Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Using the vernacular

Living in the inner city, I am accustomed to hearing the F word (the one that rhymes with a certain aquatic bird that goes quack quack!) a lot. In fact folks around here can use it in just about every part of speech - noun, adverb, adjective, I even heard it as a preposition a few times. It turns out that little four little word can be used quite creatively!

But I told my kids it's sort of the sign of a limited vocabulary. I mean with the thousands of words in the English vocabulary, certainly we could find some that more aptly fit what we're trying to say (and improve our SAT scores at the same time!) So the F bomb doesn't get dropped here too often and even the neighbor kids have taken to try to impress me with their expanded vocabularies (one child, I kid you not, even looked up words to work into the conversations in my presence - I thought that was kind of cute!)

Nonetheless, there are times when even the F word is required. For example, when a crazed young black man started ranting and hitting things and people on my street and my husband went out (unarmed) to confront him and hopefully calm him down, he had to use it to at least get on the same page with this guy. Things de-escalated from there.

Yesterday, I was surprised to learn that Sallie thought I had cussed in an e-mail. She not only wrote it here but on her blog she writes:

If you are a long time reader, or perhaps you were just introduced to my blog in the last week or so, you may have seen some comments and/or notice my posting about having to delete some things. You may have even read in my posts where I stated I also got some emails I had to delete. I don't know about you, but foul language and accusations isn't something I am accustomed to reading in my daily email box and so I've resorted to just deleting anything I get now without responding.

I am pretty careful in e-mails and in blogging to NOT use vulgarities in my writing. In fact, I sort of tease one of my favorite liberal bloggers because she uses them all of the time! So I went back to see, what the heck did I write?

In our e-mail back and forth Sallie wrote:

Look, you are pissed at me because I linked to someones blog. That's my choice.

Well there's language you don't read every day on flowery Christian women's blogs. I don't care for the word myself and prefer my boys use the term urinate or pee, but sometimes even this word has a purpose in the vernacular for expressing extreme anger or annoyance. In the adult world it probably gets more use than it should but it certainly is expressive. Usage of that word I think gives a certain frankness, and "let's get down to business" type of attitude. I don't have any problems with that.

With that in mind as our e-mails evolved (or devolved) and it was clear we weren't ever going to be exchanging Christmas cards or going out for coffee in the near future,I decided to be equally frank in my final remarks:

I'm not interested in hearing from you any more about what an angry and bitter bitch you think I am

The B word! (insert dramatic music here). Please note however that I didn't refer to HER as a B, but rather that I felt she thought I was! Provocative words? Sure. An attention getter? Absolutely. But it wasn't an abundant use of foul language or "cussing" that perhaps Sallie has tried to lead everyone to believe I used via e-mail and in her comments section. I sort of figured if a gal wasn't opposed to using the word "pissed" in her correspondence, reading the word "bitch" particularly if it wasn't being applied to her, shouldn't be a big deal. I thought it was probably part of her vernacular! But in this part of the blogosophere, I guess this kind of stuff is always a big deal!


Blondie said...

I would not have been offended by that language Elena, in fact I would hardly have noticed it.

I don't understand why some people (especially Christians) make such a big deal about "cussing." Language usuage is cultural and its meanings and connotations change constantly. You are right, sometimes colorful language is even necessary, as in the example you gave with your husband. And I do not see it as sinful.

It's almost impossible to tell how someone will react to a certain word. I have known ladies who think the word "crap" is a cuss word! I think they need to chill out. Did you realize that in the making of "It's a Wonderful Life" that the original script had Jimmy Stewart say "lousy" - but it was edited because at the time the word lousy was considered too offensive. Yeah, lousy was a cuss word.

I guess out of charity we should be careful not to be offensive, but at the same time you can't please everybody.

sara said...

I am impressed, Elena, that you went back and considered what you might have written that was offensive. And then you admitted it here. That takes real humility.

I don't understand why some people (especially Christians) make such a big deal about "cussing."

because "Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be." James 3:10 This whole chapter speaks to this.

I am ashamed to admit that I have used foul language in the past and I admit that Elena's usage here is mild compared to what I have been guilty of, but let's not whitewash it.

