In Praise of Low-Salt Language

 

Salt Shaker

Am I a prude? Am I uptight? No one’s ever told me so.

But the conversations I overhear every day gross me out.

A lot of this comes from overuse of one word: shit. People always talk about how their sports team “shit the bed,” or how work was a “shitshow” today.

The words we use bring a particular energy into our lives. Language reframes our reality. That’s why Republicans and Democrats use different vocabulary to describe the same thing: “illegal aliens” versus “undocumented immigrants,” for example.

If a topic is being debated, one word changes the flavor and texture of that debate.

If we talk about shit all day, why are we surprised when we feel shitty when the day is over?

Watch Our Language

A lot of the signs at the Women’s March said stuff like “Get the Trump government out of my fucking twat” and “My menstrual blood will rain down upon you, President Douchebag.” (Can you tell which one of those I made up?)*

Many of those signs were funny, and they did help blow off steam. But their tone alienated many moderate and conservative women who might otherwise have been sympathetic to the marchers’ cause.

Graphic: No Longer Novel?

The general public conversation has taken a turn for the graphic. We’ve come a long way from when Lenny Bruce was arrested for his stand-up. He’d barely be rated PG-13 today.

It’s terrific that comedians like Nikki Glaser and Amy Schumer can be frank about sexuality, bodily functions, whatever. But as with anything, “strong language” weakens when it’s overused.

Obscenity can be deployed for humor, for shock value, for emphasis. None of those work when it’s utterly routine.

We can still speak our minds while speaking carefully.

Flaunting Brainpower

When she was in 6th grade, my friend Calista’s teacher pulled her aside to ask her to swear less. “Why?” Calista demanded, chip on her shoulder.

“When you swear, it hides your intelligence,” her teacher explained.

Calista still remembered this moment 20+ years later. It was a powerful message: Anything that hides our smarts is a hindrance.

A Modest Proposal

Guys, let’s put the “gentle” back in gentleman. You don’t have to be super-saintly in your discourse, like my friend Joe, who often drops H-bombs (that’s for “heck,” of course).

But listen to yourself. See if you’re repeating the same phrases over and over. If so, are those your words, or someone else’s?

And are they saying what you really mean?

Women, when you hear yourself being salty, ask yourself if that’s the flavor you’re going for. Maybe it is. In that case, great!

But as in cooking, when language is oversalted, it gets unappetizing. And can raise blood pressure.

Join me in this experiment. For a day, or a week, talk as if your grandma or grandpa were listening in on your every word. If you start to get crass or obscene without purpose, find other, more creative ways to express your ideas.

Let’s elevate our language above the run-of-the-mill shit.

* The second sign’s wording is my own invention.

Photo by Araceli Arroyo, via Creative Commons on Flickr.

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Fresh and Tasty News Across the Spectrum

A pile of newspapers in purple light.Because American politics are so volatile now—or at least, because the volatility now feels personal to me—I’m finally reading the news. Lots of news.

It’s been painful, during the campaign, election, and first 100 days of the new administration, to realize how little I’ve understood my own political identity.

I was raised by liberal progressives in a libertarian state. That’s shaped me. That’s not going anywhere.

But my own beliefs, I’m realizing, are more centrist. And I feel more and more frustrated with liberal discourse and media. There’s a lot of arm-waving and chest-beating and hair-tearing-out, less of an attempt to truly understand oppositional viewpoints.

So I’ve settled on a news diet that feels pretty nutritious. Your mileage may vary, and I’m not saying that the following are The Only Sources. But they’re helping me feel better informed, and less stuck in my liberal/progressive echo chamber.

From left to right on the political spectrum, here’s where I’m getting my news.

I listen to National Public Radio in the morning. I like the warmth and breadth of their coverage, and it’s also been great to see them bringing in intelligent Republican and conservative commentators. Listening every day feels calming and empowering. My station is WBUR and I kick over a monthly donation to help them do their good work.

I also just subscribed to The Washington Post and read their online edition. I grew up in a household of New York Times devotees, and wanted another well-respected publication with a slightly different point of view. So far their overview of politics seems pretty good, though their journalists vary in the rigor of their reporting and in their writing style. Still, I like this publication for helping me get a big-picture view of what’s happening in DC.

On paper, I read The Economist, which has done more than any other news source to keep me sane over the last few months. They have a dry British humor, and are fiscally conservative, socially more liberal. It’s enthralling to watch their reaction to our new administration, and to compare them with US news sources.

On the right, I read Jonah Goldberg’s weekly email newsletter for the National Review. I first heard Jonah talk on NPR, and was struck right away by his quick wit and broad knowledge. We differ on a lot of points, but he always gives me something to think about and a new lens to view politics through.

Also on the right, I just started reading The Federalist. Again, a lot of their writers are coming from a different viewpoint from mine—which is uncomfortable, but useful, for me as a reader.

I especially admire their senior editor, Mollie Hemingway. Her recent takedown of sloppy journalism in widely read liberal sources is crisp and well researched, and reveals some fundamental issues facing all sides of the press today.

There are many other great pubs out there, both online and in print. Which ones are you turning to in these tumultuous times?

Photo by Jon S via Creative Commons on Flickr.