Maybe like me, you grew up with a sense of Victorian propriety. Occasionally we heard the “bad” words (colorful, sometimes humorous) but not in regular conversation and not in the books we read or movies we saw.
As a matter of fact, Rhett Butler’s “I don’t give a damn” (in the 1936 book by Margaret Mitchell and the 1939 movie) was thought to be bold and brave for the time.
Why is profane language now so dominant and acceptable in entertainment? I have some theories, especially about the “eff” word. Like children, some adults think using profanity makes them look big and bad. In individuals, I think it’s often a sign of weakness. In writers and producers, it may be an attempt to sensationalize.
Years ago, after watching a few episodes of the comedy series “Veep,”(Julia Lewis-Dreyfus starred) I decided the characters’ constant use of the eff word meant that soon the word would fall out of favor. “Veep” would give it the killing blow. I concluded this because the characters were so flawed, and for them, everything–everything–was eff’d. The comedy series was clearly satire, not just of politics but of people who lack a better vocabulary to express themselves.
Today the word does not seem to be any less popular. It’s not the first time I was wrong.
I still think excessive use of eff is lame, unless it’s meant to show the character’s limitations. However, a lot of common slang had a disreputable beginning and is now used with no awareness of the original meaning. As an example, when I was small my older sisters corrected me by saying, “You little bugger!” I didn’t know the derivation of that word until recently, and I’m sure my sisters didn’t. Today it may be used describe a silly or annoying person or a beloved person or animal, as in “bugger off” or “a cute little bugger.” Originally it referred to anal sex.
So has eff been tamed? To many it still seems unnecessarily rude, even disgusting. But people who grow up hearing it may not have that reaction, and already it may be used in a playful, loving way, as in “you cute little effer.”
Maybe I’ve always lived in an environment of polite language, but I’ve never been able to believe there could be as much profanity in real speech as entertainment suggests. Nevertheless, we’ve gradually experienced increasing amounts of profanity in television, books, and movies.
In case you’re interested, here’s a short history of censorship:
1960s-1970s: In the early to mid-20th century, there were stricter censorship standards in both books and movies. Profanity was heavily regulated, and its usage was minimal or nonexistent in mainstream media. The Hays Code, a set of industry guidelines for filmmakers, strictly controlled the portrayal of certain topics, including profane language.
1980s-1990s: The 1980s saw a relaxation of censorship standards in both books and movies. Profanity started to appear more frequently in movies and novels, reflecting a growing acceptance of explicit language in popular culture. Films with PG-13 ratings, introduced in 1984, allowed for some profanity in a film that was not suitable for young children but not as extreme as an R-rated film.
2000s-2010: In this era, profanity became more common in books and movies across various genres. The rise of independent and streaming platforms allowed for more diverse and edgier content, including language, compared to traditional studio productions. Books also saw an increase in explicit language as authors had more freedom to write what they wanted.
It’s hard for me to understand the popularity of words that are so overused. The eff word is effing boring, but I guess it will have to do until something worse comes along.