Wednesday, March 6, 2013

F word

As of late it seems that profanity is used excessively, without reservation. Students swear so comfortably that it often peppers classroom responses. Maybe I have become old fashioned but the argument that the "f" word is arguably a reasonable noun, verb, an adverb and an adjective has set me and my colleagues on edge. We devoted a full faculty meeting to this issue and I am now a member of the potty mouth committee. Yes, teachers form committees that become fodder for sitcoms. So what. Our mantra, borrowed from Maggie Smith's Downton Abbey character reminds us that "Vulgarity is no substitute for wit". Yet conversing about language and etiquette made me realize that devoting time to the use of polite language could indeed be cause for some fun classroom banter and real learning.

Students seem to love studies in persuasion. In preparation for the atomic bomb debate I found a graphic organizer ( and modeled a persuasive argument for curbing profanity. Piqued student interest and a follow up discussion was rich with opinion, counter argument and consensus on many clever substitutions for vulgarity. In fact, wit is a substitute for vulgarity.

What do you say when you are frustrated, angry, tense or explosive? Students agreed that the "f" word is overused. Forget you, "I reject you strongly" were considered but "shut the front door" was a favorite idiom. Students argued that WTF seemed conservative and acceptable. Fricking, fracking, Bolshevik! were also counted as acceptable on the swearing spectrum. Cheese and Rice was not a common substitute that I was aware of but I laughingly fell in love with the student suggested "sunny beach".
Perusing the Internet, we found this web link to the best cuss alternatives. We voted as a class on several new possible favorites such as- Barbara Striesand! William Shatner! And "go lick a duck!"

Essentially students concluded that context and use determined whether or not substitution is acceptable. If you are going to make the effort to constantly pepper your language with substitutes, wouldn't it eventually be as annoying or offensive as actual swearing? I had to agree with their reasoning but I presented a rebuttal: when we reserve swearing for truly necessary moments or when we try to find new ways to express an idea, we invite more people of all ages into a communication. Being polite is an invitation to get to know someone while swearing sends an alert or a message that you are to be approached with caution. I do not know if students agreed with me because I am their teacher or if they hoped it would keep me quiet but it did lead one student to conclude that our school seemed to have issues with trust and that there could be more that both teachers and students need to do to improve our environment. It seems that engaging students in discussion and enjoying something serious spiced with humor might be a start.

I ended class with the question, what is gained, what is lost when we take risks to expand our vocabulary? Using the color red as an example, we brainstormed variations of the color red and then went right to Wikipedia. Common connotations and associations culturally throughout time triggered many student comments concerning feelings and emotions. Expanding our vocabulary does give us greater opportunity to communicate nuances in how we feel. And it is nice to return comfortably to those moments when we simply need to use the color red or say exactly what we are thinking ....(expletive,@:(!)

Ps- In all honesty I've never enjoyed research as much as I have when I looked up synonyms and blogs and websites devoted to the "f" word
Intercourse. Violent strike. Plow
snafu FUBAR (historically linked to WWII)

Fouled bowdlerized contempt, argumentative, intensifier, angry, hostile, belligerent
Being frank, cheapen, offends good taste, coarse,
Frack, freak, bleep, snap, cheese n rice, what the blank, frustrated, frankly ridiculous,

Contempt, despise,
abhorrence, abomination, detestation, execration, hate, hatred, loathing, lovelessness; cattiness, hatefulness, invidiousness, malevolence, malice, maliciousness, malignancy, malignity, meanness, spite, spitefulness; aversion, disgust, distaste, horror, odium, repugnance, repulsion, revulsion; animosity, antagonism, antipathy, bitterness, enmity, gall, grudge, hostility, jealousy, pique, resentment; bile, jaundice, rancor, spleen, venom, vindictiveness, virulence, vitriol; aspersion, belittlement, deprecation, depreciation, detraction, diminishment, disparagement; derision, mockery, ridicule; abuse, invective, vituperation; censure, condemnation, denunciation

When we devote this much time to negatives why can't we offer positives?
Validate, sparkle, builder upper, respect, compliment should flow as easily as expletives.


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