Wednesday, October 26, 2016
As a young man, my husband loved to be outdoors. Nothing could stop him from climbing up, over or into things that sparked his curiosity or challenged him. One of his passions was spelunking, and for a couple of summers he'd spend weekends in caves, crawling through tunnels with the weight of the world just inches above his shoulders. While cave exploration was not a passion of mine, he was, so more often than not, I could be found crawling behind him, elbowing my way to caverns we had not yet seen. My father, insisting that it had taken men millions of years to emerge from the caves, couldn't understand why anyone, much less his daughter, would want to return to them. He applauded progress and believed the survival of men, as well as sharks, depended on forward motion.
I recently read that 51% of Americans believe our culture and way of life have worsened since the 1950s. Were he still alive, my father could be counted in that number. His generation survived the Great Depression and World War II and they wanted better lives for their families. They worked hard, often at two jobs, to assure their children's entrance to the world would be easier than theirs had been. For the most part they were successful. Education and exposure to a broader culture gave their children a patina that they lacked. They raised a well-mannered generation that was better spoken and better schooled in appropriate behavior than they had been.
The air must have been pretty thin on the top rung of the ladder. Standards began to slip and words that were once considered taboo worked their way back into the vernacular in the late 60's and 70's. How far they slipped has become apparent in our current political environment. We now have the "P" word contending with the "F" word for prominence as the most offensive. I'm not particularly offended by either, but I'm amazed that some think using a letter to represent a word makes it more acceptable than it would otherwise be. This letter business is pretty childish. I've actually done some research regarding the "F" word. Did you know it was first used in the 15th century by a monk who needed a replacement for the word damn? The church forbade the use of the word damn, so he filled in the blanks with the "F" word instead. While I'm not offended by its use, it is crude and the frequency with which it is used is a measure of how bereft our vocabularies have become. What if Archimedes, thinking he was one of the boys, said "F..." instead of "Eureka" when he discovered the principle of density? The world would be no different but a memorable quote would have been lost. Language, manners and civility enrich our lives and they make more than token contributions to our culture. Let's not lose them. Those caves are mighty dark.
Photo courtesy of the APS Observer.