I have been criticized for the use of coarse language in my writing and, you know, that’s fucking fair. Regardless of where the scrutiny is coming from it tends to make me wonder, Could I say the same thing, but keep it pure as snow? This is completely rhetorical noodling, however, and I know it. Don’t believe me, walk out your door and gnaw on a handful of the white stuff. You’ll be spitting dirt, hair, and heavy metals for the rest of the day.
I was born in the early 70’s. Some of the worst atrocities of Vietnam War were taking place as my mother labored over my birth. The 1972 Easter Offensive was only broken by US lead sustained carpet bombing counter-campaign. While estimates of the military personnel lost or wounded during this knock-out, dragged-out slug-fest range vastly even today, we’re certain we’ll never know the actual human toll extracted from the South Asian jungles. Thousands, hundreds-of-thousands in that year alone? Just people in the wrong place, because that’s a lot of death for little more than rubber tree plantations. We know that the final tally went well into the millions of people dead in the name of slapdash policy wonks who inhabited the white halls of capital buildings thousands of miles away. Broken individuals testing their favorite military hypothesis with actual lives.
I grew up a child of the 80’s. Some would argue that this was, in America anyway, a period of relative peace and prosperity, and those fuckers would be absolutely wrong. Violence, the threat of loss, these things were everywhere, even in whitebread American suburbs. Always there was the specter of Soviet aggression, and the media played this chord constantly. While I struggle to recall most memories from my childhood, I can vividly recollect duck-and-cover exercises and the unspoken certainty that hiding under a table was rehearsal for bending over and kissing your own ass goodbye.
But it didn’t stop there, never. Red Dawn, Iran-Contra, the War on Drugs, mob battles, train wrecks, plane crashes, refugees, assassination, mass shooting, and buildings bombed; the 1980’s were a violence mill, and this was reflected in the culture of the time.
Some of my favorite music from that time is little more than an appreciation of my generation’s violent inheritance. And we made the best, from ribald rhymes intent on eliciting prudish moral outrage to confrontational indictments of the latest criminal insult passing without consequence. We may not have invented the grassroots response, but we did our part to perfect it. Honing our tools the only way anyone had ever shown us.
Our words got sharp. Baby boomer hedge fund managers and MTV executives making piles of cash from the sweat of our backs, politicians and generals extracting the rest right from our hides, we were justifiably indignant. And that indignation is what got us this far because it’s always better than the alternative. Despair is just going to end you.
And now the next confrontation strikes me. This morning, while scrolling through social media, I noticed a displacement maledicta (yeah, that’s fucking latin). One of those curse words composed of similarly shaped eccentric characters designed to suggest the idea of a bad word without actually saying it. “$h%#,” “&*#@&*^%,” and the insidious “@$$hole.” H … e .. double hockey sticks, the message was the product of a guy from my generation. A person who appreciates the same sort of music I grew up loving. Felt the same sort of outrage I did (and sometimes still do). A dude who can and will pepper his speech with the actual negatively pitched expressions.
“I’d rather stay a child/ and keep my self-respect/ if being and adult/ means being like you.” — Dead Kennedys, Life Sentence
Listen, I am well aware that bad words hurt, and in my forty-something years I’ve grown up just enough to understand that there is a time and place for them. So, this isn’t a diatribe against political correctness campaigns, twisted moralist minds, or hypocrisy. And, I should state, matter-of-factly, that I take great pains to improve the diction and vocabulary of my children. But I want to go on record, displacement maledictum are endlessly more insidious and potentially destructive than the actual expression of the swearing’s equivalent.
If your message requires the use of a sharp tool you’ve just reached behind your back and pulled a spoon from your belt. For the pen to prevail mighty, your nib must remain keen.