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Profanity in the Age of Depravity

Linguistic profanity (“foul language”) is not as widespread in the languages of the world as one might infer from its prevalence in English (or Russian, for that matter, with its elaborate system of swear words and sayings known as mat [< mat’ ‘mother’]). Japanese, for example, has only a handful of the mildest profanities, and Hebrew (unlike Yiddish) has had to borrow wholesale from the rich lode of Arabic to stock this sector of its lexicon.

Coarseness of speech in American English has increased in the public domain during the last thirty years, along with a general coarsening of manners and morals, witness the routine occurrence of formerly banned colloquial designations of genitalia and associated bodily functions in the speech of females. When a young female trainer unblushingly uses the word butt (as in butt cheeks, instead of buttocks or rear-end) in referring to the anatomical part of a geriatric client, one can only conclude that the age of depravity is indisputably upon us.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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