Monday, November 9, 2009

On Provocative Language in Everyday Use

As I believe I've alluded to before, this campus is over 90% male. This means that at nearly every meal I eat, I am the only woman present at the table. It's an interesting dynamic; I am the honored guest as often as I'm the fly on the wall.

There have been moments like when those generous men gave up (or at least delayed) their sports talk time and asked me about my local sports teams, diverting the center of attention to me, because they'd noticed I had nothing to contribute to the sports talk. On the other hand, there have been a number of moments when unflappable Claire was a just little bit surprised that they really just said /that/ so unabashedly, with a woman sitting right next to them.

The men here (the seminarians, the priests, and the few who are neither) are very conscientious to bid adieu to "Gentlemen" and to "Claire". If they refer to a group of which I am part as "guys", they are always quick to apologize and restate with a more gender-neutral term.

On the other hand, when vulgar language is used, there is almost never an apology nodded to me, the woman who has to sit through this (even my secular office accorded me that courtesy).

I am an educated woman, with a background in foreign languages and in Catholic tradition. I understand that a mixed group is referred to by the masculine plural. As a personal stylistic choice, I actually prefer "brethren"!

I have no opposition to vulgar language, especially when used appropriately. But I like to think of myself as a lady. I intentionally refrain from using such words for propriety's sake.

It's not that I'm upset or offended. And it's not everyone here who does this; these are just general trends I've noticed at random meals. But it does make me wonder:

When did feminist egalitarianism replace common decency as the most important sensibility to avoid offending at all costs? And what can I do to help switch it back again?


  1. I am of the opinion that there is only a certian amount of attention we as humans give words. Words come in and out of fasion, lost and rediscovered, and seen as either negative or positive at different periods in human development.

    As our focus (as Americans) is drawn toward Politically Correct language, something is happening. We are allowing words that used to offend and hurt slide by easier. They are being replaced by new taboos. The process has happened for centuries, and all we can do is hope to steer society away from the rocks as we travel this linguistic river.

    That being said. {Expletive Deleted} Political Correctness.

  2. Michael10:10 PM

    You know Claire, this is a /very/ good insight. I have accidentally done both of these things, and I can tell you one is uncomfortable, one is horrifying. But looking at the culture, I can see how this has changed, and others would feel differently.

    Now, I am suprised that this is the case with the group of guys in question. I like to think that good Catholic men would still retain some of that Chivalry which should still be a big part of our Catholic heritage.

    As for what you can do... say something! Now, do it tastefully, perhaps privately, but I would guess these guys don't even know what's going on, and would very much appreciate the reminder. Now, I would try to get a feel for the individual first, but certainly a fair number of them would be glad to watch what they say around you.


  3. I had a thought while watching TV, which was in direct opposition to the reason I was watching TV. That is not to say that the thought was in opposition to the reason I was watching TV... it was the thinking.

    Why does vulgarity exist?

    We can just as easily say, "I have stubbed my toe and it is causing me pain, this pain in turn is making me want to act out in an improper manner." However, most people (myself included) usually utter something along the lines of, "AAAAA, {Expletive Deleted} I stubbed my {Expletive Deleted} toe. It hurts like a {Expletive Deleted}"

    I am not without a vocabulary. I do not lack the ability to formulate my thoughts into words that are generally accepted by society. Why, then, do I feel the need to use vulgarity?

    Any help?

  4. A long time ago, Claire. A long time ago.


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