Colorful Taboo BY: Alicia Georgi

In today’s world, we often catch ourselves using colorful language more often than ever these days; as well as feeling the liberation of testing our vocabulary especially at an earlier age in life. Why? Because f-it, it is usually used in a joking manner anyways, and in today’s world we do not like conform with old societal norms. We like to jump out of the box and rebel against things we don’t like or agree with, and in the meantime grow with excitement of a new and energetic society. Colorful taboo words are used more openly today than ever before according to David Barringer, “And once I understood that language lesson, I never forgot it.” David shares his experiences and opinions about what swearing has become in today’s global advertising world in his article Colorful Language. Today’s culture is full of adult children who cannot unlearn nor do they want to. Once kids learn how to use curse words in their daily vocabulary, they never unlearn. We have evolved our comfort levels with using colorful language to the point where it is seen more and more in the public eye as well as verbally heard.

It is not uncommon to come across colorful language. We see it daily on our smartphones or on TV. The use of colorful language is becoming more predominately open for use. Because we value our freedom of speech, personal expression, and entertainment, it is inevitable. Most people recall an incident that happened in 2009, President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass,” but 40 years prior, Paul Cohen wore a jacket that read, “Fuck the Draft. Stop the War.” (Barringer). In February of 2014, BuzzFeed released an official Style Guide of its own f–ed-up words and phrases, but in case you were a little curious of what other hyphenated grammar was released in the guideline, “f—up as a noun, f— up as a verb, and f—ed-up as an adjective. It has spellings for s— list, s—storm, s—show and s—hole. S— talk has a space when used as a noun, but a hyphen when used as a verb” (Offitzer). There is such a variety of words and phrases out there that can be used in a versatile way today.

The so called “bad” words are still just words. When it comes to the world of accusing unrelenting whisperers of potty talk sometimes it is just unintentional. For example; Frank’s Red Hot’s slogan is “I put that shit on everything.” There are a lot of other products out there that use swearing in a silly way to bring humor. Dick’s Sporting Goods is another example of unintentional swearing. Shitto is an allegedly tasty Ghanaian sauce with a name that makes Americans laugh, while everyone in Ghana seems to love it. Not only can you find just food products, there is also furniture with some humorous and unintentional names. You can find these pieces of furniture at Ikea. Due to them having a variety of furniture and selling items with Dutch and European names, the titles of such items look funny and are commonly mispronounced in English.. When you see fyrkantig, knutstorp, or flardfull, how do you think you pronounce them? You wouldn’t think they are furniture pieces would you. There are many more “funny product names,” if you Google search for them, you will hands down have a humorous afternoon.

People love to tease each other. We have a variety of ways to refrain ourselves from the rude, the bad and the vulgar because we have countless ways to exploit the rude, the bad and the vulgar. All this can be shown not only through the internet but through print media as well– from cartoons and comics to newspapers and magazines. Advertisers have been known for using the “bleep” to suggest that actors are using colorful words. The “bleep” is used in more of a joking manner, and is used as a form of street credibility. This has caused profound colorful language and/or swear words to become a part of our comfort level. Language has been getting the celebrity treatment, which comes off to peers as a social norm, and suggests that it is acceptable to say these tabooed words whenever and wherever the F*** we want too.

Language is also organic. The vocabulary we use grows into what it needs and kills off what is outdated, which means if a word tumbled from use there was probably a good reason for it. Just like the vocabulary we use today or years ago, words change and so do people. Although the oldest colorful words might have changed grammatically, they can still be interpreted like they were many years ago. Just like the way profanity has evolved and is portrayed in the media. It depends on the amount of variables and complications there are. Culture has the core influence on the laws that challenge what language is “too obscene,” or what is perfectly fine to say publicly (Nocella).

It’s indicative of a larger cultural shift and a reaction within the journalism world to loosen policies accordingly. They use a vocabulary described as obscenicons and grawlix, otherwise known as acronyms like the F-word, F-bomb, the C-word, etc. Just like BuzzFeed’s style guide of cursing, hyphen verbs or nouns are depending on the usage. Adam Offitzer states in his article, “Many media organizations acknowledge they are loosening their policies on profanity. The latest edition of the AP Stylebook provides standard spellings for “damn,” “damn it” and “goddamn it.” Most published news will stay cautious about how they use colorful language in their work. There still has to be a convincing reason to use a quotation, including signifying perception into someone’s character by his or her words, but there are times when ass, jackass, or even the word suck, may be allowed to appear from time to time.

