When I was a teenager I was a pretty good kid. Got good grades, ran errands, babysat my younger siblings, went to church, etc. This led to my being labeled something of a goody-two-shoes and I found people who hardly knew me predicting my behavior — often accurately. For some reason this made me livid and I started doing something for the shock value — cursing. It didn’t take long for this to become a habit at school, at home, everywhere. As teenage rebellion goes it was pretty mild so there weren’t many repercussions, but as I got older I became more ashamed of the habit and found myself not quite able to shake it.

The more I tried to overcome the habit, the more it seemed to dig in and the more my anger and frustration with myself grew, until I realized a very important thing: no matter what we call them, the words themselves are not bad. They have no power, except what we as listeners give them. When I realized this, the power that the guilt held over me diminished and I was able to control my mouth better. I still swear in private and that has been the cause of some embarrassing situation on occasion, but for the most part most people don’t know I have such a potty mouth. 🙂

Different cultures, different classes, even different families often have different ideas of what constitutes a ‘bad’ word. We can’t always know what those words are for each and every person we encounter, but we can usually have a pretty good idea of the most likely offenders and we show respect for the listener by avoiding the use of these words. It’s one of the many rules of conversational etiquette that most adults don’t even think about anymore, though depending on the company we may sometimes slip up.

I find even my potty-mouthed self still flinching internally sometimes at the traditonal ‘bad words,’ but I don’t react because I know that most speakers don’t mean to offend, and if they do mean to offend, I certainly don’t want to give them the satisfaction, especially over something so powerless and silly! So I actually get rather annoyed with persons who react with shock or disdain at the vocabulary of others. There can be absolutely nothing admirable gained from such actions. No one will be impressed by your show of ‘innocence.’ No one will think that you are superior because you are offended. You may, however, alienate or discomfort the speaker and present yourself as a judgmental snob or an easily manipulated fool, making any attempts at a good conversation or influence much more difficult. It’s exactly like someone paying such close and critical attention to your grammar that they don’t even seem to care what you are saying.

So watch your own language. That’ll reflect positively on you and it’ll be enough for most sensible people to know how to speak around you. But chill out about the language of others.

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