Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Things We Shouldn't Say

We didn't need to watch the insulting circus of last Sunday night's "presidential" debate to know that New Yorker commentator Andy Borowitz called it correctly in his satirical article - "Bar Officially Cannot Be Lowered."

Mr Trump has brought public discourse to a new low of civility, and has coarsened our presidential politics to a degree not seen since ... well ... a long time. This article discusses some of the political insults that have been lobbed in American political campaigns across our history ... for example:

Abraham Lincoln was described as a "Filthy Story-Teller, Despot, Liar, Thief, Braggart, Buffoon, Usurper, Monster, Ignoramus Abe, Old Scoundrel, Perjurer, Robber, Swindler, Tyrant, Field-Butcher, [and] Land-Pirate."

A North Carolina congressman said of President Franklin Pierce that "The minions of power are watching you, to be turned out by the pimp of the White House if you refuse to sustain him. A man sunk so low we can hardly hate. We have nothing but disgust, pity, and contempt."

And Thomas Jefferson - a man we think of today as one of the heroic and brilliant members of the founding generation, said that then-president John Adams was "A blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphrodite character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."

The insults were a bit quainter back then than some of the "locker-room" talk brushed aside by Mr Trump, but they were still as bitter and angry.

Here in the States, we revere our Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech ... well, perhaps not quite so much as our Constitutional guarantee of being able to pack iron, but some of us still revere it. We do recognize some limits on our freedom of speech, though, even if we aggressively oppose limits on freedom of armament. The Federal Communications Commission, for example, tries to keep vulgar language off our television screens and radio airwaves ... George Carlin parodied this losing battle in his classic skit "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television." 

Our cousins across The Pond, on the other hand, are noted for their good manners, their politeness, and their stoic and understated reserve, as exemplified by the much-parodied World War II campaign that enjoined them to ...

Today in America, we might need a similar campaign ...

And we might begin by taking note of this comprehensive, well-organized list from British communications regulator Ofcom that ranks the offensiveness of individual swear words. 

Because I know that my grandchildren sometimes read this blog, I won't go into detail on the words themselves. I will just note that Ofcom has organized objectionable language into four categories: mild, medium, strong, and strongest. Mild includes such quaint and often-heard words as damn; strongest includes the sort of language now appearing in some reporting about our presidential campaign.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had some politicians who could actually use the language creatively ... like Winston Churchill, who had this comment that was as appropriate then as it is today:

"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."

Have a good day. Use the language well. More thoughts tomorrow.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

The problem is we only have wingnuts in charge and no statesmen.

Mike said...

I've got a little wiggle room before my granddaughter starts reading my blog.

allenwoodhaven said...

Hadn't seen the Churchill quote; it's great!

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

It would come to someone quantifying the degree of offense in cuss words.

Bonk is bad?

Anonymous said...

Whew! That was close! I actually thought for a moment you were going to criticize your queen and mistress, but I should have known better.