Because You Are Polite

by Ginger Philbrick

Recently, I was involuntarily privy to a conversation in the booth adjacent to mine at a restaurant. One of the diners peppered her meal with salty language. Her companions’ silence and hesitating responses reflected their disapproval, but has etiquette changed?       

Unnerved in White Stone

Cursing, by definition, is the uttering of offensive words in anger or annoyance, including profanity, which is the use of the name of a deity to empower your words.

I suspect that most of us on the spur of the moment, especially when suddenly upset, are prone to resort to saying or thinking something socially offensive to express our displeasure.

Cursing was something I was only vaguely aware of when growing up. I remember seeing the now-famous “F word” for the first time, written on a wall on my path home from school in Richmond. I asked my younger brother what it meant, and was shocked by his explanation. Now it has become a common utterance around me on media and overheard conversations, harshly twanging my auditory senses whenever I hear it.

In answer to your question: even though we may hear curse words more frequently, they are still considered bad manners by society.

I am not sermonizing, and I certainly don’t see my own behavior as above approach—but take caution: even in today’s almost-anything-goes society, what we say is still part of how others see us, and is often overheard by those who we may not want to hear us.

Recent studies have not proven the belief held by many that cursing is a sign of lower intelligence. However, a study on the relationship between profanity and intelligence from Manhattan College that was published in the Yale Review of Undergraduate Research in Psychology, found that the desire to expand vocabulary may play a large role in intelligence. Therefore, I am proposing that those of us who wish to curtail or quit our foul utterances cold turkey (pun intended) practice circumlocution. That is, to go around the offensive words and find satisfying, socially-acceptable alternatives to them. For instance, “She is a _____ing idiot” could be replaced with, “I wonder about her ability to reason in instances such as this.” Or, “I don’t give a _____ what he thinks” is more intelligently said, “His opinion doesn’t matter one iota to me.”

Quickly-uttered words such as ‘fudge,’ ‘fuss,’ and ‘flip’ or ‘sugar,’ ‘shoot’ and ‘shucks’ have proven helpful. And your internet browsers can lead you to a stockpile of suggestions. Be prepared to chuckle at some.

Better yet, you might find it more useful to adopt the practice of the short-tempered television character, Frank Costanza. Fans of the sitcom “Seinfeld” will remember that when he was distressed he looked pleadingly skyward and shouted, “Serenity now!”

Ginger Philbrick is the owner of Because You Are Polite LLC. You are invited to email your manners questions to her and she will respond as time and space allow. You may contact her at youarepolite1@gmail.com.