More than four decades have passed since the shocking performance of the famous comedian George Carline. The monologue was performed in Milwaukee in 1972 and since that time, the issue of bad and good words is still controversial. Today, people use even more words that are offensive or profane. However, the government still cannot regulate, which words to forbid and which consider acceptable. Despite the fact that dirty words still exist, the question of language inconsistency and contradiction strikes many English learners and forces them to think critically. If George Carline was still alive, his speeches would be dedicated to dozens of dirty words and various language inconsistencies today. Although more and more words gain new meanings and lose their harmful effects, dirty words, different language inconsistencies and contradictions have become the reflections of cultural and social preferences of the modern world.
Carline’s “7 Dirty Words” became an essential breakthrough in the history of everyday language and its use in the media. His seven words are “shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits”. These words still sound offensive and are often forbidden. However, people use them in primetime network programming, television, at work and home more often. Thus, according to Bella, “Instances in which ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ were bleeped or muted in primetime network programming in 2010 increased in percentages by 2,409 percent and 763 percent, respectively, compared to the 2005 totals.” It happens because of the growing cultural acceptance of profane language and understanding that these are just the words, which help relieve stress and build relationships with other people. At the same time, the word ‘motherfucker’ still ranks the highest on the list of the most harmful words. It can be explained by the fact that the object of worship, a mother, is offended. Even though people accept such usual things as sexual intercourse and physical needs, they still cannot accept someone to hurt their family members, especially, a mother. The same happens when the word offends a human race or religion, because these subjects are taboo as they concern some personal issues. Thus, if forty years ago it was shameful to speak about sex and intimate parts of a body, today, it is normal. Consequently, the words considered dirty in the 1970s are common today.
Interestingly, Carline raised the question why people consider some words dirty and the others not. Later, he explains, “There are no bad words. Bad thoughts, bad intentions”. The attitude towards words lies in human minds and hearts but not in the words themselves. Someone does not find the word ‘nigger’offensive and uses it only to indicate the dark-brown color whereas other people might perceive it as a personal offense. The word is associated with racism and slavery. Therefore, today this word is often substituted with the ‘N’ word to avoid its harmful effect. Moreover, this word has almost disappeared from a cultural usage because of its negative meaning. However, if people did not know the history and the word’s origin, they would perceive this word differently. Thus, the society develops the attitude towards words and gives them either offensive, neutral or positive meanings.
At the same time, there are other things to consider in terms of language. So-called dirty words are only the tiniest part of the language. More often, people have to deal with language inconsistencies, which are confusing and cannot be explained unlike profane language. Dr. Albert Classen (n.d.) writes, “There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apples nor pine are in pineapple.” There are thousands of words, which do not correspond visually to their meaning. However, neither linguists nor other people forbid their usage or try to change these words to avoid confusion. It happens because these words are deeply rooted in English language and it is easier to create a new word than change the old one that has been used for centuries. Therefore, although the language has significantly proliferated, many inconsistencies remain to preserve cultural meaning and social importance of the words.
In addition, English language consists of many contronyms or the words, which have contradictory meanings. For example, one of such words the most students meet every day is the word ‘scan’. In the era of modern technologies, one can use this word to denote an action performed by a multifunctional device to make a digital copy of a printed text. However, the teachers may often imply ‘looking through’ or ‘peruse’ a book instead of scanning it in a common sense of this word. Such contradiction requires the students to clarify with their teacher what he/she means. This example is not unique. There are many other words with contradictory meanings including apology, strike, screen, model, hold up and many others. These words acquired new meanings with the appearance of new technologies along with social and cultural changes. For instance, the verb ‘to screen’ means not only ‘to protect’, but also ‘to present’ or ‘to conceal’. All these meanings can be identified with a noun ‘screen’ that can perform all the above-mentioned functions. The words with contradictory connotation are as important as the words with inconsistencies and dirty words since they comprise a part of the language and its cultural heritage.
After analyzing these three groups of words, the question why people pay so much attention to their language and find it offensive in the era of freedom of speech arises. Probably, it happens because of the social and cultural impact of the previous generations, which have formed those barriers and limitations. At the same time, most of these barriers have vanished and modern people use all these words in everyday language without any restrictions and prejudices. Language deteriorated and improved simultaneously. On the one hand, people changed their attitude towards some words and began perceiving them as usual. On the other hand, more and more dirty words, contronyms and words with inconsistencies appear in the media. As a result, this prevents children from learning a pure language with all its beauty and richness. Instead, they reduce their vocabulary and communicate with their peers in a too simplistic language. One cannot judge whether it is good or bad. However, it fully reflects modern culture, which is free of language boundaries.
In conclusion, the current state of language is controversial. On the one hand, people use dirty words and words with contradictory meanings and inconsistencies more often today than forty years ago. It may be related to the freedom of speech and absence of strict limitations. On the other hand, young generations listen to all these words either bad or good every day and include them in their vocabulary substituting for literary words. Consequently, it may lead to language impoverishment and cultural degradation later. Despite possible consequences, the current state of language reflects the contemporary culture and society. Some people perceive it as progress while others as degradation. Nevertheless, every change that happens to language is an important part of its development, which should be accepted and taken for granted.