Today I came across a news story from the old country which tells me that the venerable BBC is under investigation by the UK's broadcasting standards body because a famous actor, while being interviewed live on a very popular national radio show swore 'before the watershed'. Since the show in question is a morning show, 'twould seem that (cue collective intake of shocked breath) the actor fellow didst utter an expletive in the morning.
No wonder, though, an investigation is under way: somewhere, in a country house drawing room, Cecily, hearing the rough gruff language of the peasantry broadcast over the airwaves, swooned next to the Piano Forte. In the distance, civilization crumbled just a little, at one of its corners. A clog dancer paused in mid air for several seconds, and a banjo player was (thankfully) silenced for ever. Someone, after all, had said 'Fuck.' - and on the radio, too.
I despair. Collections of words have power - depending upon the order in which they are organized. Words elucidate ideas, which promote rational and critical thought. ideas can be debated and exchanged using the power of words. Stories may be told, feelings engaged, and enormous creativity may take place within and without through the power of words. Words work, and they convey messages, not all of which we agree with or find easy to hear. That's life.
But one word? One word has little strength. One 'swear' word may offend only because we allow it to. Expletives are tools, which we are free to use or avoid as we choose. Expletives can convey emotions in a way separate from other words - and that makes them no less relevant or important in our use of our language.
A word was used. Nobody broke into anyone's house and made a mess. Nothing needs to be cleaned up. The moment was fleeting - do we really need to police a moment, or can we agree as a society that being just a tiny bit startled by an unusual word is actually not something to devote much time towards?
Sometimes I wish the world would grow up enough to stop being shocked by a single word. Life is too short to waste upon such nonsense.