Curse Words Are For Sailors
Back in the days when I was wearing Navy blue, I learned the true meaning of “salty” language. That’s where the “salty” came from: the Navy. Same with “curse like a sailor.” If we spoke five words, at least two of them were obscene. Forget George Carlin and his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” I just made a short list of our language from back then and seventy words and phrases is closer to the correct number (and I’ve probably forgotten a lot of them).
The most amazing thing was that the instant you stepped ashore, your language automatically changed. All those words were dropped and you became a righteous, civil speaking, politically correct person again. It’s kind of like when you cross a border, you automatically switch to the new language. In some ways, crossing the brow to shore, really was crossing a border to a different world.
I think that the world started changing when HBO and cable first hit the market. That’s where I first heard Carlin’s monologue. Also, when the movies switched to the rating system, you could pretty well say anything with the right rating letter. And of course, those movies showed up later on cable, too.
The Purpose Behind A Curse Word
I don’t watch much broadcast TV, so I think they still mind their language a little to keep the FCC off their backs, but anything goes on the web and streaming. In our day to day language, particularly among the younger generations, most of the prohibitions seem to be gone.
That’s sad because the real purpose of our curse words is to add emotion and emphasis to what we are saying. In the Navy, none of the words meant anything. They were just always there and after a while you didn’t really hear them anymore. It seems to be approaching that point now in our everyday language. Familiarity has softened language to the point where the words are useless. Again, that’s sad because there are times that a really well delivered obscenity can make a world of difference.
A Perfect Example
In the following example regarding effectiveness, all names have been omitted to protect the guilty. Many years ago, the company I worked for was going through one of those periodic industry downturns and we were trying to figure out how we were going to operate. There were about thirty guys in the board room, consisting of all the board members, senior executives, and all the division heads.
Except, one of the division heads, the newest and youngest, was female. Everyone was hashing out where we could cut costs, which budgets were going to take a hit, which divisions and departments were going to give up people. This had gone on all morning and the young lady had mostly sat silent and stayed out of the increasing turmoil.
She’d done well in a lot of corporate infighting through her personal charm. We’d never seen her mad; she was always calm and in control, always polite and soft spoken, always reasonable and effective in getting her way. None of us could have imagined her ever using, or for that matter, even knowing any “salty” language.
Anyway, as we got down to the nitty-gritty of where the cost cuts were going to happen, she stood up and calmly said, “Gentlemen, I know we are facing a difficult time and are going to be forced to make some difficult decisions. I just want to point out to all of you a couple of things. My division has the highest per capita performance in the company.”
She continued, “Each of our budget dollars puts more on the bottom line than any other division. My people work hardest and are the best producers in the company. They deserve everything they get: their salaries, their benefits, and their bonuses. We will not be cutting a single dime from my people or from my division. You don’t kill the cash cow. And let me remind all of you gentlemen of one most important thing.”
Her voice dropped to absolute zero and sounded like it came straight from the grave…
“No – one – fucks – with – me.”
She swept her blazing blue laser eyes around the table to each of us in turn, then sat down as we all tried to regain our composure in stunned silence. It wasn’t the shock of hearing her say that, rather it was the power of the emotion that she delivered with her words. She’d touched something deep and primal within our psyches, and had scared the hell out of each and every one of us. She was the most junior person in the room, but no one was about to cross her.
Her budget remained unchanged and we found other ways to come up with enough savings. She stayed with us for only a couple more years, then moved on and up to greener pastures. The last I heard of her, she was the European head of one of the multi-nationals. And I’m very sure that to this day, no one has ever dared mess with her.
So, take a lesson from that young division head. Save the swearing for when it really matters. It can be a powerful weapon used appropriately and sparingly. Used too much and it’s just more mindless chatter that’s ignored and discounted.