Crude Speech Can Lead To Rude Behavior


by Vivian Taylor, Roundup columnist

One of life's great curiosities to me is the absurd fascination people have with crude language.

We love crude words like we love cruddy clothes. They feel good. I can pull on faded, wrinkled, stained jeans and top them with a matching T-shirt, and I feel aboriginal, basic, earthy. Same with crude words. They sound good. Aboriginal, basic, earthy.

Besides, there's something about crudeness that goes with belonging to a group. It's a reaffirmation of our membership in the tribe to toss off a gross expression when we're out with friends having fun. Or in the office among colleagues. Or on a platform at a political rally with a running mate not knowing the mike is turned on.

So why did George W. Bush get hustled off to the woodshed recently for calling a reporter a crude name? And by media types, of all people, who admit to a propensity for using crude language themselves?

Isn't that hypocritical?

Not at all. That darn microphone just didn't know the rules that most of us play by. There's a time and place for being aboriginal and earthy, especially if you're a presidential candidate. Broadcasting it or putting it in print to a mass audience isn't it. There's a line in the sand. It's a lot shorter than it used to be, but it's still there, and it's not smart to cross it.

The soccer mom who yells at a player to "move, you b-!" (as in Beavis and his cohort) at a game in a park, would doubtless refrain from such an admonition if the boy were a dawdling candle lighter in a wedding ceremony. Or maybe she wouldn't. But it's my guess that such language in such a place would not be well-tolerated, even though I may have been the only one who cringed at it in the park.

Many people don't see a problem with being crude anywhere and everywhere. It's natural and relaxed, they say. Others, like me, think that having that line is a good thing. A civilized society needs to practice the restraint that dressing up, speaking properly and being polite requires. Crudity should be the exception, not the rule.

I think there's a connection between habitual crude speech and rude, thoughtless behavior. From there it's a short step to disrespect, then on to abuse and violence. Children who hear mostly crude language at home, school and all over the media aren't likely to know there's an alternative.

It's common knowledge that the idea of "crude versus refined" goes back to Old World society in which, generally speaking, the lords and ladies of nobility were wealthy, educated and refined while the peasants were unwashed, poor, ignorant and crude. We still think of high class and low class in those terms. Here in the New World, we like to think we've moved beyond a class society, and in at least one way we have. Rich and poor alike have mastered crude language and boorish behavior with equal skill.

I'm all for equality, but could we raise the standard a little bit?

No need to resurrect the Victorians, who were so sexually repressed and hung up about body parts that they referred demurely to a chicken leg as a drumstick.

But it would be a move in the right direction if we stopped crudely referring to people as body parts, anywhere or anytime.

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