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Watch Your Bleeping Language

Anthony Scaramucci may be history as far as the current White House is concerned, but the Pandora’s Box he opened in his obscenity-laced rant is not about to slam shut.

Scaramucci obviously thought that The New Yorker was far too distinguished a publication to quote him directly. How wrong he was.

Following the expose in The New Yorker, profanity has gone mainstream in the media. And now, following the New Yorker’s example, many other respected publications –- even The Forward -– consider the bar raised. Never mind the likes of “damn” or “hell”; words which now seem sweetly quaint. The 4.4 million people, more or less, who read the New Yorker article have now learned what is apparently acceptable today – pretty much anything. The taboo has become a norm.

It’s easy to see how this happened. So many people are eager to see anything associated with Trump discredited that any vulgar comments by his now ex-Communications Director were welcome as a way of proving their point. “He said what?” his detractors ask gleefully. “See? I told you he’s a jerk.”

Of course, as has been pointed out, most people have heard these words before. And using profanity has documented benefits: it’s better than punching someone as a way to deal with stress or anger; it comes across as cool; and it passes for honesty, as opposed to hypocrisy. When you dissect some of these words, they aren’t shocking in themselves. They are shocking only because society has declared they are.

Jews are not exempt from profanity; far from it. Yiddish has any number of expressive terms, from “alte kacker” (old defecator) to the adjective “farkackte” (a rude version of “messed up”), and so does Hebrew. Most people regard these expressions as amusing, rather than shocking. They are no longer taboo – they are normal.

But still, when the level of discourse descends to the new, low level it has recently, you have to ask what is gained and what is lost. Harvard Professor Stephen Pinker has pointed out that sexual profanity can be deliberately offensive, by referring to acts that damage or exploit women: “not only ‘we got screwed’ but ..f..d up” meaning broken, damaged.

And Jews are charged to avoid lashon ha’ra (evil speech), which refers to gossip.

Beyond that, allowing profanity to become acceptable in the media is simply an offense to common courtesy and to civil discourse.

When our young children ask, “What does ?!$@ mean?” do we really want them to know?

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