Bad Language: Bad Choice

Bill Neinast

I was the court-martial prosecutor in a rape trial at Fort Hood in 1953.  The victim was an 18 year old Hispanic whose first language was Spanish.  The defendants were Ianelli, Masiello, another Italian whose name I do not remember, and Gray.

Way back in those olden days, officers and gentlemen did not talk from the gutter.  Consequently, when the victim took the witness stand, I began questioning her in gentleman’s language.  Our difficulty in communicating in English was quickly apparent.

The judge called a recess and ordered me to get a Spanish interpreter for the court.  As soon as an Hispanic sergeant was sworn in as an interpreter, the trial proceeded.  It quickly became apparent that the witness was having more trouble with the interpreter’s Spanish than with my English.

Unfortunately for the court, the sergeant was from Mexico City and spoke Castilian Spanish, a language more foreign to the victim than English.

Another recess was called, the interpreter was excused, and I was instructed to try examining the witness in gutter language.  

When the trial reconvened under those instructions, examination and cross examination of the witness proceeded smoothly.   All four defendants were convicted and sentenced to confinement and dishonorable discharges.

I was told later that, when the record of trial was received in the Pentagon for mandatory reviews, it was passed around to every lawyer in the appellate divisions, as they had never before seen a record with such language.

Every time that bout with polite English comes to mind, I remember another somewhat similar incident about ten years before the trial.  

In 1943 or ’44, I was right end of the Somerville Yeguas in a game at the old WPA rock stadium in Somerville.   One of the players said, “Damnit!”  or maybe even, “God Damnit.”

The referee whistled the game to a halt, called all 22 of us into a huddle, and gave us a lecture about real men having no need to talk like that.

Can you imagine that happening today?  If it did, the referee probably would be banned from the field for life. 

In a similar vein, in all the hours and days that I was with my Dad, I never heard him use any slang other than an occasional “Dangit” or, when he was really frustrated, “Gotdangit.”  Working hard, being a gentleman, and staying out of the gutter certainly did not hold him back.

Fast forward now to today.  Here we find the likes of Anthony Scaramucci, better known as The Mooch, a Harvard Law School graduate.  This well educated, successful financial manager cannot open his mouth without spewing out a string of  profanities and vulgarities.

Unfortunately, The Mooch seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  Why?

Why has American English morphed into language in which every statement has to be enhanced by extra garbage?  Is “What is that?” any less clear than “What the (expletive) is that?” 

Does “He’s a (expletive) idiot” make the subject more idiotic than a simple, “He’s an idiot?”

There are enough similar examples to fill this page.  The point should be clear, however, that conversation in this country has descended deep into the gutter.

The most aggravating part of that descent is that it has carried the well educated, sophisticated community right along with the rough cut society into the depths.  The Mooch is not alone in his world; I know any number of educated individuals who are as potty mouth as he.

So here’s the perspective.

There may be hope for a return to civility in our language.  Twitter may be the savior.

With the limit on the number of words in a Tweet, youngsters might begin deleting those unnecessary words from their communication.  We might again see “How are you?” instead of, “How the (expletive) are you?”

Let’s hope so.


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