Monday, July 30, 2012

Memorable vs forgettable speech

Last week linguist Geoff Nunberg presented another of his thoughtful commentaries, this one on the deterioration of everyday speech. His essay centered on the battle between moralists, such as those in Middleborough, Mass., where potty mouths now risk a $20 fine, and modernists, who just say, "Get used to it."

I think there's another factor behind the use of bad language besides our tendency to let it all hang out:

Laziness. Many people resort to colorful words when a simple statement seems too bland and truly memorable speech requires too much thinking. They are like many speakers who, as I've noted previously, add multi-syllabic modifiers in an effort to impresss the audience. Ironically, in both instances the result may be to turn off rather than turn on the listener.

In the case of swearing a recent survey reveals it can harm one's career. As if that weren't enough, overuse of certain words can also wear them out so when you really need them they don't have much impact. Paraphrasing a NY columnist of long ago, if you're going to say s--- in front of a lady, what do you say when you get a flat tire in the middle of the Triborough Bridge?


Michael H. Quinn said...

Nice post, Dad. I recall your response to my potty-mouth phase in childhood (perhaps not out of it yet). Rather than yelling at me or grounding me for swearing, you matter-of-factly warned me that if I keep cursing in private that it might leak out in public, or come out in the wrong places. Great advice...that has alas come true on too many occasions!

Free-lance Writer said...

Nice of you to say that, but much of what passes for fatherly advice may be a good example of 'forgettable speech.'