Does etiquette change over time?

Entry originally appeared in Peter Post’s E Word blog for The Boston Globe.

I remember the first time I heard my mother swear. That expletive came out of her mouth, and it was like a bomb exploded in my head. As a teenager, I knew better than to comment. The funny thing is, I have absolutely no idea what caused the cursing. But I remember the moment like it was yesterday.

That’s the problem with swearing. My daughter, Lizzie, a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute, recently did an interview about swearing, an issue raising eyebrows yet again in public life. She correctly pointed out: “The words we’re focusing on are probably not the ones they want us to.”

Take the case of former vice president Dick Cheney who famously tossed the f-word at Vermont senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the United States Senate. I doubt if anyone remembers why Cheney felt the need to curse, but whenever there’s a story about swearing in public that story is often cited.

Recently New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg started reading a speech from notes at a hot-dog eating contest, when he asked the rhetorical question, “Who wrote this s***?” Interestingly, the crowd seemed understanding and accepting of his swearing rather than insulted by it.

On network television we hear words that would not have made it by censors a few year ago; surf the cable and paid channels and anything goes. Yes, we seem to be more accepting of cursing in our language. But that doesn’t change the fact that swearing is still jarring. But, if you want people to remember what you actually have to say, less profanity and more content will help make your case.

One Comment

  1. Joyce

    I am extremely uncomfortable around foul offensives language. By this I mean any swearing. The funny thing in today’s culture is everyone has a different idea of what is considered offensives. There used to not be considered any question about that. My 26-year-old son will say “Mom, everyone talks that way.” Then if I happen to get really upset and let lose with a mild swear word, he will say “Mom, I wish you wouldn’t say that”. ;c)

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