Milehimama said...

It may be just a "pet peeve" word with her. For example, I hate the T word (rhymes with hit) but use the C word (rhymes with wrap) a little too often...
You may have just hit a nerve. Or given her a leg to stand on, a reason to delete a comment without being accused of deleting it simply because she doesn't like the content.

Elena said...

Just as an interesting side note, J.K. Rowling did use the word "bitch" in the latest Harry Potter novel. Mrs. Weasley (one of my favorite fictional characters) uses it when she confronts Bellatrix Lestrange during the big battle scene. I agree with the Urban Dictionary which calls this quote "quite possibly the best/ most badass quote in the series."

I don't think one would necessarily think of Mrs. Weasley as "badass" but she sure is in that scene!

Elena said...

It may be just a "pet peeve" word with her.

Well I can relate. "Liar" and "hypocrite" when thrown in my general direction are fast becoming two of mine!

Blondie said...

I just don't see a "curse" - wishing or praying for evil or misfortune to befall on someone - the same as using what may be considered a cuss word. Like I said, cuss words are very cultural and change with the times. Really, I think the best reason not to use them is to not to offend others. My husband & I are fairly loose about using "cuss words" around each other because we're not offended by them; however we guard our language more closely when we're with friends or our kids.

Faithful Catholic said...

I heard Fr. Corapi refer to himself as a "jackass" the other night on t.v. He used the word to translate from Italian to English the name his family often used to describe him when he was younger. I laughed myself silly because my father is Italian and he used to use the very word to describe us when we were children and being stubborn or hardheaded. I might be offended if someone who I didn't know and love referred to me as a "jackass" but, I certainly see no harm in referring to myself as a "jackass."

Elena, it's fine by me if you want to refer to yourself as a "bitch" but, I'd never call you that because I haven't seen you behave like one.

Blondie, I think you make very good points. And, as Elena says in her post, it generally demonstrates a lack of vocabulary but, I have been known to "cuss like a sailor" with friends and family. Just like everyone else, I guess, I do have strong reactions to some words so I don't ever use them. If someone around me uses them once or twice, I let it slide. If it seems like it's every other word out of their mouth, I will sometimes ask them to refrain from using that language in my presence. Most every time I've done that, the other person has been very respectful of my request.

I work (well, when I did work) with children, mostly adolescents, who have "behavioral issues" and they like to see if they can push my buttons. Most of the time, when they use cuss words it's because they're trying to get a reaction from me. I find that the less reactive I am, the quicker their choice of words improves. I could let some cuss words slide as long as they weren't being used to describe or berate a peer or staff. One thing I would not ever tolerate though was for any of them to tell anyone to "shut up." I don't know why but, "shut up" just sounds so ugly to me. Now, I spend my days at home with my very, very vocal dog. She barks incessantly. Guess what I say to her about fifty gazillion times a day? My kids would be all over me if they could hear me talk to my dog.

Eugenie said...

"...cuss words are very cultural..."

...for instance, here in New Zealand, "pissed" doesn't mean angry, it means drunk.

sara said...

Ach, I dunno. I think maybe we really are too far apart for a meaningful dialogue. I thought it was "just" doctrinal issues but it seems there is just a big difference even in the way we walk our faith. There is a difference in the things which prick our consciences. I sincerely hope that I'm just feeling a bit sensitive right now and that I'll get over it. :)

yes, curse words are cultural: and we all know what they meant in the context in which they were used and we all understand the culture in which they were used. Is the argument that someday, somewhere these words won't mean what they mean here and now?

or is the argument that cursing isn't "so bad?" Jesus said that we'd be in danger of hell if we called someone a fool (Matthew 5:21-23). Our speech is to always be with grace and "seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:5-7) I could go on - "whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" Colossians 3:17. There are surely many others. And no, I don't think this applies only to curse words but to any words that do not glorify Christ. And yes, I have been guilty many times. There is still no excuse for it - only repentance.

To me, I want to submit everything to Jesus. Everything. Have I arrived? By no means. (Philippians 3:12-14) Will I arrive while still on this earth? No. but I still run the race that is set before me and attempt to offer my body as a living sacrifice.

