My daughter is about to graduate from college and was fortunate enough to receive a job offer from a great company. She starts in less than a month. While I'm thrilled for her, I'm simultaneously terrified -- this gives me only a few short weeks to eradicate what we're calling, around my house, a bad case of College Mouth.
I don't think she departed for college with this affliction, but she's certainly come home with it. Surely I can't be the only parent who listens to their otherwise intelligent child speak as though she was raised elsewhere -- by a tribe, say, whose lexicon consists almost entirely of four letter words.
It's not uncommon to hear my daughter use to excess words that would have once landed me in the bathroom with a bar of soap in my mouth. And not when she's stubbed her toe, or tripped over the dog. She doesn't use them as an occasional exclamation, or to express dismay or anger. They've become adjectives, what a linguistics professor would call "strengthening" words, and in my expensively educated daughter's case, they're used merely for emphasis, sprinkled into conversation as thoughtlessly as she might say "semester abroad," or "Starbucks run." I'm not quite dead yet, and I appreciate historical trends -- language evolves, meanings dilute and young people strive, ever, to shock. But what is okay in a college dorm, or expressed on a social media site, has no place in a business environment. In fact, I've developed a recurring nightmare about my daughter's first business meeting, where she opines that a senior vice president's idea is, "Fucking awesome!"
Maybe I'm an alarmist, maybe she has a built in control switch that I'm unable to trigger -- but I fear that boundaries may have so blurred that the ability to self-modulate is becoming lost. Freedom of expression is one thing, I hear myself repeat, regretfully channeling my own father, but sailor talk is another. These words may have lost some connotation, I'm constantly trying to explain, but they have in no way lost power. They still make you look trashy; they still make you sound dumb and they still embarrass your long-suffering parents.
And the profanity isn't the only thing. Social media has sparked a tropism toward hyperbole -- no doubt born in the constant "liking" of things, the congratulating and admiring and rah-rah nature of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and places I probably haven't even heard of. My generation liked nothing; my daughter's likes everything. To a curmudgeon like me, this seems not just ridiculous, but irritating.
You hear a lot of talk about cyber-bullying, about the mean-spiritedness, snark and opinionated trolling that's rife in our new public spaces, but less about the other end of the spectrum, which permeates in just as insidious a way. It lives in the insincere, amped up tones of posts and comments, the obligatory, rampant use of exclamation points, in the general magnification of trivia -- and the minimization, by extension, of the truly extraordinary. If everything is awesome, if it's all the "absolute best," then nothing is.
As I proofread my daughter's thank you notes to recruiters and interviewers, to the people she'd connected with during her job search, I found myself trying without luck to pry the exclamation key from her computer. I felt the need to edit out the eager, over-the-top tone of her communications, to calm her down, as it were. I want to explain to her that enthusiasm is good, that zeal is appreciated, but that in business we also admire circumspection, and the ability to speak not just passionately, but with wisdom. And sometimes that means not speaking at all.
So what is the answer, and what do I do? A swear jar is impractical -- all her money is my money -- and I can't feasibly remove the exclamation key from every keyboard she might ever encounter. And so I find myself eavesdropping in my own kitchen, hyper-attuned for potty-mouth and pouncing with a red pen when she asks me to check her correspondence. I'm sure I'm annoying the shit out of her.
In the end, I suppose I just have to take a trust fall -- to do what parents have been doing for generations, bite my tongue, hold my breath and hope for the best.
But don't even get me started on the vocal fry. One insurmountable problem at a time, thank you.
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