I was shocked by a recent article that claims that teenagers use curse words 80 to 90 times per day on average (Curse words trendy language among teenagers). I was shocked because I thought it would be more like a thousand.
The need to use so many swear words says something–either about the state of our language or the state of our teenagers–but I choose to focus on the effectiveness of curse words.
The effectiveness of a curse word is in the effect that it has on the speaker or the listener. I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure that both are reasons that teenagers use so many. They want to be perceived as tough or cool or trendy, so they use curse words; they also like the shock value that the words have on adults. Swear words and teenagers–it’s a match made it heaven–I mean hell.
While some of us can work five swear words into a sentence about grandma, puppies, and rainbows, it might be good to remember that they lose their effectiveness with overuse just like any other word. Back in the heyday of stand-up comedians in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most stand-up comedians prided themselves on how many swear words they could include in a 15-minute set; in fact, they depended on them for their comedy. At the end of the show, you’d be lucky to remember one f-filled joke. Most of those comedians, I will note, had a shorter shelf life than a carton of milk in a sauna.
That contrasted dramatically with Jerry Seinfeld, who refused to rely on curse words. In the one instance in which Seinfeld decided to use a swear word on his television show, it was done in the context of his being a mentor to a young boy. It was funny and memorable–because it was in context and was the exception to the rule.
I guess I’m not saying that you shouldn’t swear but that you should pick your spots…
–Paul “F-bomb” Yeager