Elena said...

or is the argument that cursing isn't "so bad?"

Well for me the argument is that the use of one word "bitch" isn't sufficient in my opion to warrant pulling all of my comments off of a blog, or to publically and I think it was inaccurate to say

"And I didn't curse at Elena in any emails either but I got it in mine"

Sallie is very masterful at pulling the focus off of the topic. In this case, she used my use of the word bitch (in which I was referring to myself by the way) to take away all of my comments and shut down any communication between us. Before that she claimed I tried to deceive her into thinking I didn't not know who Candy was, which of course was just silly. But it worked. (She never apologized either for calling me a decptive liar either) She never did have to address the Marianne Collins/false nun claims in any substantial way shape or form.

But the real kicker for me is that she would get all riled up about the word "bitch" when she used the word "pissed." I mean if we were all speaking the Queen's English I would get it... but she obviously isn't so why the higher standard for everyone else?

sara said...

I hear ya. I'm not pointing fingers at you - I hope you understand that.

Kelly said...

Sara wrote "Ach, I dunno. I think maybe we really are too far apart for a meaningful dialogue. I thought it was "just" doctrinal issues but it seems there is just a big difference even in the way we walk our faith. There is a difference in the things which prick our consciences."

I would say this varies by person, Catholic or not. I wouldn't use the word bitch, and I would rarely say pissed. Although, to Blondie, I don't consider crap a cuss word, though I rarely say it, either. But I wouldn't have characterized Elena's use of bitch in the context she used it as "being cursed at."

I guess that I have tried to eliminate vulgarities, along with slang, from my vocabulary because I feel it indicates lack of education. (How's that for an admission of pride?)

Other than not taking the Lord's name in vain, I'm not sure the Catholic Church has an official opinion on vulgar language. :)

Elena said...

I wouldn't use the word bitch, and I would rarely say pissed.

Ah... and that's the difference between us Kelly; I wouldn't use the word pissed and I rarely say bitch! (although I am becoming fond of the term badass!)

See folks, thinking Catholics can disagree on some things! ; )

Blondie said...

Ummm, I'm afraid it sounds like I must go around talking like a sailor! I rarely use cuss words in my speech, but I am not offended by them (for the most part), admit to using them on occasion, don't believe it's a sin, and honestly think that Christians make too big of a deal out of it. We have more important things to focus on - like *living* our faith, without worrying about whether or not a word is a "cuss word." That's all!

Elena said...

I agree Blondie.

Interestingly Sallie thought it more important to point her finger at my use of the word "bitch" than to really examine the claims of Sister Marianne Collins, and if there is even such a person. I wonder why that is?

I also found it fascinating that she went through a lot of gyrations to avoid saying a simple, "oops, I was wrong. Sorry about that."

sara said...

I'm afraid it sounds like I must go around talking like a sailor!

Nah - more like a truck driver. Just kidding - I didn't take it that way.

I just mean that I don't think it's possible to separate out sections of my life. No part of my life is too insignificant for Him. I want Him to have all of it. Does that sound self -righteous? I don't mean it to. I just want Him to have all of it. Even my everyday speech. I know some people think that there are things which are neither good nor bad but only neutral. I can't really argue that but if it doesn't bring God glory, I would like Him to prune it from my life. And yes, I tremble a little when I reflect on what that might mean.

Milehimama said...

Oh yes, we've had many conversations at my house about "grown ups words" - words that only adults are allowed to use!

Blondie said...

That's exactly what we tell our kids!

We have a GPS and my husband has it set on the British woman's voice, because he loves the way she sounds. He calls her the British Babe. But sometimes the GPS gets screwed up and tells us to do stuff like turn the wrong way on a one-way street, or to make a U-turn when U-turns aren't allowed. When she does that dh calls her the British bitch. Then my kids started referring to her by the same name and we had to tell them that was adult language, that they were not allowed to use it. Dh says it in jest but would never do it in front of anyone we're not very close to. Kids just aren't great at discernment, and I certainly don't want them saying it around someone who would take offense.