When was the last time you went an entire day without hearing or using foul language? Chances are, that hasn't happened since you were a kid. Foul language is everywhere - we hear it in public, from our friends and family members, and even on radio and television.
"It's disgusting," said Hugh Mayle, 67, of Newton Falls. Mayle said he doesn't swear at all because he knows better. Mayle also disagrees with the amount of foul language on television. "When it starts, off it goes," he said.
He attributed the seeming increase of foul language to factors such as the way children grow up and decreased church attendance. Mayle also thinks education plays a role. "When I need words to say, I find them outside of profanity," said Mayle.
Tribune Chronicle / Amber Ziegler
Angelina Calino, 16, of Warren admits that she swears in front of her mother, Deborah Brown, also of Warren, but Brown tries to avoid using foul language.
Angelina Calino, 16, of Warren, said she regularly swears in front of, and even at, her mother, Deborah Brown, 52, also of Warren. Brown, however, doesn't like her daughter's swearing. "It's unladylike," she said. Brown said she swears only on occasion, such as when she's really upset, and tries to avoid it. Calino, on the other hand, said that the only people she doesn't swear in front of are her teachers.
These days, the Internet has given anyone and everyone the chance to voice his or her opinion, and comment pages and message boards frequently turn into foul-language-filled flame fests. Todd Horrell, 37, of Warren, used to participate in an online message board.
"People definitely tend to become unrestrained when they're assured of anonymity," said Horrell. The board was moderated, Horrell explained, but users' posts were published immediately and then removed later if the content was objectionable.
Threads could also be locked, meaning users would no longer have access to it, and users were aware that they could be kicked out of the forum if they got out of line. "Things like that kept it from getting too bad," Horrell said. "It wasn't perfect, but it was enough of a hassle to keep most people in line."
Like the Internet, the telephone can also give anonymity. It's easier to take out anger or aggression, often using foul language, over the phone than it is to do so face-to-face. This is something that is very familiar to employees of Infocision, a call center company that operates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
Monica Ross, Director of Training and Development at Infocision, is in charge of training employees, called communicators, and one of the situations for which she must train communicators is dealing with foul-mouthed customers. Ross said that verbally abusive customers aren't a major problem, but it does happen a few times a week. "It's not that it happens all the time," said Ross, "but when it does, it sticks with people."
Ross explains that there are two basic situations when it comes to foul-mouthed customers. The first situation is when the customer uses foul language when describing his or her problem. Communicators simply ignore the language in this situation and work on resolving the problem. "If someone's aggressive and using that type of language, they're upset," said Ross. She explains that communicators focus on the problem in this situation, asking questions to get to the issue. "Then they start to settle down a little bit," said Ross.
The other situation is when the customer swears at the communicator. In this situation, communicators are advised to not take the bait and to transfer the call to a supervisor. "We're the paid professional," said Ross, "and we have to remain professional." In extreme situations, the call center may have to terminate the call.
So what does all this swearing add up to? Dr. Steve Brown, professor of linguistics at Youngstown State University, lends some insight.
What we generally refer to as "profanity" is actually just a subcategory of foul language. Dr. Brown explains that profanity in specific is using God's name, or other religious terms, in a secular way. Blasphemy is similar but involves insults to religion. We use expletives, often followed by an exclamation mark, to express sudden anger, frustration, or pain. Obscenities are expressions referring to body parts and functions. Additionally, there are insults, abuse, and curses.
Dr. Brown also explains why we find foul language offensive. "Basically, it's about taboo, that which society said we shouldn't talk about," he said.
If foul language is offensive and refers to things we shouldn't talk about, the why even have it? "There are lots of theories," Dr. Brown said. These theories include release, aggression, and group identity, to name a few.
As for the modern-day explosion of foul language, Dr. Brown has something to say about that, too. "If we were transported back to Merrie Olde England, we'd hear profanity, too," he said. "But it seems to be less stigmatized, less socially disapproved of, recently."