Language is a measure of the status or nature of our civil society. Of course, language usage in social discourse is constantly evolving.
Recently, I took note of current language trends that have been colliding with my senses…
- ITEM–The all purpose “F” word. After spending the night at a party house, a teenager calls home for a ride. Forty minutes after making the call, a parent drives up and is greeted with: “Where in the f..k have you been! You’re f….g. with my life!”
- ITEM–The new “catch phrase” that has replaced You’re Welcome with NO PROBLEM.
- ITEM–A recent column in the Press Democrat by Pete Golis suggests that civility in public forums has ceased to exist.
Some say that current language and civility standards are merely reflected in our popular media–movies, TV shows, and Internet sites. Others say that the popular media sets the standard for language and civility which is followed in daily interactions.
Setting aside the question of the role of the media in this process, I field tested the above items with a few people on my e-mail list. To be candid, I only included those who were in their fifties or higher and one who is somewhere between forty or fifty. Some of their reactions will be shared in this article.
THE “F” WORD
The exchange between parent and child outlined above is quite common, at least based on what I observe these days. As a child growing up in the early Fifties, if I had greeted my parents with the F-Word (or its many derivatives) I would still be in solitary confinement.
But alas, the times they are a changing.
The F Word is quite versatile–it can be a verb, a noun, an adverb, or an adjective. In fact, one could almost carry on an entire conversation with the “F Word” and perhaps only twenty or more words for variety.
Perhaps the best evidence of the current level of civil discourse, is found in a recent item in the August 9, 2010 edition of Newsweek. And I quote:
“Goldman Sachs bans profanity in emplyoees’ e-mails, rendering traders and bankers practically mute. What the f–k?”
Turning back to the parent child exchange, perhaps they should seek the advice of Dr. Phil. I can see it now–the family on stage and the various options being explored. Dr. Phil asks the audience: “If you were the parent, would you have simply driven off? In the alternative, would it be appropriate, by today’s standards, for the parent to say: ‘Shut your f…..g mouth and get in the f…..g car!’”
It is so difficult to know what to say these days.
“NO PROBLEM” is the answer for just about everything these days in conversations with servers, sales clerks, and customer service types. It has become a universal verbal tic.
For example, after telling a server your food selections from the menu, the all too often response is– “NO PROBLEM!” Now, I find that a bit curious. Why should it be a problem? It’s a restaurant, is it not? I would think the response would be more appropriate if I were asking for something not on the menu. Even better, it would be more appropriate if I asked for a penne pasta and a glass of wine at a car dealership while my car was being serviced. In that context, “NO PROBLEM” would be a remarkable reply.
“NO PROBLEM” has also replaced “You’re welcome” in many human service interactions. It makes no sense as the speaker has already rendered the service or provided the requested object. Obviously, it was not a problem.
A closely related personal gripe is the practice of replying to a “Thank You” with “THANK YOU!” I mean, when does it end?
- Thank You.
- No, THANK YOU!
- No I mean, I really THANK YOU!
- But you thanked me last! It’s my turn!
And so it goes…
One correspondent commented: “Personally, I am a big “You’re welcome” fan and do think we should campaign to keep the phrase alive.”
I fear that it is too late. Clearly, “You’re welcome!” is antiquated and no longer in common usage. Given present trends, “NO PROBLEM” may be replaced with “NO F…..G PROBLEM!” (See above)
CIVILITY… IN POLITICS?
One of my e-mail correspondents put it best: “Civility in politics is hoping for too much….focus on functionality and don’t worry about the divides… people elected leaders for the values they represented and want those values to be defended. The tone is not as important as the truth of an issue. How can it be civil to knowingly misrepresent the record of an opponent…what is one to do when lies are told in a seemingly civil manner?”
The above notwithstanding, there have been instances where people at opposite ends of the political spectrum honestly liked each other and debated openly and honestly–JFK & Barry Goldwater immediately come to mind.
However, for the most part, civility in tone and behavior, not to mention honesty, are quite rare in the political world. They have always been the exception and not the rule.
At one level, the items that I based this article on are just additional examples of modern societal rudeness as discussed by Amy Arkon in her book, I SEE RUDE PEOPLE: One woman’s battle to beat some manners into impolite society.
Some e-mail correspondents also felt that what passes for acceptable dress is another example of the decline in civility…
“(children)…are frequently sent to school looking like ragamuffins. The West Coast look has become so completely deranged that the hip set rarely even comb their own or their children’s hair. My pet peeve is seeing adults (and teens) out in their pajamas on weekends, at the store, walking the dog.”
I certainly won’t disagree with this analysis of the disheveled look. And, of course, I could go on for another 100 or so words about the men walking around with four-day beards.
Frankly, I am getting used to the unshaven males and people wandering around the bagel shops and stores in their PJ’s while dropping the F Bomb in their conversations.
To borrow a popular term from Bill Gross in the financial world, this is the “new normal” we are experiencing.
I close with a hypothetical household conversation that turns back to the title of this article…
- What the F….K is on TV tonight?
- “KICK-ASS” is available for download!
- Let’s watch!
- NO PROBLEM!