A few weeks ago, an anonymous reader left a comment using vulgar language on a post I wrote. Before I approved the comment for publication, I edited it and replaced the offending word with "[expletive deleted]" which was used in the transcription of Nixon's Watergate tapes (all too often, unfortunately) that I recall reading in my younger days. Once the comment was published, the commenter took exception to my editing and left a further comment: "Are you seriously deleting an expletive, how pathetic. The expletive was one common among kindergardeners..." My first thought was that I hope his child isn't in my five-year-old's kindergarten class. Upon further reflection, I find it appalling that objecting to bad language is considered so passe. At one time, using bad language was considered "pathetic." Now I was pathetic for removing it. "Let the words of my mouth ... be acceptable in your sight, O Lord," says the Biblical psalmist. But even for those not interested in what God thinks, is there no longer a common filter that takes general sensibilities into account?
It's not just that bad language has lost its stigma. As I have noted before (did I mention Jake Tapper of ABC News picked up on that story? I did? Sorry...), the Obama campaign has taken use of bad language to a whole new level. A low one. And they've done it again. Jim Messina, Obama 2012 campaign manager, sent out an email today with the subject "I'll Be [expletive deleted]" (sorry, Anonymous - pathetic, I know,) and followed it up with a blog post identically titled. Has the country come so far down this road that a presidential campaign doesn't have to worry about how many people would be put off by seeing an email show up in their in-box with the subject "I'll Be [expletive deleted]"?
One of the reasons I gave up on late night comedians (besides the fact they began to be less funny) and much of TV in general was the increasingly common usage of words that used to be bleeped. Even conservative Rush Limbaugh has widened his use of foul language over the years (and yes, I listen to him less frequently also for that reason.) But for crying out loud! This is the campaign of the President of the United States! Is this part of the Bill Clinton legacy, who introduced formerly taboo words into common usage simply by his irresponsible and reprehensible actions? Does Barack Obama now want to be remembered as the president that helped make swearing cool?
I am well aware that language evolves over time, and certain words that used to be considered unsayable in polite company now find little objection in any circles. But are we better off for it? Is this libertine attitude towards inappropriate language simply another iteration of the First Amendment right of free speech? Or is it simply a smokescreen for those who lack creativity and originality? When your ideas are lacking, slap on a coating of "edgy" language.
This is one thing my Anonymous commenter pegged. Any five-year-old can pop out a naughty word to get a reaction. But genuine, thoughtful communication doesn't need to shock. Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should.