** Warning: This post contains graphic language, which the author deeply regrets using.
WTF is up with all the profanity being used these days? I get that most people have the occasional drunken sailor moment, but nowadays, I encounter profanity everywhere I turn. I admit I'm turning a lot to social media, which is doused in it.
That's probably why Andrew Malcolm's tweets jumped out at me. There's not a WTF or a STFU in anything ever posted by Malcolm, and he posts a lot. He has never told anyone to GTFO and is never LMFAO.
Malcolm, at 69, is a veteran political news writer and commentator who spent the bulk of his journalism career at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. He now writes for Investors Business Daily and has 118,000 Twitter followers @AHMalcolm. He tweets out stuff all day long. And while our politics are hardly in alignment, one thing is very clear: Malcolm and I both have a problem with what's happened to the F-word.
The F-word went mainstream. It no longer lives in the narrow fringes of our culture; it is at the center of it. Everywhere you go, online and offline, somebody has made it their go-to adjective, their noun of choice. It's tossed out as casually as a worn pair of sneakers and no longer even requires a happy face emoticon to let the person you just called a "mother fucker" know you meant it with great affection.
How exactly did this happen? And does the world realize what a great loss it is to those of us who would prefer to savor its use? Saying "fuck" used to be like eating caviar -- a rare experience indulged in so infrequently that the occasion itself became memorable. Instead, "fuck" has become just another word, as in "Can you please change the fucking lightbulb?"
Nobody has ever mistaken me for a right-wing conservative (can't say the same for my buddy Malcolm who I suspect wears the title and a red tie proudly on Election Night), but I must admit that I'm bothered by all the profanity -- especially when my kids are exposed to it.
And before anyone tells me how cursing is just a way that teenagers express their independence and emergence into adulthood, let me suggest that doing homework without reminders and knowing the location of their unwashed soccer uniform would deliver that message far better than posting a Facebook photo captioned LMFAO.
Let me go a little further here. When your kid posts LMFAO on Facebook, why don't you make sure he or she actually understands the consequences. That college admissions director with a soccer scholarship check in his pocket? He may not think things were so fucking funny. Those admissions guys are increasingly discovering information on Facebook and Google that negatively impact applicants' acceptance chances, according to Kaplan Test Prep studies. The percentage who said they discovered something that negatively impacted an applicant's chances of getting into the school nearly tripled -- from 12% in 2011 to 35% in 2012. Offenses cited included using vulgarities -- like fuck -- in blogs. They also didn't smile at the photos showing kids drinking alcohol either.
I'd at least like to declare war on the use of profanity in school. If you are fine with your child calling you a mother-fucker in the privacy of your home, I see no reason to interfere. What goes on in your home is your business, not Uncle Sam's and certainly not mine.
But school? Those are my tax dollars going to pay for my kids' educations. We live in a communal society with rules and I know of no school where the unfettered use of profanity is permitted. I call on every principal to show some spine and enforce school rules. Who's with me -- besides my buddy Malcolm?
Here's what I love: In his tweets, Malcolm shows us that we never really need to go there. He will occasionally use a WTH -- and by that he means "heck," not "hell."
His proclivity to avoid curse words isn't a factor of his age, but rather a factor of his professionalism. When someone who fancies himself to be a writer uses profanity to get a reader's attention, it's just a "crutch," Malcolm says. When profanity is used by a Marine in combat or a hockey player who has just eaten a puck sandwich, it's circumstantially different. But when a writer uses LMFAO, he probably needs to improve his vocabulary, said Malcolm.
Profanity has never had a place in Malcolm's writing. When he was covering the escapades of Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who is now inmate No. 40892-424, Malcolm would recast Blago's colorful quotes and set up his sentences so that the reader would know exactly what word was being said -- even to the count of the characters -- but wouldn't use the word.
When he wrote about the 1969 Chicago 7 trial for the New York Times, he wrote how one of the defendants would jump to his feet and yell out "an eight-letter barnyard epithet." That was "bullshit" -- a word tame by today's standards but blush-worthy back then.
Yes, surely our language has gotten racier in recent years. We can probably credit cable TV for cracking open the profanity door and the Internet for flinging it open wider still.
But for me and Malcolm, we're going to keep things clean. For us, the F-word remains something you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer, not when you're sitting in a restaurant and the waiter tells you they just ran out of the daily special. If you want to express your shock, your anger, your amusement, your disbelief, there are other, less coarse, ways to do it.
But we do accept that beauty -- and offense -- may live in the eye of the beholder.
