I don’t need to tell anyone that civility has taken a nose dive in our society. It’s not just the extreme hatred, vitriol, and invective hurled at those who disagree with one another. It’s not merely the rudeness and disrespect and self-absorption we see in everyday life. It goes deep into the collective soul and exemplifies the simple, timeless truth that “out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Referring to people in the most vile and offensive ways is hardly sneezed at anymore. Speech peppered with cussing and swearing is offered up by five year-olds. People used to curb their bad speech around children or women or the elderly, or in what we used to call “polite company,” but now children and women and those who are supposed to be older and wiser think nothing of shouting out the most disgraceful and vulgar verbal abuse. The f-bomb is part of common discourse, often several times in one sentence.
How we speak represents us, just as much as does how we write, how we treat others, how we present ourselves, and how we deal with conflict. The way in which we communicate indicates whether or not we know how to exhibit character and civility and anything resembling respect and professionalism. To be able to convey strong emotions, delight, disgust, or heartfelt confession, one needs to have a vocabulary to support some kind of intelligent discourse, but we speak sometimes like a people who know little more than grunts or gurgles. We are foul-mouthed because we don’t have any other words to express ourselves. We don’t know how to use words effectively. We’ve lost the art of the withering comment or the thinly-veiled insult many of us love so much in Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, portrayed so exquisitely by Maggie Smith in Downtown Abbey. “Vulgarity is no substitution for wit,” she snapped, and a truer word was never spoken.
We think we are providing emphasis by using words that used to shock or embarrass—but they don’t anymore, and now they don’t provide any emphasis, either. They limit us. They are tired, worn out, unable to articulate what it is we really want to voice.
That’s why I’d love to bring back old words, words long gone from our lexicon, words so old hardly anyone knows they once existed:
Instead of accusing someone of being an idiot, why not call him a moonling or a porgly?
Tired of someone who complains incessantly? You know she is a smellfungus.
I need another word to describe that meal, since I refuse to call a pizza “awesome,” so I’m going to use superlobgoshious.
And those of among us who curse like sailor (or truckers, or dockworkers)? Muck-spouts, I say.