Perhaps you too have noticed a distinct coarsening of public language in our society. Not just during this Democratic primary campaign or presidency. But going back some years.
Lyndon Johnson was particularly profane. An open mic caught George W. Bush describing one reporter as a back-facing part of the lower human anatomy. Vice President Joe Biden was also caught a couple of times uttering an ancient acronym for fornication under consent of the king.
Donald Trump has let slip his share, maybe more, even during nationally-televised rallies. Last year others quoted him as referring to “s***hole countries.” Some profanity is perhaps more dangerous for this president, given his rock-solid political support so far from Protestant evangelicals. Though a number did express displeasure recently.
Maybe it’s our Puritan heritage, but Americans have a quaint way with foul language. Everyone knows the worst words. Most everyone has said some in anger or after hammering a thumb. Anyone who’s ever been at a pro sporting event has heard the words, even in the family section.
Until recently, most media have used euphemistic letters to preserve the innocence of our virgin ears and eyes from exposure to words like s***, f*** and g** d***.
Many years ago I was scolded by a senior editor after the fact for being too specific by slipping into the N.Y. Times a description of a defendant’s courtroom outburst as shouting an eight-letter barnyard epithet.
Back in 1944 a cocky German general demanded the surrender of battered and besieged American troops surrounded at the Battle of the Bulge.
Even modern history books still quote the response of U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe as “Nuts!” When in reality, the battle-hardened paratrooper suggested what the German should go do to himself.
So, as distasteful as it might seem, in one sense it’s a refreshing sign of candor and honesty that some modern political figures are on occasion using the same public language that they and we have employed in private. Assuming they’re not swearing to fake authenticity.
With modern recording devices even in cellphones, it’s easier to record them. And especially with Trump, media feel less constrained to censor presidential words.
“I wrote the damn bill!” Bernie Sanders exclaimed the other day. Aides shared a Cory Booker text describing Trump remarks as a barnyard epithet “soup of ineffective words.”
Robert Francis O’Rourke was professing disgust with Trump’s vocabulary about illegal immigrants when he said “What the f***?” to reporters. Kirsten Gillibrand has said if politicians aren’t helping the impoverished “we should go the f*** home.”
The so-called f-bomb you may have noticed is no longer just a verb. It’s now often a noun as in “I don’t give a f****” or used to emphasize the next word as in “f****** jerk.”
The Hill newspaper recently reported data showing the use of profanity increasing with Twitter. It found politicians’ use of profanity there, excluding s*** and f***, occurred 833 times in 2018 and already 1,225 times this year.
According to Ben Bergen, author of “What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains and Ourselves”:
We’ve seen media become democratized. There are fewer and fewer channels of communication that are censored. And as a result, there’s just more swearing around.