Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Profanity vs. Slang

I grew up in a family of ten, so punishment had to come swift for dissenters like myself. The nature of most large families is this: the younger the children the stricter the rules. In my conservative Christian family the rules were especially strict, and when I was young I would get a spanking for even minor offenses like saying the words "shut-up" to my siblings. "Shut-up"(basically slang for "be quiet") was seen as harsh, profane and unruly, and was usually shouted out of desperation in situations where "be quiet" fell on deaf ears. Nevertheless, we were usually spanked if not sent to our rooms for such outbursts of emotional discontent. To my parents credit we were also spanked for saying things like "damn you," which I would usually scream at my older brother after a few hours of torture, at which point he would gleefully tattle-tale, laughing as my punishment ensued. He was a bit of a sadist. The phrase "damn you" is not only a curse word, it's actually a curse. The curser is in a sense condemning the cursed to hell. My six year old mind had no idea of the blasphemy I was speaking, but I knew it sounded bad and it seemed to express the fullness of my rage. When our family got older, "shut-up" became a widely used, legitimate reaction towards someone who was purposely being loud or abrasive with the intent of victimizing those in ear-shot. "Damn you," never caught on as an accepted form of expression.

My point is, "shut-up" was slang for something else, something widely accepted, and slang can be adopted (depending on the culture of your community) to express a more intense level of the original words meaning, but "damn you" is just plain profanity, willfully directed at someone with the intent of condemning their eternal soul to hell.

The older I became, the more I travelled, the more people I met, the more cultures I experienced, the more I came to accept certain slang expressions that as a child I would have been spanked for. While in certain company I'd hear these forbidden utterances used for wonderful descriptive purposes and feel no shame upon hearing them. The culture saw them only as expressions to articulate the point. The company, in a sense, can tend to dictate the vocabulary.

I'm not saying that one should not be principled. Sometimes the chameleon strategy will compromise the integrity of your faith and your convictions. Anything that will jeopardize the integrity of your word is not a good thing. For those who have convictions which inspire separate, monk-like vocabularies, I applaud you. I respect conviction. It falls on different people in different ways at different times, and it is key to not disregard it. However, there are certain words that get lumped in with "swearing" or "profanity" that I feel can take on different meanings based on the cultural context in which they're used. These terms I define as "slang," much like "shut-up." I want to break down the difference between "shut-up" and "damn you." I want to try to understand the difference between profanity and slang.

Slang can be defined as dialect, jargon, or colloquialisms (ie "bling" is accepted slang for jewelry). No definition of slang involves blasphemy or obscenity. Profanity, however, is often defined as blasphemous, obscene, irreverent, etc. Language becomes profane when it is used with irreverence towards God, or as a weapon against our neighbor (who God calls us to love). Because of my convictions, I never want to be viewed as irreverent towards God (especially in the company of those who don't believe in God). Regardless of the company I'm in, I want to be known as somebody who takes seriously the implications of using profanity, especially for someone of my faith. For the purpose of examining this topic I will probably use some language that you (the reader) might deem profane, so you should know that I do not use this language with offensive intent, but rather for "research" purposes.

I know there are plenty of verses in the Bible about speaking kindly and non-offensively, so I hope you read this in the humblest of ways. For the sake of "research" I want to break some of these slang terms down, however, I understand there is a chance I will still offend someone. Let's say for a second you weren't worried about your kids hearing a "bad word," or you weren't afraid of your parents finding out you were reading one, or you weren't concerned with what your friends thought about your spiritual life. Let's say for a second you didn't care about all that extraneous shit. Let's just say you really wanted to develop a healthy non-religious understanding of the English language. You'll notice I just said "shit." I said it instead of "stuff." If this blog wasn't about slang, I probably wouldn't have put it there, because it didn't need to be there to articulate my point. I essentially chose to call your worries "shit" instead of "stuff." You probably felt some emotion when you read it. Maybe you interpreted it as an expression of my intense distaste for worry, or perhaps you just felt shock. I'll admit it was sort of exuberantly shocking to write it. What is "shit" anyways? A harsh word for "poop?" An abrupt term for "stuff"? The two words mean the same thing, it's just that one has a more negative, emotional connotation than the other. Veterans don't talk about being in the "stuff" in Korea, because "stuff" can also have good connotations. The Korean War was worse than "stuff." You can get a bunch of stuff for Christmas, or ship a bunch of supplies and stuff to Haiti for relief. Shit, however, is never positive (unless you're from a culture which lacks descriptive terms for good things and chooses to use "cool as shit" or "you're the shit" as positive expressions). Shit is a bad situation. It's the mess an animal makes at your expense. You never step in "stuff," stinky and oozing all over your car door and floor mats. That isn't stuff, that isn't even poop. Poop is something that babies do, or well behaved doggies on walks with their bag handling masters. Shit is the mess an animal makes, its negative through and through, and a very uniquely descriptive word in my opinion. No other word can properly explain the meaning. You can say that someone is lying, or that they are full of garbage, but nothing will interpret better your distaste for lying when you refer to their lies simply as "bullshit."

