Recently, I’ve been embroiled in heated debate over a local slogan asking the public not to litter, however, the phrase includes an abbreviation for locally used profanity. There has been major outcry over the inclusion of the profanity, even in its abbreviated form. These people are only thinking of the possible moral impact of the profanity on the young and impressionable minds, and missing the real message.
My thought on the matter is this. By the time children learn what the abbreviation could mean, they wouldn’t be offended by the message. The authorities working so hard to hide and get rid of the slogan could better spend their efforts actually cracking down on the litterers. If I had children, as I would do if any profanity was exposed to them in my presence, I would ignore it. If or when ask what it means, and I can tell them anything I want or I can tell the the truth and give them context for its use.
People who disagree think the message could be just as effective without the profanity. The word has been around for eons and the social moral fibre of the country has withstood until now. There have been countless messages and promotions and discussions and studies and pleas for the public to stop littering. Teachers reinforced the values of parents and vice versa of many children to not litter and it has become ingrained in them. Who knows, maybe the purpose of the controversial slogan was to violently disrupt the status quo and spark a national discussion about littering and our priorities as a nation. If not, it’s not a bad by product.
Your sensibilities give these strings of letters their potency. “We’re told that these are words, early on, that you can’t say. We punish people for saying them,” says cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen, who explores profanity-related research in his new book What the F. “So we’re training kids, socially, that these words are powerful.” Like any powerful tool, these words can be used “for constructive or destructive purposes,” Bergen says. Those strong feelings drive some people to try to stamp profanity out.
If people are relying on the state to shelter their children from obscenities, while they have a role to play, the onus is really on parents to lay a solid moral foundation in their children to learn right and wrong and context for everything they come across in the world, including cuss words.