There are no bad words

The valedictorian of a university in Singapore made news recently. She concluded her commencement address with an apparently ad-libbed expression of jubilation: “We f***ing did it!” There has been a good deal of debate about how to make sure such a transgression never happens again.

I won’t use her name here, not to spare her from further embarrassment but to avoid giving her any further undeserved recognition. In my July 11 post (“American Gladiators”) I observed that the bar to standing out is constantly being raised, and the trend of stronger, more expressive language will continue and even accelerate. I don’t know what this young woman plans to do with her life, but I’m quite certain that this episode will not hurt her prospects. In fact, I won’t be surprised to see her capitalize on her fifteen minutes of fame.

My wife nearly went ballistic when our seven-year-old daughter spouted the F-word. She spells it “f-u-k” and I am relieved to say she learned it from a classmate, not me. While every word has a time and place, there are some words that little girls should never say.

Mark Twain was a master wordsmith who never seemed to use vulgarity in his writing. However, he did use colorful language in his speech. After one outburst of cursing, his wife gave him a taste of his own medicine. Twain allegedly replied, “You have the words, my dear, but I’m afraid you’ll never master the tune.”

Every word exists for a purpose. Sometimes the best word just happens to be a vulgarity – no polite word will serve as well. To paraphrase the greeting card company, there are occasions “when you care enough to say the very worst.” As I explained to my daughter after her own outburst, the only bad words are “I can’t.”

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