As a general rule, I try not to cuss – not in my speech, not in my columns. Am I perfect on either count? Fuck no. But today, I’ll make an exception to prove a point.
Walking around I.V. and overhearing people’s conversations, it’s sometimes hard to remember that we go to a school with an average SAT score of around 580 on the verbal portion of the test. That’s the 76th percentile, meaning that out of the 1.3 million people who take the SAT each year, our students outperformed76 percent of them, achieving a mean score 74 points above the national average of 506.
That means students here know words like, “ambrosial,” “inveigh,” “judicature,” “sylph,” and “testator.” For comparison, here is a conversation I overheard on my way home the other day, presumably regarding the young man’s midterm:
Guy: “First of all, that’s fucked up.”
Guy: “Second of all, fuckin’ what the fuck?”
Friend: “Yeah man, I totally hear you on that one.”
Suddenly, the epithet becomes adjective, noun, and verb. Wow.
If we were to translate this into the language of the SAT, it might go something like this:
Guy: “First of all, the midterm was an attempt at defaming the students.”
Guy: “Second of all, where did the teacher find the affectation to do something of this sort?”
Alright, so it doesn’t have quite the same flair. I used to think that curse words were merely failures to communicate something fully that could have been made clear in a few extra words – and I still believe this is true, for the most part. But I have friends who point out, and I have to concede, that there are times when the only word that will truly express your thoughts is monosyllabic and usually four letters.
But personally I would think those instances would be few and far between. So either there’s a lot of pent up anger in this community or people are letting their vocabularies slip.
I’m not under the impression there are any words that are inherently bad. To give the social sciences their due, words and their meaning are socially constructed. They’re not bad in and of themselves. What makes some words offensive to me is their ability to stand in for complete thoughts.
Of course on the other extreme, academic writing isn’t fun either. I think everyone has found that one sentence in the midst of their reading for an anthropology, sociology, or film course that sends their brain reeling like a hamster on a motorized flywheel.
The idea of a school where professors use too many words and the students too few isn’t all that appealing; there’s something too Orwellian about it.
There has to be a happy medium somewhere. A sociology course where group stress management is referred to as “shit hitting the fan” might be nice for a change, or a party where the host screams, “Ye-gads, the keg is expended.”
I’ll leave it to you to decide. Be creative – that’s what this is all about.
Josh Braun is the Daily Nexus science and technology editor. Actually, we didn’t realize he knew these words.