What’s With the Potty Mouth?

Jerry Lucky Commentary January 2012

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2012 All Rights Reserved


If you spend much time listening to music these days it’s not unusual to hear lyrics that incorporate

all manner of bad language, swearing and cursing. I guess since we’ve learned to talk we’ve learned

to misuse the language. When I was young, someone once told me that swearing is a “poor” man’s

way of expressing himself. Poor as in not very educated.


There are some who say that swearing is therapeutic, that it’s cathartic and they will point to studies that show how people who swear have less stress. I tend to wonder if these studies are funded or at least conducted by people who swear. And in any case it strikes me there’s more than one way to relieve stress. On the other side of the coin, there are those who feel that swearing is the ruination of the language and they have websites that list many reasons why we should not swear.


But I want to focus on lyrics. If you listen to pop music, more and more these days you will hear certain words that never used to be there. Or many times there are just spaces where a word was supposed to be, but the radio station simply played the edited version of the song. And this has even been occurring in prog as well where you would think there would be more care and consideration given to the lyrical expression.


I have to admit I never did develop much of a habit for swearing or cursing. And that’s really all it is; a habit. Something you do at least 21 times so that by the end of it, it seems natural. Habits are hard to break. They infect our souls so deeply that we may never root them out. It seems impossible to find the 21 times to NOT to do or say the thing you are trying to stop.


There are some who would suggest that using swear words or some other form of bad language in lyrics makes it more truthful or honest, more ‘from the heart’ so to speak. To which I would reply that’s like saying not cleaning your living space is a more honest way of living – it expresses your nature more honestly. While this may be true, seems to me both are just expressions of being lazy.


For I would suggest swearing in lyrics is just being lazy. In the book The Story of English we’re told that there are over 2700 languages in the world and English is by far “the richest in vocabulary.” The Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words not counting all the technical or scientific ones. The closest other language is German with about 185,000 words and French has even fewer than that.


So I have trouble believing you couldn’t find better, more articulate, more descriptive words to express your feelings? You mean to tell me your emotional range of expression is so limited that you couldn’t find a word that was more descriptive. Or was it more likely you were too lazy to find a better word to rhyme with “miss”, “hit” or “luck”? You have 500,000 words at your disposal and you keep coming back to the same old clichés? There’s a word for that – lazy.


Some may say, but what about Chaucer? Here was high-art and he used all kinds of words we wouldn’t dare use today. That’s partly true except for the fact that many of the “dirty” words Chaucer used weren’t considered rude or “dirty” in his day. Conversely there are words we commonly use today that Chaucer would never have voiced. But seriously if you are comparing your lyrics with “dirty” words to Chaucer’s writings, I’m thinking you have other issues.


To my mind the use of swearing, cursing or general bad language is distracting and cheapens your craft. It ends up being so “sixth-grade playground” where you feel so clever at having put that word in there and then everyone goes about giggling like children doing something naughty.


I’d suggest picking up a dictionary, read a bit, and learn to verbally express your real emotions in a way that enriches the hearer rather than cheapens your craft. There is a line from the movie Amadeus where Mozart says, “I am a vulgar man, but my music is not!” If in fact Mozart said that I’d suggest that’s a lofty goal for all composers to strive for. I doubt this world needs more vulgar music. At least that’s what I think.


Jerry Lucky