"I remember when I was very young, my family calling me to the phone, excited that we were making a 'long distance' call from our home in New Jersey, all the way to Chicago! I listened to the person on the other end, who sounded like they were at the end of a long tunnel. What a miracle!" - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/wayndom" target="_hplink">Wayndom</a>, 64 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/silevitas/3875833956/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Si Levitas)
"The first computer I used was a remote terminal that would read the punch cards we fed it, sent the data 200 miles to a mainframe where the data was run and the results were returned, several hours later. The terminal, as primitive as it was occupied an entire classroom." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/slowshot" target="_hplink">Slowshot</a>, 59 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2282601545/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Marcin Wichary)
"In the mid-60s (my early teens) I was the only person I knew who owned a reel-to-reel tape recorder... and I owned it expressly to record TV show's audio off the air. I still have the recordings actually -- the first Star Trek episodes, The Prisoner episodes... and in 1967 portable audio cassette recorders became available." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/chuxarino" target="_hplink">Chuxarino</a>, 59 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/41002268@N03/4825199407/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Carbon Arc)
"The first video game I ever played was Pong." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/vwemc/today_im_71_from_a_post_a_week_ago_i_learned_im/" target="_hplink">SOmuch2learn</a>, 71 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/22595976@N03/3058462864/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Jimmah82)
"I built my first 'computer' as a science fair project in 1962. It was just a register made from transistor flip-flops, a rotary phone dial for input, and incandescent bulbs for display. I wrote my first program on punched paper tape on a teletype machine connected via 300 bps modem to a timeshare computer. It was in fortran, contained an infinite loop and timed out the CPU at 3 mins. That bug cost me $50, minimum wage was around $1 then." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/anonanon1313" target="_hplink">Anonanon1313</a>, 63 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ppl_ri_images/4020597204/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Providence Public Library)
"I remember our first little black-and-white TV, and our first color set several years later, and how much tweaking you had to do to get even crappy green faced images." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/anonanon1313" target="_hplink">Anonanon1313</a>, 63 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jacobwhittaker/6309156354/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Jacob Whittaker)
"I remember my first cassette player. It had a built-in radio. I taped the Beatles first hits. I remember 8-track car tape decks. I remember the first Walkman (cassette), I bought it in an appliance store. I remember the first CD player, buying it and my first CDs ($17!), and soon after boxing up my collection of over 1,000 LPs and hundreds of cassettes, where they still sit." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/anonanon1313" target="_hplink">Anonanon1313</a>, 63 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/edvvc/200260730/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, edvvc)
"Technology fascinates me. I used PCs for years & now am finding my way around a MacBook Pro. When VCRs came out, I was first in line. Watching movies at home -- unbelievable -- as was using a phone without being limited by the length of the cord. Now I have an iPhone which is really a mini-computer. Love the Internet and trying new apps. I'm excited to see what's next." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/vwemc/today_im_71_from_a_post_a_week_ago_i_learned_im/" target="_hplink">SOmuch2learn</a>, 71 (Photo credit: Getty)
"We had two TV stations, on a black-and-white TV, but there was always something to watch. Today we have over 100 channels (most in HD), but the same programs that I watched as a kid, 'I Love Lucy,' 'Leave It to Beaver,' 'Andy Griffith,' etc. are still being re-run endlessly, while people complain that there is nothing on worth watching." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/slowshot" target="_hplink">Slowshot</a>, 59 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/photography_and_design/6311451518/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Jonas Merian)
"In school, educational films and documentaries came on reels of 16 mm film that ran 15 minutes. Today you get high def blu-rays that run four hours on a 5 1/4" disk." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/slowshot" target="_hplink">Slowshot</a>, 59 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/salvagenation/6166882291/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Salvagenation)
"My first introductory computer class about 35 years ago used punch cards for very remedial database programming exercises. It was tedious as all get out, but it gave me a huge foresight into an understanding of the power of data and how to harness that power and manage it to your benefit. A substantial portion of my current job still involves database administration." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/reg-o-matic" target="_hplink">Reg-o-matic</a>, 57 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2355797229/" target="_hplink">Image via Flickr</a>, Marcin Wichary)
"In the late 50s/early 60s stereo recordings and phonographs were just becoming popular. A high quality vinyl record had a max of 45 minutes of music on a double-sided 12" disk. Today you can get 6 hours of music on a thumb drive." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/slowshot" target="_hplink">Slowshot</a>, 59 (Photo credit: AP)
"Biggest technology wonders in my 52 years, definitely communications. Work has changed dramatically... I started as a medical receptionist and learned an antique, handwritten system for keeping track of the money (in 1979), and the last system I learned was a completely comprehensive computer system that kept track of everything, and I mean EVERYTHING." - <a href="http://www.reddit.com/user/MeliMagick" target="_hplink">MeliMagick</a>, 52
Follow Ann Brenoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AnnBrenoff