Mar 30, 2008

Fogeys of the World, Unite!

By Liz Adair

Face it. I’m an old fogey. I wasn’t sure what an old fogey was until I became one. I think I realized it when one of my seminary students tossed off the word pimp one morning. He was using it as I would have used the term deck out or fix up, but I took the opportunity to define the word plainly, teach a mini-lesson on why it had not a trace of positive connotation, and state that it had no place in my seminary classroom.

I feel my fogeydom as I walk in the mall behind a group of teenagers and hear a word that got books banned when I was their age used as an incessant, casual (and meaningless), intensifier. Well, maybe not banned, but certainly put in plain brown wrappers.

I feel sorry for those kids that they haven’t been taught that there are still places where language like that is inappropriate. And I wonder at a society where we place such emphasis on clean air, going to great lengths to educate people about the danger of secondhand smoke, and yet we think nothing of secondhand smut. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful not to have to breathe smoky air—I remember well how it used to be before smoking was banned in public places—but I’d like the same protection for the neighboring sensory organs—my ears.

I said hoo-rah to myself when I read about the nun, principal of a private school, who announced a list of words that wouldn’t be tolerated on campus by naming each word on the list. I’m sure there were lots of very wide eyes in the assembly that day, but no future offender could claim a misunderstanding.

Matthew 15:11 says “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” I believe this is so. And, as secondhand smoke clings when I’ve had to stand near a smoker, I feel the grime of aural smut as I trail a group of potty-mouths.

Maybe this is what it takes to live in an age when we have tremendous freedom of choice. Certainly, when I was a teen, we didn’t have such freedom, for society’s rules were explicit about what one could or could not say or write in public, and common schoolground parlance today would then have landed the offenders in front of a judge.

Joshua declared, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” I think we manifest that choice in the words we employ to convey our thoughts.


  1. Hoo-rah, Liz! Believe it or not I once had the "privilege" of sending a letter to a Stake President after his presidency did a skit for the girls at camp one year. They used quite a bit of "innocent" potty humor and I was appalled that that would be considered okay when our goals were to teach those young ladies about being daughters of God. I was too intimidated to tell them face to face, but I did send a letter.

    You said it better than I ever could.

  2. If these kids only knew what they were saying. I think a trip through the dictionary is always a good idea when inappropriate words are used - I did that with one of my children when he used a word he shouldn't have - we looked it up in a huge Random House dictionary and I asked him if it was what he wanted to say. He sheepishly said no.
    I couldn't agree with you more. Are words and voice often tell what we worship. Thanks, Liz.

  3. I can't believe I misspelled OUR!

  4. Liz,
    What a wonderful post! When people claim "freedom of speech" while fouling the air around me with their language, I often think, "But where is my freedom to *not* have my mind polluted with your profanities!" At least on TV or the radio you can change the channel, you can walk out of a movie, but if you're sitting in an ER room with a sick parent (or child, though that doesn't apply to me) and some impatient patient (note the irony of that word combination!) is screaming profanities at an already harrassed nurse, again I ask...Where is MY freedom not to be assaulted by such language, when simply walking out (or away, if you're stuck behind someone in a crowd) is simply not an option?

  5. Yea, verily! I'm cheering for you, Liz, and for those of you who commented. I've always thought swearing is a sign of a small vocabulary. Most of the time it expresses nothing except a desire to talk.

    However, there was the time that the irrigation water filled the yard and started pouring into the basement window. Aunt Martha (whose speech was whistle clean) came running, shouting to her grown sons, "Dam it, boys, dam it." They laughed so hard that she had to go rearrange the canvas dam herself, to send the water on down the ditch. It's rather sad when homonyms are such opposites.


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