I know some of you might be flabbergasted already, and might even be more horrified to know that I'm going to bring the Bible into this topic. I've never really had a filter so here goes... Philippians 3:8 says, 

"What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ"

There are a lot of places I could take that verse, but since this is a discussion about language I'll stick to the topic at hand. Paul uses the word "rubbish." Some translations use "dung." In original Greek the word used is skuvbalon. Skuvbalon is used very rarely in popular Greek text and used only in context with emotionally charged topicsusually when the author wishes to invoke revulsion in his audience. In other words, its a harsh, revolting term for animal excrement, used to disgust the reader. It's slang. Rubbish and dung are words that do not shock or disgust me, however, if the word was interpreted to "bullshit," it would probably be a more accurate translation from the Greek. It's probably closer to what Paul was so adamantly expressing. Rubbish at some point might have meant something terribly revolting in English, maybe dung too... but now they sound like something a British Lord would say after losing money on a horse race. They just can't translate fully the meaning of skuvbalon. Of course, we get the idea of the passage, and I'm not debating the accuracy of the translation... I'm merely saying the original word that Paul used had more revolting and shocking connotations than the "proper English" translation.

Of course, there are certain cultural norms that one must follow. You cannot go around offending people and expect them to respect you and listen to your convictions. You probably shouldn't try using slang with grandma, or at your church, because chances are those folks have pretty strict guidelines against the use of such words. Paul also says, 
"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:3) 

So one should never try to be offensive. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't have a stroke every time you hear a slang term in a descriptive context. The motives are rarely defiant... it's usually just cultural differences.

I remember my dad used to pick up a group of kids from the projects and take them to Sunday school. Sometimes I would ride along in the front seat of our Pontiac station wagon as we went to pick these kids up. One day as we exited the station wagon at the church, one of the kids stepped in dog poop. "He stepped in crap!" another kid yelled, and they all started laughing, "Awwww gross! Crap man! It's crap!" I was horrified. "Crap" was a word you could get the belt for in my house. I remember watching my dad, expecting him to get really angry with these kids. He did nothing, in fact, he laughed a little and told the kid to wipe it off before he went inside.

Culturally we used different language, and my dad understood that. He wasn't shocked by it, although if it came out of my mouth it'd be more than a "talking-to" I'd get. We were expected to speak differently in our family and church. Our cultural standard for slang was different, but it didn't make theirs wrong.

So there you have it, my two cents on the functionality of slang, when used in proper context and company I have no problem with it. Now let me tell you how this applies to my current life.

The Classic Crime is a band that tries to play for everyone. We pride ourselves in having a diverse audience of people from all walks of life. Music is a universal language after all, and we never want to form some exclusive, singular sub-culture with our fan-base. We try to attract all cultures. However, sometimes those different cultures clash. Some fans, when commenting on our Facebook or Myspace pages, will say "You guys are fucking awesome!" Sometimes other, more conservative fans will chastise them for their use of "loose language." I feel like the more conservative fans can tend miss the point. The point is that this person thinks we're great. They think we're so great, they're using an extreme word to express it. Perhaps they do not share the same faith, convictions, or doctrine, and perhaps the term "fucking awesome" is used quite frequently in their homes as an expression that is used to refer to something as "extremely good." We don't know, but what we do know is that they aren't saying, "You guys fucking suck!" Which can then be interpreted as profanity because the language is being used as a weapon, or an extreme expression of hatred against us. This, in no culture, can be justified as a useful thing (even though we try to accept those profane criticisms with love as well).

I always read the comments like, "You guys are fucking awesome!" with a clean conscience. Not only that, but I love that those types of people are listening to our music. The words that hurt me are the words that ignorantly and profanely involve God in some way. No matter where I am or who I'm with those words are like nails on a chalkboard. The people who say them never bother me, really, because usually they're folks who have no idea what they are talking about, but their words can tend to make me wince. I believe that God loves us incredibly, so it hurts when someone He loves chooses to use His name as a description for something negative or an attack on their neighbor. This is where words can clash with my convictions. Slang rarely convicts me (and only when used out of context), but profanity always feels icky, in any context. To me, anyways.

Congratulations for making it this far. I hope this post was informative for you, or at least a peek into my "worldly" perspective. The circles I run in aren't the most refined, but I think sometimes refinement is over-rated and holds no "big picture" value. I like to keep company with people who have honest convictions, love without excuses and say what they really feel. With that sentiment in mind, I'll finish this blog.

I love you all!


