New Strategy in Culture War against Profanity

This is why we are losing the culture war: I'm working the apparel concession stand at a college football game as part of a fundraiser for my daughter's high school. I spot a college student wearing a shirt emblazoned with a profane suggestion for his team's rival — a suggestion that includes a word variously employed as a noun, an adjective and an adverb, but in this case strenuously invoked as a verb.

I point out the shirt to my co-worker behind the apparel counter, lamenting the lack of manners and general civility in society that makes it possible for a person to exercise his right to free speech so offensively.

The next thing I know, my volunteer co-worker has engaged the profanely-attired college guy in a verbal assault.

"That shirt makes you look ignorant," he says.

"Huh?" the college boy replies.

"Stupid. Ignorant and stupid. That's how you look wearing a shirt like that."

I don't disagree, but it's clear this approach isn't going to get us anywhere, culturally speaking.

I try to defuse the situation with a softer angle. "Dude," I say, "there are kids and old people all over this place. A lot of them will be really offended by your shirt. Maybe you could turn it inside out."

The college guy considers this suggestion for a nanosecond and then remembers that someone else just called him ignorant and stupid. He walks away.

If you're keeping score, that's another point for barbarism; civility, 0.

We've all been in a situation like this at one time or another. You're at a ballgame, and the man in front of you shouts a suggestion to the referee that's both painful to contemplate and physically impossible.

Or you're waiting in line at the grocery checkout while the woman in front of you dresses down her child with a stream of four-letter words.

You're annoyed — incredulous even. But you're oddly paralyzed, caught between a confrontation you would like to have and the knowledge that you'll only elevate your blood pressure while creating a useless and unpleasant scene.

How many of us have delivered eloquent lectures in our heads to admonish the uncouth idiots tailgating at the next parking space or camped out near our spot on the beach?

How often have we ranted — articulately but unheard — while driving behind a car whose vulgar bumper stickers betray a serious anger-management problem?

We would like to say the very thing my volunteer co-worker said to the college guy — or just yell, "Hey fella, you're a buffoon" — but instead, we stand silent, seething, thinking of pithy put-downs and great comebacks.

On occasion, we might try speaking up, as a friend of mine did recently at a ballgame. When the woman next to him started tossing the f-bomb, he nudged her and said, "There are kids all around us. How about you watch what you say?"

He must have struck a nerve because she responded by turning around and apologizing to the man behind her, who was watching the game with his two children.

The father's response? "Don't worry about it, honey — they hear that word all the time."


The sad fact is we mostly have become desensitized to public profanity and coarse conversation. We shrug our shoulders, mutter something like, "That's what's wrong with the world today," and move on.

But maybe that's what's wrong with the world today.

Maybe it's time for us to regain a sense of righteous indignation when we're confronted with behavior that chips away at social convention.

I'm not sure my fellow volunteer made any headway with the college guy by letting him know his T-shirt advertised his diminished intellectual capacity. You have to figure someone who thinks it's all right to wear a shirt with the f-word on it enjoys the attention he gets by shocking people more than the recognition he might get by learning a few multisyllabic words.

I think, instead, it's time to try an alternative approach — a tactic that falls somewhere between the brilliant but undelivered lecture and the full-scale self-righteous rant.

Next time it happens, I'm going to try to uplift civilization as we know it simply by asking nicely for more polite public behavior.

Obviously, there's a good chance this won't work. In fact, it's likely that nicely asking someone to stop using profanity in public will elicit a response in keeping with the very problem I'm trying to address.

I suppose in that case I might learn some new phrases — or at least I can continue to mull over the many parts of speech covered by specific four-letter words in the English language.

Then again, it might work, and if it does, there's a chance I could advance the score for civilized society. I may not win the culture war, but at least I'll be in it.

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  • Guest

    I wish the author would stop her coy manner of addressing profanity.  There is something wrong with the culture, and if we react to it, we do.  especially if we normally do not have to deal with profanity.  It is best to say something like,what would your mother or grandmother – or kids – think, but we're human.  if it offends us, we have the right to defend ourselves.

     Please, stop be coy in describing the actual words.  Your description almost makes me sick 'something physically we couldn't do.'  That's just as bad.  Just tell us it's one of the handful of words being used left and right in this messed up society

  • Guest

    Deirdrew, Mrs. Hicks is a writer, she writes with style. Actually a clever student or fan would write exactly that on his shirt and get a chuckle without offending anyone. Profanity is used in our culture because the user wants the shock effect, as seen and heard in the movies and on TV. It's one of the overused freedoms of an ignorant society.

  • Guest

    By the way, ignoring, acting superior or correcting someone is not 'new strategy.'  Your headline misleads

    People say things in public that 30 years ago would not have even been considered

     Hicks does not write with style FOR A FAMILY SITE, it is incredibly inappropriate.  You are more condescending goral to someone who has a legitimate concern than hicks even is to readers. WHY CAN'T THIS SITE FOR ONCE AND FOR ALL ACT LIKE A FAMILY SITE????  Such inappropriate comments from you and from hicks proves indeed that this society is falling apart, when someone on an allegedly Catholic site has to go to such lengths to deliniate physical acts. 

  • Guest

    by the way, this is supposed to be a Catholic site AND a family site – do the saints write that way? disgusting

    goral, I think you are one of those people that run around here arguing with everyone, as i recall

  • Guest

    How else could Mrs. Hicks describe what she did? Do you object that the article is presented at all? I have no say in the matter. I do argue sometimes, not all the time and not with "everyone". Deirdrew, I'm not even entirely disagreeing with you, just partly. I like it when posters get worked up over nothing. They remind me of me.

  • Guest

    I would imagine that many of the people Jesus spent time with (whores, tax collectors, etc.) probably struggled with this, too.  I find it hard to love sinners and have mercy on them as Jesus did.  It humbles me to think of how much God loves us, all of us, even those of us (myself included at times) who let dirty words flies out of our mouths.  Would that I will have the love of that merciful God the next time I hear someone curse in public. 


  • Guest

    This is where you practice 'the LOOK'.

    I was beside a gentleman on line one day in walmart who called his child a name,…a nasty name,  in front of my child, who is around the same age. I was really shocked. I couldn't help but visually impale him when I caught his eye with the coolest look of disdain I could manage….just a few seconds of the evil eye..and the next thing I know he was apologizing to his child.

     it doesn't always work that neatly…but the 'LOOK' speaks a thousand words.