Vulgar Language

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Title: “I don’t give a f***ing sh*t” or whatever…

The increased use of vulgar language in public—not just in society and popular culture but, more importantly, on our own campus—provides an indication that something is profoundly wrong, especially in the Villanova community. Vulgar self-expression in public is not only offensive. It is also alarming because public vulgarity bespeaks an erosion of cultural and moral proportions. This, in turn, poses a threat to civil discourse which, after all, is the primary medium through which the members of a university community communicate, discuss, and evaluate the worth of their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

These thoughts came to mind the other day as I was walking to my office through the St. Augustine Center.

Seated on the floor outside the third floor seminar room while waiting for it to be vacated, three students were engaged in an animated discussion of seeming urgency. As I approached and passed by the students, offering a perfunctory “Hi,” one of the three—responding to what the second student had just asserted—said, “I don’t give a f**k.” Neglecting this student’s lack of public civility, I proceeded to my office and overheard the third student chiding the second, “You shouldn’t swear in front of a priest.” I thought it courageous that one of the two students chided the third for his abuse of language, although I disagreed with her reasoning. In response, the first student said: “I swear wherever I want. I don’t give a f***ing sh*t or whatever.” The truth vulgarly stated, the three returned to their previous conversation.

Walking down a stairway, across campus, or in a cafeteria, perhaps you heard a member of the Villanova community utter one or perhaps all of the following statements:* That b**ch! She’s a real c*nt.”* “Oh, f*** him. He’s a f***ing d***head son of a b**ch.”* “I hate that f***ing a**hole.”* “He godd***ed f***ing pi**es me off!”

Each of these statements is a direct quote I’ve heard this past month as I’ve walked up or down the stairway in Tolentine Hall or crisscrossed campus to my office in the St. Augustine Center.

I wish my experience was idiosyncratic; however, others have related stories indicating the increased use of vulgar language in public. Sharing my reflections with a theologian recently, he reminded me that the use of vulgarity has been providing color, contrast, shock, human, and texture to human discourse since before the Tower of Babel. Perhaps it is also true, as others have told me, that many people today don’t know the difference between vulgarity, slang, colloquial speech, or formal speech. Surely, in the Villanova community, we are called to be and to do better, especially as we express ourselves in public.

Because using vulgar language in public is essentially an uncivil act, exposing an individual who really doesn’t give a “f***ing s*it or whatever”, such speech slowly erodes the civil exchange of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. And, as the standard for what constitutes acceptable self-expression in a community slowly deteriorates, a cacophony of discordant voices supplants civil discourse.

If we are to be a university community, civil discourse demands more of us culturally and morally. Although we may not oftentimes reflect upon it, civil discourse demands a fundamental respect for the worth, beauty, and dignity of the gift that language is. Civil discourse also requires a fundamental respect for the worth, beauty, and dignity of those who will hear and be affected either directly or indirectly by the public use of language…even if those individuals don’t happen to be priests.

Fr. Richard M. Jacobs, OSA, is a member of the Department of Education and Human Services