Monday, February 8, 2010

My Old Journal

I've never been a prolific writer. Most of my writing has come in waves, separated by long dry-spells. That's why it dawned on me today that probably my most prized material possessions are my old journals. It can take me years to fill just one, so if I ever want a snap shot of things I went through, things I dreamt, hated and loved, I just have to open one of a hand full of books. 

Reading one of my old journals this morning I thought, "This is why I need to journal more in 2010." It's really fascinating to hear myself talk to myself, it's sort of like traveling through time. I feel sort of like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol... I'm reading along thinking, "This guy is really messed up... I'm glad I'm not him anymore." 

I laughed really hard when I read this one from a few years ago:

9/18/07 12:51 AM (Don't ask why I mark the exact time, its a habit of mine)

Today I ventured from the apartment for the first time since I've been home. Home... it doesn't really feel like it. I've been hiding out, on vacation, doing absolutely nothing spectacular. My wife and friends are out working all day, furthering themselves, or perhaps just expending energy in some constructive way. Today I ate breakfast, ran, showered, played guitar, broke a string, ate lunch, re-stringed my guitar, finished a song, dabbled on the internet, got mandatory renters insurance, printed some bank statements and watched TV. Still, after all that activity, it was only out of sheer boredom that I took the elevator ride to my faded-red '89 Civic Hatchback, which was a hand-me-down that my younger, more successful brothers so graciously handed back "up." I took it to Walgreens and bought anti-fungal creme for a red spot in my under-arm that I think might be ringworm, which is most likely the result of sleeping in a van in the heat of summer. I diagnose myself these days, as doctors and health insurance are much too rich for my blood. I'm no MD, but I do a pretty good job. Did I mention people like to use my bed as a toe-jam cleaner? Probably why I've had ringworm twice in the last year. By bed, I mean pad-that-I-sleep-on-in-van. I'm still getting used to the stationary bed from which I write this. To qualify my laziness as of late, I'm stopping this entry due to a cramp in my wrist. I'm apparently not conditioned to write a full two pages.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Expecting Good Results

Why do people, myself included, do the wrong thing and expect good results? Have we become so good at justifying our poor choices that we blind ourselves to the consequences? From managing debt to managing relationships we continually fail, and it seems our natural gut reaction is to ask "Why me?"

You ever talk to a friend who has made a sequence of terrible decisions and finds themselves in a "pickle," for lack of a more severe term? They play the victim, asking why can't they be happy, don't they deserve to be? They act like someone else did this to them... If you're like me you have to resist the urge to reach out and slap them and say, "You did this!" "You made the decision to complicate your relationship, to ignore your convictions, to spend money you didn't have, to sleep through your alarm, to put off your obligations or go back on your word... You did this."

We all do this, and yet we sit here expecting good results.

We all make poor choices and expect to be fulfilled. Even the little things, like watching too much TV, or letting the clutter build up, buying things we don't need or putting off paying a bill. Then when it all comes to a head, we freak out like someone dropped a bomb on our lives. We become stressed out and unravelled that the only rational response seems to be to blame anyone or anything rather than ourselves.

In my last post I wrote about our natural inclination to do the wrong thing because it provides a temporary benefit, as opposed to the right thing, which is usually difficult temporarily but pays off down the road. Perhaps there are parallels here. Our natural forgetfulness and lack of foresight seems to blind us to the idea of consequence. No matter how much trouble we get in for things we did, we rarely learn enough to cease from getting into trouble in the future. We tend to value things based on their instant gratification rather than their long term results. The right thing is so tedious in the present that we just cannot be motivated enough to invest in it.

So what do you have to do to get good results in your relationships, your business, your life? I know I've said this before, but I always feel like honesty is a great place to start whenever you want to grow as a human being. Be honest about your shortfalls, where you've ignored better judgement, and be open to confessing those things. Sometimes the best way to get past something is to speak it, name it, and share it with someone else. Someone who can hold you accountable. We are faced with choices every day, and if we want good results in life, we've got to pick the narrow road, the more difficult path, because in the end it's the one that pays off.

When I was in high school things came pretty easy. My good grades came natural and people valued my work ethic, but I sacrificed very little. I gave of myself only enough to get by and to maintain an image. When good results stopped coming in the temporary I had to learn what it took to sacrifice for the long term. I had to learn what it took to build a valuable future.

One thing I've learned in my mid-twenties is that nothing good comes easy, and there is no replacement for hard work. If you take that mentality to your relationships, to your school or your workplace, you can truly expect good results. Give of yourself fully and sacrifice for the right reasons and good things will follow. Don't get tossed by the wind or follow cheap thrills, because if you do that not only will you lose the respect of your peers, you'll end up hating yourself as well. Dig deep and challenge yourself, stay true to the right things, the hard things, and you will be fulfilled.