The evolution of written profanity began roughly in the sixteenth century. William Shakespeare was not a particularly clean writer; the chap had a bit of a potty mouth. Take for instance, a word like ‘Zounds which had twenty-three occurrences over the course of his works. This oath, short for “God’s wounds,” was extremely offensive because it referenced the wounds of Christ. “Blasphemy!” cried the populace, to anyone who directly referenced the crucifixion. ‘Zounds may seem tame by today’s standards (case in point, the love letter Rebecca Martinson wrote to her Delta Gamma sorority sisters that exploded across the internet), but our buddy Will never shied away from testy words. Nor was he a stickler for grammar, as noted by Stephen Fry, he often made a “doing-word out of a thing-word.”
Language has progressed and regressed over the course of the last few centuries (as it should). We are told time and again that language is not static, but have we pushed the envelope to the point where it no longer has any stick?
When the f-bomb is dropped in the middle of an article simply for the fun of it, or because a writer’s editor says they can, or because…well, why? Everywhere you turn online, language is a little more than racy. From New York Magazine‘s The Cut Blog to f-bomb-filled Sorority Letters (let’s not even dip a toe in the comment section), you’ll find the most casual curse word in the most unexpected of places. It is enough to make anyone, pedant or peasant, wonder at what written juncture we draw the line.
The purists amongst you argue that cursing makes you sound uneducated. It’s possible. Others claim that those who swear aren’t good communicators. Maybe.
It was only last June that the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission is now prohibited from imposing fines and sanctions of any sort for verbal obscenities and indecency. Swear words no longer live on the fringe, and everywhere you look, someone is turning a doing-curse into a thing-curse.
There is no way to control the content that lives online, but will there be a day when the internet culture leaks so explicitly into mainstream print culture that the New York Times includes expletives in its titles simply for shock value? Will curse words enable The Times to get with the times?
When senior writer at the Huffington Post Anne Brenoff took to the internet to discuss her disappointment with the mainstreaming of the f-word in On The Fly: I’m Not LMFAO At Cursing, readers went a bit haywire. Some in support, and others less so: “Those are the honest folks you hear cursing. The liars are holding their tongues.”
Where does your tongue stand?