As Bad Language Becomes The Norm

There’s little doubt that pop culture exerts a coarsening influence on public manners. But public manners, such as they are these days, probably exert a coarsening influence on pop culture. After all, if half the little old ladies at the grocery store are cussing like sailors, one can hardly expect the entertainment media to restrict themselves to more refined language. Within living memory, people who felt tempted to swear in public were discouraged from doing so by the weight of generally accepted etiquette. We’re now approaching a tipping point at which social pressure will cut the other way: People who dislike hearing bad language will feel constrained from voicing such a passé opinion. One gets a foretaste of this from a new Associated Press/Ipsos Public Affairs survey. As you can see from the chart, just a shade over one-third of adults profess to be deeply offended by other people’s bad language. The poll finds a broad consensus that the use of swear words and profanity (had you forgotten there’s a distinction?) is on the rise: 67 percent of respondents said they think people use such language more often now than 20 years ago; 42 percent encounter public swearing and profanity “frequently” and 32 percent hear it “occasionally.” The respondents don’t pretend to be blameless in this respect: 26 percent said they use swear words in conversation at least once a day, vs. 21 percent saying they never do so.