Dirty Words by Ron Steinman

Samuel Johnson, to whom I sometimes look when I am seeking sanity, defines an expletive as “something used only to take up room.” In his Dictionary, he goes on to say that an expletive is also “something of which the use is only to prevent a vacancy.”
Obscenity, the use of offensive and foul language, an expletive, and coarse, crude words has recently come under discussion about how we present language in print, and on the Internet. For want of a better phrase, I am talking about dirty words, the ones mothers once washed our mouths out with soap for using.
We are witnessing the possibility of a fundamental shift in how foul language, often in an interview or used to describe an event or moment, appears on the page. This is whether in print in a legacy newspaper or magazine, or digitally, online. You know the words I mean. I do not have to be specific. Use your imagination. The proponents of this hoped for shift believe these words and phrases should have their day in public, meaning editors should publish the exact words as recorded by a reporter, not his or her version of the story. We are dealing in what I call a new Orwellian trope — real speak, if you will. If this happens, editing will be what a court reporter does, rather than a journalist in an effort to clarify and inform.
Gross language in print is nothing more than a cheap prop that takes up room on the page, squeezing out the good for worthless verbiage. It is space between words that does not belong there. Words in sentences need room to breathe. Freely using vulgar terms negates the meaning and creativity in a sentence filled with crude expressions that add nothing to our understanding of the subject. Read reportage sprinkled with expletives and all you might recall are the four letter words.
It is especially irritating to see users of Facebook and all social media sites sprinkle their mostly inane posts with words they rarely use in conversation and never to their children or in a classroom. Writing for effect, meaning the use of foul language in a post or story, is a poor substitute for writing creatively. This lack of creativity in language says to me the writer is lazy. It is almost as if the writer is telling you, take a look at how clever I am, how tough I am, how real I am because I am using street talk. If you want to use your foul mouth to make a point, do so on your own time. Foul language, runaway expletives, can only emphasis a point, usually one quickly forgotten, but it can never have the lasting effect of a well-wrought sentence that conveys a thoughtful idea. Only the bold-faced word stands out, filling an otherwise momentary vacant space. Think before adding obscene language that has no relationship to the writing, except that of the street or one’s anger, both of which add nothing to meaning or understanding.
We should savor language, not trash it with words and expressions for the sake of some people’s idea of accuracy in the guise of creativity.


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