When I was younger, after medical school, I went through a profanity phase.  It was a ridiculous time of my life, and one I’m happy to report is long gone and long forgiven.  It was an odd time.  I was newly married, and in residency, so maybe the stresses of medical education, or the stress of a new marriage made me…oh, who am I kidding!  I was young, tough, immature and wanted to sound cool like everyone else going through their profanity phases.

I have friends who have had, and continue to have, profanity phases.  Some of them use profanity like a kind of sub-dialect of English.  In that dialect, assorted bits of profanity can be used as almost any type of word: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction or preposition.

Many of their phases were abruptly ended by the arrival of children, whose little angelic faces looked up one morning and said something like ‘Mommy, good (expletive deleted) morning!’  At which point mommy screamed, called daddy, threatened daddy, and both put up a ‘cuss jar,’ in which each had to place a dollar for each bit of profanity uttered.

The prospect of their little prince or princess talking like a drunken sailor to the pastor, teacher or ancient auntie has thus forced many parents to shut down their foul language in short order.  Other parents, weaker but more honest, have used the ‘cuss jar’ to buy luxury homes, private jets and small islands.

All humor aside, since profanity so often begins at home, students in elementary school, middle and high school are sometimes better versed in this kind of speech than they are in the basic tenets of English grammar.  Even worse, they send it in text messages!

And parents, too many parents, aren’t the least bit interested in their children using proper, civilized words.  They sometimes seem almost to encourage it in their homes, where screaming curses must be the musical soundtrack of hard lives and sad, abused kids.

Having begun at home and been refined in gatherings of students, profanity is all too ingrained in our culture.  It floats through hospitals, schools and businesses; it inhabits clubs and bars; it is a staple at sporting events.  It is constantly reinforced on television and movies; even in some music.  And ultimately, it diminishes us all.

Having been the recipient of plenty of drunken, raging profanity in the emergency department, I can say that I never enjoy it.  Granted, in the right mouth it can have an almost comic-poetic quality.  But the right mouth is seldom the one slurring and spitting at me.

See, I have realized that when we curse, we are usually (consciously or not) invoking or calling for evil or misfortune upon a person, thing or situation.  If not that, we are certainly expressing an angry, seething dissatisfaction with a person, thing or situation.  This is never constructive.  Actually, it’s frankly destructive to any person who is the victim of our curses.  And more than that, when we curse we often frighten the people around us.  Children are especially sensitive to the tone of profanity, which tends not to be expressed in a gentle, smiling whisper.  (Unless someone stubs their toe in the church vestibule.)

So I’m calling for an end to curses and a beginning of blessings.  I’m asking parents to teach their children, by example, to use language that builds others up.  To express anger with words that may show frustration, but do not call down evil upon anyone or anything; to speak like angels, not demons.

I’m asking office workers, government officials, public servants, physicians and nurses, teachers, students and everyone else to simply be considerate.  I’m asking everyone to return civility and chivalry to the world, and to elevate our language, not drag it lower.       The world is badly in need of blessings.  So let’s spend our linguistic energies creating ways to say kind things, hopeful things, and beautiful things.  Even in our disagreements, our speech can be gracious.

It’s possible!  So far, I’m happy to report that my children have heard, and learned, very little profanity.  ‘Dang it,’ ‘rats’ or ‘cuss-a-monkey’ are their verbal invectives.  In fact, my kids are disturbed by profanity.  I’m proud of that.

Because I know that even if they have their own profanity phases as adults, in the back of their minds they’ll know that they have better words to substitute; and that in the end, blessings trump curses.

Disclaimer:  This was my Greenville News column last week, but it’s a point that’s important to me, so it’s reincarnated on the blog.

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