Occasionally profane words are quite interesting especially when it comes to obscenicons and grawlix, and how they came into representing colorful language in comics. In a 1964 article for the National Cartoonist Society, Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker coined the word ‘grawlix’, which after a bit of progression in its meaning, now refers to the sequence of typographical symbols that from time to time stands in for colorful language. Antagonism is an effective comedic metaphor, and so the dilemma must have risen for early cartoonists. The first comic art was featured on December 14th 1902. Back then, colorful language was a touchy subject so putting in symbols made it silly and less personal for the comic. This is all because people like to laugh and adding obscenicons adds to what the comic is portraying. @$#!&

Philosopher Joel Feinberg mentioned that colorful words acquire their resilient expressive power in virtue of a nearly paradoxical tension between powerful taboo and universal readiness to disobey (Roache). This is frequently done informally; the most applicable way of controlling colorful taboo language is through awareness of attitudes towards the use of context. Expressing disapproval towards someone's words of choice can be pretty effective at guaranteeing that they watch their language for future reference, in hopes they become more aware of their audience.

However, there are proper efforts to regulate colorful language too. At home in your household is where people are most themselves. People aren’t surrounded by their peers so they have no need to care about the words they use. Now when out of the house people need to know their audience and whether or not to give a S*** if they can or cannot use colorful words. Businesses usually do not support such language but hell, it truly depends on the business culture. The only true regulation of using tabooed words is when around children, because they do not need to gain a potty mouth at a young age. It’s probably for the best, or they might be getting their mouths washed soon after. When evolving with audiences sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry. But $#!% sometimes we let one loose.. Oops.

The taboo against swearing is, it seems, a pretty serious matter in some situations. Colorful language derives its power from taboo-breaking. The fact that swearing is referred to as taboo focuses it, however does not explain why swearing itself is taboo. The taboo comes from the fact that colorful words can be used to provoke these emotions in people who do not want to feel them.

The Economist published an article called, “The Last Taboos” written by R.L.G., and he starts his article off by saying, “Plenty of people think the English language is going to hell in a handcart” (R.L.G.). Christian swear words once packed a solid punch, but now they belong to the mild tier. ”Damn” is now okay for prime-time television, and though God damn is still too strong for Americans, “good God, Lemon!” was a ubiquitous catchphrase in the beloved American comedy “30 Rock” (R.L.G.). The use of colorful words can survive underlying social change. It is not a surprise that advertisers are always trying to test the limits, while trying to get away with implementing the cursing vocabulary’s special power. It’s not always correct to link colorful language exclusively with anger, but it does have a key role in expressing and communicating emotion. In the article Naughty Words by Rebecca Roache, she writes, “As the linguist Geoffrey Nunberg has remarked, ‘[s]wear words don’t describe your feelings; they manifest them’”. It is this statement that she shares that it is a unique way in expressing emotion that separates taboo words from other uses of language, as well as other types of colorful language.

However, our culture is continuing to change, and with colorful language becoming a norm it comes back to the question, “How many times have you sworn today, and/or was it offensive? Or used as slang?” I know as a 22-year-old I tend to swear a lot more with my peers. In other situations, with different audiences, I try to take caution with my vocabulary, but with commercials, music and media in general we are surrounded by a vast variety of colorful words. What used to be a profane, unspoken language is now casual. Swearing is so common now that you can flip on the TV, and hear bleeped out words or even now the approved colorful vocabulary without even thinking twice that it is or what use to be a “bad” word. Colorful words with negative emotions isn’t how they are projected anymore; they have become humorous slang we use. It has truly become a part of today's casual language. You can find swearing more commonly on TV, advertising, and in music too. Society has changed and we have all embraced this new atmosphere of accepting different and new out of the box views. Gone are ancient word choice traditions, replaced by a new and ever-evolving graphic treatment solely influenced by ourselves.

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