In the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts, a citizens’ group is trying to impose a fine on those who “accost or address another person with profane or obscene language in the street.” I’m glad to see that someone is fighting back, that not everyone accepts the decline in civility, vocabulary and polite discourse as inevitable.
But it’s an uphill battle – and not only because of the First Amendment. The language in the streets definitely isn’t what it used to be. And no one (outside of Middleborough) seems to care.
My friend told me that she switched her daughter’s nursery school after the gym teacher told them to “Move their butts” (I’m even embarrassed to type the word). But she was the only one in the class who did. She was the only one it bothered.
Everyday conversation has become peppered with vulgarity, constant references to bodily functions and out and out swearing. Not to mention bad grammar! And it’s tough to fight it.
Yet Judaism suggests an even higher standard than just not swearing – we’re supposed to use “lashon naki”, literally a clean tongue – in other words, elevated language. In modern society, that’s almost like speaking Shakespearean English!
I try to teach my children to say “expecting’ instead of “pregnant” and they look at me like I’m from Mars. I want them to be sensitive to the nuance and delicate nature of words. It’s a lost art but certainly not an irrelevant one.
Even as texting and, to some extent, emailing have destroyed the ability to spell and any sense of sentence structure, it is still possible to be thoughtful in choosing our words. It is still possible to be sensitive and caring – sensitive not only to how our words impact others but to how they affect us as well.
Self-respect and respect for the Almighty’s creation dictate that we speak in a way that befits the children of the King. Any other manner is unbecoming; it’s below our lofty stature.
I refuse to concede that we've lost the war. But if we want to turn the tide, we need to start modeling the correct mode of speech. We need to “teach our children well.” Mostly through example. We need to encourage our friends, our children’s friends, their teachers to speak in the same elevated fashion.
We need to try. Otherwise I’m considering moving to Middleborough.