The weather has been gorgeous lately. Sixty degrees in January does not bode well for this planet’s overall health, but this pseudo-springtime has been a good guilty pleasure for my soul. I’ve always been the kind of person who can’t wait to get outside once the weather starts to warm up from its frigid wintrification, to the point where I can’t help to make primal, satisfied sounds the second sunlight hits my skin. Just an involuntary, guttural moan that I feel from tip to toe.
Or, at least that used to be the case. Lately, what comes out of my mouth takes this delightful form:
“Oh, fuck yeah.” Or in yesterday’s case: “Fuck me Jesus, this is nice.”
I always seem to catch myself doing this after the fact, after the expletive has completed its roll off the tip of my tongue and plummeted into the waiting air like a naked girl on a high dive. Regardless of whatever neighbors might be listening. It’s not a matter of choosing to speak; it’s compulsive expression of pure sensation that cannot go unuttered. And it’s not just the weather. My friends aren’t just great; they’re goddamned amazing. This breakfast burrito isn’t delicious; it’s fucking good.
Expletives have taken the place of ordinary modifiers in my daily language –even, it seems, replacing the verb-less noise that peppers my communication. This was a gradual thing, and from a social standpoint I ought to try to curb it. But my inner word-nerd finds this fascinating. Am I simply getting more crass with age? Nope, I’ve never been conversationally conservative or delicate. Am I just losing my self-censorship abilities? Nope; I don’t think so. But ordinary words just aren’t enough – neither, it seems, are the wordless feral utterances that served so well before. What the swearing seems to serve is a purpose of emotive elevation, to bring emphasis to words that, through the frequency of usage, have lost the impact of their solitary meaning.
There are certain words that, throughout history, have become so generic that their usage in nearly any format comes across as bland. Nice, for example. Beautiful. Good. Normal. These are words that convey almost the barest minimum of meaning, and for their neutrality are often avoided. These are words that are so inoffensive that they distinguish, essentially, nothing.
Not surprisingly, this over-usage and lack of meaning has pervaded other words. Words that used to be stunning: Awesome. Marvelous. Ridiculous. They are becoming a part of generic speech to a degree that they have become less and less emphatic over time. This is the fate of words: to fall into conversational fashion to the point of oversaturation, and then to be so abundant as to become invisible.
Expletives, however, meet a different fate. For even as swear words began to crop up more regularly on cable shows and in conversation, there is still some remnant of illicit thrill in their presence. There are whole portions of society in which their usage is wholly inappropriate, or even banned altogether. These are words that still carry weight. Moreover, these words are emotive. They are the words we use when we are most highly charged, when we are less reasonable, and when we are at our most passionate. They communicate the rawest parts of the self in such a manner as to be truly genuine in all ways.
When we pair expletives with ordinary words whose meaning has been worn too thin for solitary impact, we rejuvenate those words. We give ourselves back the initial meaning and then go on to heighten emphasis when we use expletives as modifiers. In order to be emotive on a genuine level, we’ve adapted the crass aspects of language to drive a verbal purpose. I’m pretty sure this is why some of the most verbose and well-read people I know tend to swear like sailors – it’s not for want of other vocabulary, it’s for want of recapturing a natural emotive integrity that we can no longer find in everyday words.
This can been seen as both a good and bad trend. One the one hand, it is limiting to believe we have lost access to a more broadly emphatic language. On the other hand, it’s encouraging to see how adaptable we are on a linguistic/grammatical level.
I, for one, find it damned fascinating.