Before I retired as an administrator and teacher, students began using the word freaking to describe many nouns. While I applauded their correct use of it as an adjective, I grimaced at its popular acceptance and use. Many discussions were held in my office or classroom concerning its vulgar intent. Sad to say, the students and some adults used it, but if in my presence a slight reprimand would be given. It was a discussion I lost as the students believed that freaking was acceptable in any situation because it was not, you know, that word.
It seems that the verbal intent of my students has now spread across our culture. Recently I saw a television commercial for Jif peanut butter. In the commercial a young woman sits on a park bench and spreads Jif over a slice of bread. As she takes a bite, a squirrel appears, and she throws it a tidbit. Soon, she is surrounded by squirrels, and one even sits on the arm of the park bench. She surveys the scene only to notice a human standing to her side who is dressed in a squirrel costume. An over voice says, “It’s that JIFiNG good.” As my students would say, it’s not the word, you know, so it’s okay.
Words and phrases come and go. Some excellent words, such as wicked fall out of fashion and become, too soon, archaic. Other words, such as gay, take on a new meaning altogether. A few, such as quote, become confused with a relative and enter the language in a new usage. And some, such as however and awesome, are doomed to misuse by the uninformed. Sadly, too many derogatory words, continue to be used by the mean and ignorant. And all of this applies to phrases as well. Our language changes, borrows, and evolves with our need for expression. For instance, a word or phrase, can shift meaning by it stress and use in a utterance. The popular two-word phrase beginning with mother can be a compliment or an insult. If someone says, for instance, “ He is a mean mother ……”, that is a high compliment. However, if someone says, “You mother ……”, that is an insult. Language shifts and moves and evolves with our needs. Word meanings change but substituting one similar word for another is wrong and dangerous.
It does not require a degree in semantics to follow the path of my students or the Jif commercial with their bending of words. For the students’ use, it is simple to see that they are just exchanging one acceptable word for another one. In the commercial, Jif is just using its brand name to exchange for the same one as my students. Now, that word not spoken or written but mentioned, is simply a word. Like any word, it has a context that requires its correct use. It should not, such as in the sad case of awesome, become overused and thus trite. Uttered at the correct moment and with the right company, it is a useful word. But it does not belong in polite company nor a commercial.
The substitution of freaking and JIFiNG are poor choices for expressing our feelings. Their use exhibit how our public language has become base. Even our President has encouraged foul language by his utterances against all disenfranchised people and his use of gutter language.
Our language is one of the few things we have for expression. However, our expressions through language reveal our thoughts. When alone in my workshop, upon hitting my finger with a hammer, I will utter certain words or expressions. Ouch does not seem to satisfy my frustration or relieve the pain. But when in public, more is required of all of us. We need to raise the level of our communication and show that we have a better vocabulary than that of small minded people.