Calling a Foul on Foul Language

Obscene language leads to obscene behavior at one D.C. park

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Tuesday, Jun 15, 2010  |  Updated 7:46 AM EDT
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Calling a Foul on Foul Language

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NAPA, CA - AUGUST 17: A swing set sits empty on the playground of the Pueblo Vista Elementary School August 17, 2006 in Napa, California. According to Napa Valley Unified School District Superintendent John Glaser, John Mark Karr, a suspect in the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey, worked at Pueblo Vista Elementary School from January to April of 2001. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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I can’t walk past the park on our corner with my 5-year-old sons without getting bombed -- f-bombed.

When did it become societally acceptable to casually accuse people of having sex with their mothers? In the half a minute it takes us to stroll past that park, I often hear “m-f” this and “m-f” that, at least three or four times. This obscenity has become an all-purpose modifier -- not even always a malicious one. It can mean “guy,” it can mean “friend” -- sometimes, it means nothing at all, and is just four extra syllables tossed into a sentence with no purpose.

I swear. A lot. When I became a parent, I made a good-faith effort to stop, but it didn’t take. I try to keep it in check, but when I’m behind the wheel, I can be possessed by the spirit of Eddie Murphy.

Still, words have meanings -- and the meaning of “m-f” is pretty vile. Unless you’re actually talking about Oedipus himself, you should probably look for another phrase.

How we talk casts light on who we are. It’s no surprise that this park is a haven for the worst of our neighborhood.

There are the guys with the liquor bottles in paper bags, and their friends who stash half-full bottles under the children’s play equipment for safe keeping.

There's the guy who likes to pull his pants down, who doesn't seem to own any underwear. 

There’s the guy who sleeps on the kids’ bouncy bridge in the middle of the day.

There are the “urban entrepreneurs” who sit at the dilapidated chess tables from morning until dusk, keeping close watch on the street, and occasionally getting visits from customers.

It’s not all bad. My wife and I chose to start our family in one of the most diverse parts of the District, and families -- black, Latino, white, Asian -- bring their young children to that park to play. These parents are trying to take back that neighborhood crossroads. But that’s hard to do when there’s a drunk guy sleeping on the playground, and when filthy language is freely flying.

It would be nice to say the pressure from these families is leading the park regulars to clean up their acts, and wash out their mouths. But how can you shame someone into good behavior, if that person has no shame to begin with?

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