broadcast networks lately seem to be trying to play a little bit of "catch up," pushing the limits of what characters can say on the air.  Taboo words often get spoken but bleeped.  A vulgar word is the title of a hit comedy, but spelling in gibberish symbols, somehow making it more acceptable by the network's watchdogs.

Personally, I think writers should try to be more creative in their choice of words for the dialogue they give their characters.  Yes, I want to see believable speech, and people certainly "talk that way" in real life, but sometimes realism goes too far, seeming forced rather than "real." When I am watching or reading a work of fiction, good writing will supercede the absence or presence of "curse words." 

There is absolutely a time and place for any language, but often the F-word or the S-word (or Any-Other-Letter-of-the-Alphabet-word) gets dropped from the tongue out of sheer laziness to find a better subsitute.  Sometimes characters can make a far bigger impact, whether expressing anger, sadness, exhilaration, frustration, or any other emotion, if they find a better way to say something rather than have their statements loaded with "edgy" verbiage.  Failure to do so makes me believe that they have limited words at their disposal and maybe they should pick up a thesaurus.

The shock value of most "profane" words is quickly eroding.  They are often used out of a sense of bad habit than out of a clear choice for concise and illustrative expression.  Hearing such language on broadcast television bothers me not because it somehow offends my moral fiber, but because it often showcases the writer's slothfulness and lack of imagination. 

When I hear kids repeating the same "mature language" phrases they pick up from their peers who hear that kind of talk in music, on TV, at the movies, and other places, I become frustrated because what they are trying to say might be much more powerful if they only gave some more thought to the choice of words they used, instead of the repetitive cacophony of trash talk that streams unfiltered from their vocal chords. 

Writing dialogue is not always easy.  I myself have resorted to using profanity in some of the tales I have written, but I do try to find alternatives on those occasions, and hopefully resort to certain over-used crude words only when I'm trying to make a point.  I do not think any words should be out of bounds for people trying to tell a story or communicate a message. But it's a valid point that you should not scream "fire" in a crowded theater if no danger really exists -- and the last time I checked, "fire" was not one of the "seven words you can't say on TV."  It's all a matter of common sense and thinking about what you're trying to say before you say it, isn't it?

I do think we are all facing a time now when certain weak words are becoming all too pervasive.  The result is a lazy form of expression that serves no one and actually hurts the way we all communicate with each other, through mass media or person-to-person.


Peter said…
Wow, until the revelation in this posting, I never knew of the staggering increase of profanity usage. Honestly, I had gotten so used to it I didn't realize.