Note: If I gave my blog posts ratings this one would earn a PG-13. If you think that might be an issue just go ahead and skip this one, okay?
Let’s chat about language, shall we? If you’ve been reading Tea With Dee* from the beginning or have perused the archives you might recall a very early post of mine, “The Power of Words”. If not, you might want to take a look at it for some perspective on this topic. Basically, when I wrote it back in 2006 I shared the fact that I never used bad language myself but that I needed to become more comfortable with it in order to use it convincingly in the book I was writing (and no, I haven’t finished it). I wrote about my upbringing and ended the post with these words:
I am writing a book and I just know there will be a character or two who would reasonably be expected to swear, at least a little. Trouble is, I just don’t have any experience in using bad language myself so I worry about whether or not I can make it sound realistic. I don’t know exactly how I will handle this yet but I am thinking about *practicing* a bit on this blog. Nothing really bad but perhaps throw in a damn or hell once in awhile just so I can get past this hang up and be able to write with a certain element of realism. Y’all don’t mind, do you? Just remember, it’s writing research and practice. Oh, and be sure to read it as a whisper.
Well, as it turns out I really haven’t ended up “practicing” here on Tea With Dee*. It wasn’t a conscious decision but somehow it just never felt right. Which brings up an important point. Language can be a powerful tool when our words are well-considered. My first degree is in English and as an avid reader, words are pretty much my thing. I’m also a master of sarcasm and am well-equipped to deliver my message without the use of profanity.
In recent years I’ve lightened up about language. When you think about it, what’s the difference between dammit and darn it? Hell or heck? Shit or shoot? The only difference is that as a society we’ve decided a certain set of words is okay and another isn’t. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t choose our words with care, though.
A friend of mine shared a cute story with me. First of all, you need to know a bit about this friend. He’s one of those increasingly rare men who is always impeccably dressed, has lovely manners and has even been known to bring real wine glasses to an outdoor music festival. He’s truly a gentleman. So, he’s having this discussion about “appropriateness” with his young son and he’s explaining when it is and isn’t okay to swear. He then asks for an example of when it might be appropriate and his son replies, “the zombie apocalypse?” Yes, I think that qualifies. I like the way my friend handled this and I also like the way some parents refer to swear words as “grown up words” rather than “bad words”. That really makes more sense.
About a year and a half ago my friend, Roz and I took a little road trip to New Orleans. On our way home we were trying – without much success – to get to our hotel in Dallas. It was dark. The traffic was awful. We had been traveling all day. We were tired and both of us needed a bathroom. As a kid I recall my dad joking about not being able to get there from here and I was beginning to believe that might actually be the case as we seemed unable to find our way to the hotel despite the fact we could see it. I would drive into what appeared to be an adjacent parking lot only to discover that it didn’t go through. I think it was the fourth time this happened when I drawled, “Well, shit.” Roz just cracked up. Despite being close friends for several years she had never heard me curse and that is precisely what made it so funny.
Other than Roz and David I can’t really think of anyone who has heard me swear. It’s just not something I generally do. On the other hand, I do occasionally use certain words in online communication which aren’t part of my usual spoken vocabulary. And I don’t just mean curse words. For instance, I rarely say “y’all”. I grew up in California where the typical phrase is “you guys” and that is still what comes naturally to me in speech most of the time. But for some reason “y’all” reads better. It comes across in a warmer and friendlier manner. Online communication can be a challenge because we can’t see one another and therefore can’t hear intonation or read body language. That’s the reason emoticons came about.
I do take my intended audience into consideration. As mentioned, Tea With Dee* is nearly always G-rated. Same is true for my (former) cooking blog, Dee’s Kitchen. Since my personal Facebook page is read by a wide range of ages and sensibilities, I generally keep it pretty clean there, as well. Occasionally I will share a link or something someone else wrote which exceeds my usual standards for Facebook. That is when I utilize the privacy controls. I have everyone under 18 in a list which I can easily hide from seeing certain posts. Likewise, I have a small list of adults who’ve made it known that they are greatly offended by profanity and I try to remember to hide anything potentially offensive from them. I’m not as concerned about that group because, after all, they are adults. But on the other hand, I don’t purposely try to offend folks. And truly, the posts I hide are few and far between.
Then there’s my other blog. The Well-Groomed Hippie is aimed at a fairly narrow audience. I purposely started it in order to share my thoughts on politics, social policy, environmental issues, green living, countercultural and potentially controversial topics (although increasingly I seem to be sharing posts about music as much or more than anything else). The language I use in my writing there is still usually pretty tame but I do share some videos and other resources which may not be appropriate for some sensibilities. The way I look at it, anyone who is merely interested in keeping up with me as a person and with my daily life can do so here, my personal Facebook page (if I know you or we have a legitimate connection), the Life With Dee Facebook page, or my newsletter (you can sign up for it on the sidebar). The Well-Groomed Hippie is more of a specialty outlet for me and is easy enough to avoid if you don’t share the views I express there.
Finally, there’s Twitter. My bio there reads:
I’m a blogger, writer, Earl Grey drinker, lover of New Orleans, and a hippie married to a pirate. Twitter is my (mostly) uncensored soapbox.
I opened a Twitter account in March of 2008. At the time, almost no one I personally knew was using it. It grew rapidly, though, and now it seems everyone is “tweeting”. In some ways that makes it seem more anonymous. Or maybe that’s not the right word. It’s just SO huge that there’s really no way to keep up with even a fraction of what is posted there. I know different people use it in a variety of ways and to a greater or lesser degree but for me I view it as rapidly flowing river of information, opinions, humor, news, personal comments, etc. I can’t consume it all so I just occasionally wade in, catch a few interesting bits as they stream past and when the mood strikes, throw out a few myself. My blogs and the Facebook pages connected to them all automatically post to Twitter so that forms the bulk of my Tweets. But I also Tweet independent of my blogs or Facebook.
As I said, I consider Twitter my uncensored soapbox so occasionally there will be something I wouldn’t post on Facebook. I recently found out that someone had shared some of my Tweets with my parents, who aren’t online. Apparently these were Tweets in which I had used an expletive, as well as some of a political nature. Now, first of all, the very idea that someone felt the need to tattle on me to my parents is almost funny. I’m 50 years old, not 7. Second, after five years and over 4,800 Tweets there had to have been some serious cherry-picking involved. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve ever written there or anywhere else online. I’m aware that even when I am careful to consider my audience for any particular post or bit of writing, ultimately nothing is truly private online. But honestly, Twitter is totally easy to ignore if you don’t like my views or the way in which I express them. When I found out that I had a spy I was rather irritated at first. I even made my Tweets private — for about an hour. I then gave the whole situation careful consideration and ultimately decided that what other people think of me is their problem, not mine. I try to be mindful of others and not purposely offend them but at this point in my life I’m not going to hide who I am or what I believe.
(Wow. I hadn’t really intended to share all of that but since it just came pouring out I think I’ll leave it. Chances are, everyone gave up reading this about three paragraphs ago anyway. I’ll bet you’re wondering how in the world I can even limit myself to a 140 character Tweet.)
Okay, back to the original point of all this. Here’s the way I see it: You don’t swear in front of your 80 year old Baptist grandmother. You don’t curse in public, especially when children are present. And it’s probably best not to drop an f-bomb in a job interview. But aside from such examples of good sense and common courtesy, one’s decision regarding the use of “adult” words boils down to personal preference and appropriateness.
(*this was originally posted on my former blog, Tea With Dee)