** Warning: This post contains graphic language, which the author deeply regrets using.
WTF is up with all the profanity being used these days? I get that most people have the occasional drunken sailor moment, but nowadays, I encounter profanity everywhere I turn. I admit I'm turning a lot to social media, which is doused in it.
That's probably why Andrew Malcolm's tweets jumped out at me. There's not a WTF or a STFU in anything ever posted by Malcolm, and he posts a lot. He has never told anyone to GTFO and is never LMFAO.
Malcolm, at 69, is a veteran political news writer and commentator who spent the bulk of his journalism career at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He now writes for Investors Business Daily and has 118,000 Twitter followers @AHMalcolm. He tweets out stuff all day long. And while our politics are hardly in alignment, one thing is very clear: Malcolm and I both have a problem with what's happened to the F-word.
The F-word went mainstream. It no longer lives in the narrow fringes of our culture; it is at the center of it. Everywhere you go, online and offline, somebody has made it their go-to adjective, their noun of choice. It's tossed out as casually as a worn pair of sneakers and no longer even requires a happy face emoticon to let the person you just called a "mother fucker" know you meant it with great affection.
How exactly did this happen? And does the world realize what a great loss it is to those of us who would prefer to savor its use? Saying "fuck" used to be like eating caviar -- a rare experience indulged in so infrequently that the occasion itself became memorable. Instead, "fuck" has become just another word, as in "Can you please change the fucking lightbulb?"
Nobody has ever mistaken me for a right-wing conservative (can't say the same for my buddy Malcolm who I suspect wears the title and a red tie proudly on Election Night), but I must admit that I'm bothered by all the profanity -- especially when my kids are exposed to it.
And before anyone tells me how cursing is just a way that teenagers express their independence and emergence into adulthood, let me suggest that doing homework without reminders and knowing the location of their unwashed soccer uniform would deliver that message far better than posting a Facebook photo captioned LMFAO.
Let me go a little further here. When your kid posts LMFAO on Facebook, why don't you make sure he or she actually understands the consequences. That college admissions director with a soccer scholarship check in his pocket? He may not think things were so fucking funny. Those admissions guys are increasingly discovering information on Facebook and Google that negatively impact applicants' acceptance chances, according to Kaplan Test Prep studies. The percentage who said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant's chances of getting into the school nearly tripled -- from 12% in 2011 to 35% in 2012. Offenses cited included using vulgarities -- like fuck -- in blogs. They also didn't smile at the photos showing kids drinking alcohol either.
I'd at least like to declare war on the use of profanity in school. If you are fine with your child calling you a mother-fucker in the privacy of your home, I see no reason to interfere. What goes on in your home is your business, not Uncle Sam's and certainly not mine.
But school? Those are my tax dollars going to pay for my kids' educations. We live in a communal society with rules and I know of no school where the unfettered use of profanity is permitted. I call on every principal to show some spine and enforce school rules. Who's with me -- besides my buddy Malcolm?
Here's what I love: In his tweets, Malcolm shows us that we never really need to go there. He will occasionally use a WTH -- and by that he means "heck," not "hell."
His proclivity to avoid curse words isn't a factor of his age, but rather a factor of his professionalism. When someone who fancies himself to be a writer uses profanity to get a reader's attention, it's just a "crutch," Malcolm says. When profanity is used by a Marine in combat or a hockey player who has just eaten a puck sandwich, it's circumstantially different. But when a writer uses LMFAO, he probably needs to improve his vocabulary, said Malcolm.
Profanity has never had a place in Malcolm's writing. When he was covering the escapades of Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who is now inmate No. 40892-424, Malcolm would recast Blago's colorful quotes and set up his sentences so that the reader would know exactly what word was being said -- even to the count of the characters -- but wouldn't use the word.
When he wrote about the 1969 Chicago 7 trial for the New York Times, he wrote how one of the defendants would jump to his feet and yell out "an eight-letter barnyard epithet." That was "bullshit" -- a word tame by today's standards but blush-worthy back then.
Yes, surely our language has gotten racier in recent years. We can probably credit cable TV for cracking open the profanity door and the Internet for flinging it open wider still.
But for me and Malcolm, we're going to keep things clean. For us, the F-word remains something you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer, not when you're sitting in a restaurant and the waiter tells you they just ran out of the daily special. If you want to express your shock, your anger, your amusement, your disbelief, there are other, less coarse, ways to do it.
But we do accept that beauty -- and offense -- may live in the eye of the beholder.