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Changing Language Norms?

May 16th, 2011

In my lifetime I’ve noticed how our language usage has changed and how it adapts to what is probably best described as the interests of newer generations. In particular the use of profanity in word and print continues to evolve – just as has sex and drug use. That which I learned to avoid is now becoming commonplace.

I’m reminded of the change in language norms by Jeffrey Goldberg’s back page article in the May edition of The Atlantic magazine. The Atlantic (founded in 1857 as The Atlantic Monthly)  originally presented “literary and cultural commentary” but in modern times now targets “thought leaders”. Profanity, though still taboo in the airwave broadcast medium, has found greater acceptance in the print factories and The Atlantic has joined that pack.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s “What’s Your Problem?” column illustrates the level at which profanity is now an acceptable form of language use in society. He wrote, “And if all this fails to soothe him, remind him that he’s a f__king dog“. Why have I substituted underlines for letters in “f__king dog”? It’s because too many censors would object, probably claiming it’s indecent, offensive and a vulgarism. 

If the use of profanity in print is truly becoming acceptable for national print publications, why is it considered objectionable in the local newspaper or on websites monitored by censors? Is discrimination against vulgarisms really appropriate in a free society where the rights of people, animals, corporations and historical sites are deemed sacred? Perhaps it’s time to free vulgarisms from the tyranny of censors, decent folks, atheists and parents. The voices of newer generations need to prevail. So, to those who represent our “thought leaders” I put the question: “Shouldn’t they prevail?”

Bond Shands
Palm Springs