The other day, as I was cruising along Henry Avenue in Roxborough, a young guy in a Hummer behind me was furiously beeping at me. Apparently, I was going too slow for him.
I stayed in my lane at the same speed. He found an opening, pulled into the adjacent lane, and, as he was passing me, slowed down and barked out the open passenger-side window, "Get the f- off the road, you slow motherf-er!" Then he sped off.
It seems to me that America is more foul-mouthed today than ever before. There is hardly an arch to the national eyebrow when assorted sexual, scatological, and anatomical expletives and expressions are used publicly. We have heard such language rather regularly used by some famous people. Who can forget Chase Utley's colorful elation at the Phillies' victory parade?
Then again, you don't have to be an expert lip-reader to figure out what is fulminating from the mouths of some athletes after they strike out in baseball, administer a head-busting hit in football, or throw down an in-your-face slam dunk in basketball. And in case your "read my lips" skills are not up to speed, there is often a roving open microphone to confirm what you suspected.
Similarly, Jane Fonda let loose a C-word on NBC's Today show, and Diane Keaton released an "F-bomb" during an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. Cher has dropped more than a few F-bombs, too, as have Nicole Ritchie and Bono.
The Supreme Court has taken notice. It recently decided to give the Federal Communications Commission authority to regulate and penalize broadcasters for airing even fleeting instances of potty language.
I teach a course in writing at Philadelphia's International Christian High School. I asked my kids to write about the modern use of crude language. Senior John Scull wrote that using expletives "demonstrates a laziness and an ignorance" of "more meaningful expressions."
Senior Yvonne Carter noted a Pew Charitable Trust study indicating that 81 percent of Americans admit to using profanity. She wrote, "The shows kids watch are influencing them to communicate in crude, rude, and lewd language."
My students brought up a salient point about communication, or the lack thereof. Explicit sexual, scatological, and anatomical expressions fail to communicate clearly and precisely. These locutions are lazy substitutes for fuller, more complete, more meaningful vocabulary. They are abstract noises that convey a feeling, but not quite a meaning, and contribute to the dumbing-down of society. Ineluctably - and sadly - ideas, thoughts, and perceptions stand still.
As senior Rafael Gonzalez said, "Get them a dictionary." Good idea. That day on Henry Avenue, I had a small dictionary in the school bag in my car. Had the Hummer guy not sped off so fast, I would have reached for it and tossed it into the open passenger-side window.