Thursday, July 8, 2010


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to language lately. Often what people say grates on my nerves. My students at school use a curse word in nearly every sentence. It’s not a biggie to them, but to me it’s the sound of nails on a chalkboard. By the end of the first week of school, they know I do not allow cussing in class and remind one another to use a different word. This usually leads to a discussion on which words are allowable and appropriate and why I don’t curse.

I’ll admit, I tend to drop the s-bomb once every day or so at home or to myself, usually at my clumsiness and due to the trauma my toes, fingers, funny bones, head or shins endure. Cursing is not part of my regular speech though. I usually judge (wrongly, I know) people who do curse in every sentence or speak crudely as uneducated or from a lower social class than I am.

That being said, I am a college graduate without a huge vocabulary. My writing and speaking are fairly simple. I enjoy writing and speaking this way. I don’t put a lot of effort in using big words or flowery speech, probably because I think it’s a waste, much like that extra frosting on a store-bought cake that I scrape off to get to the good stuff underneath, the cake.

Today I read the editorial by Dean John R. Rosenberg in my Humanities at BYU Alumni Magazine, Spring 2010. He impressed me with his essay on speech and how using certain language labels us in the eyes of others, not to mention changes how we think. Interesting. He used a great quote by Renaissance humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam:

Just as dress and outward appearance can enhance or disfigure the beauty and dignity of the body, so words can enhance or disfigure thought. Accordingly a great mistake is made by those who consider that it makes no difference how anything is expressed, provided it can be understood. . . . Our first concern should be to see that the garment is clean, that it fits, and that it is not wrongly made up. It would be a pity to have people put off by a spotty, dirty garment, when the underlying form itself is good. (De copia)

I read those words written by a man several hundred years ago and realized he had the same issue I do. Words create a part of who we are. How we use those words to express ourselves, whether through cursing like a sailor or quoting Shakespeare, we open ourselves up to the judgment of others. We also think differently about ourselves and the world around us when we speak below that which we are capable of.

This article reminded me why I don’t allow cursing in my classroom, why I teach my students and children to speak better English, and why I shouldn’t curse or talk coarsely, even if no one else hears it. My speech is a dress I wear, for all to hear, including my own ears. My goal is to present a clean, white cotton dress of speech to the world. I hope it is clear, simple, elegant, yet educated.

Picture credit “1914 Afternoon Dress,” by Jennie Chancey on April 20th, 2010. Check out their website for other beautiful vintage dresses.

1 comment:

  1. There is so much truth to your words. I swore on my blog a couple times (minor curse words) and my mom reminded me who I was and I received a major guilt trip. She told me that I was a talented enough writer to get my point across without using those words. I highly doubt that is true, but I stopped swearing anyway.

    By the way, this comment is the absolute kindest I have ever received on my blog: "The dream I want to come true is to write as funny as you do! You rock!!!"

    Seriously, that totally made my day.

    I didn't know you existed, but now I am your newest follower!