When she’s in a courtroom, Wendy Patrick, a deputy district attorney for San Diego, uses some of the roughest words in the English language. She has to, given that she prosecutes sex crimes. Yet just repeating the words is a challenge for a woman who not only holds a law degree but also degrees in theology and is an ordained Baptist minister. “I have to say (a particularly vulgar expletive) in court when I’m quoting other people, usually the defendants,” she admitted.
There’s an important reason Patrick has to repeat vile language in court. “My job is to prove a case, to prove that a crime occurred,” she explained. “There’s often an element of coercion, of threat, (and) of fear. Colorful language and context is very relevant to proving the kind of emotional persuasion, the menacing, a flavor of how scary these guys are. The jury has to be made aware of how bad the situation was. Those words are disgusting.”
It’s so bad, Patrick said, that on occasion a judge will ask her to tone things down, fearing a jury’s emotions will be improperly swayed.
And yet Patrick continues to be surprised when she heads over to San Diego State University for her part-time work of teaching business ethics. “My students have no qualms about dropping the ‘F-bomb’ in class,” she said. “The culture in college campuses is that unless they’re disruptive or violating the rules, that’s (just) the way kids talk.”
Experts say people swear for impact, but the widespread use of strong language may in fact lessen that impact, as well as lessen society’s ability to set apart certain ideas and words as sacred. . . .
[C]onsider the now-conversational use of the texting abbreviation “OMG,” for “Oh, My God,” and how the full phrase often shows up in settings as benign as home-design shows without any recognition of its meaning by the speakers. . . .
Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert in San Antonio, in a blog about workers cleaning up their language, cited a 2012 Career Builder survey in which 57 percent of employers say they wouldn’t hire a candidate who used profanity. . . .
She added, “It all comes down to respect: if you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, you shouldn’t say it to your client, your boss, your girlfriend or your wife.”
And what about Hollywood, which is often blamed for coarsening the language?
According to Barbara Nicolosi, a Hollywood script consultant and film professor at Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical Christian school, lazy script writing is part of the explanation for the blue tide on television and in the movies. . . .
By contrast, she said, “Bad writers go for the emotional punch of crass language,” hence the fire-hose spray of obscenities [in] some modern films, almost regardless of whether or not the subject demands it. . . . Nicolosi, who noted that “nobody misses the bad language” when it’s omitted from a script, said any change in the industry has to come from among its ranks: “Writers need to have a conversation among themselves and in the industry where we popularize much more responsible methods in storytelling,” she said. . . .
That change can’t come quickly enough for Melissa Henson, director of grass-roots education and advocacy for the Parents Television Council, a pro-decency group. While conceding there is a market for “adult-themed” films and language, Henson said it may be smaller than some in the industry want to admit.
“The volume of R-rated stuff that we’re seeing probably far outpaces what the market would support,” she said. By contrast, she added, “the rate of G-rated stuff is hardly sufficient to meet market demands.” . . .
Henson believes arguments about an “artistic need” for profanity are disingenuous. “You often hear people try to make the argument that art reflects life,” Henson said. “I don’t hold to that. More often than not, ‘art’ shapes the way we live our lives, and it skews our perceptions of the kind of life we're supposed to live."
[DN, Apr. 13, 2014]
Mark A. Kellner