Four-letter words and the fall of civilization


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By Joshua Wagner, Staff Writer

While volunteering with a local charity this summer, I helped chaperone a large group of small children on a trip to the Carnegie Science Center. While we were there one of the boys I was chaperoning swore, so I told him, “It’s not nice to swear.” He then replied, “It’s just a word!” The little guy then repeated his entire repertoire of fun four-letter words.

That boy’s observation startled me. At first I sat reeling, trying to process the thought that all of the moral values that had been ingrained in me were mistaken. However, after a minute of thought I reminded myself that there are no such things as “just words.”

“Just words” implies that all literature, thoughts, ideas, laws, promises and lies do not matter. This is anarchy. I often wonder if that boy understood the implications of what he said. Where does a five year-old boy come up with a thought like this?

Like most great things, he probably learned this concept on the internet. Imagine a five-year old looking at a social media site. Millions of people constantly updating statuses and posting whatever they feel. Words are flowing all over the place. These words are not carefully crafted together as in an essay. Grammatical, syntactical and punctuation errors flourish across this digital horizon. This is what a present-day five year-old knows about writing. Instead of the medium of scholars, he perceives words as the caption of a meme or the rant of an adolescent on Facebook. With perceptions like this it is easy to understand why he would claim that “It’s just a word!”

What happens when these millennial children grow up? Will the next generation be full of anarchists, or will they develop an appreciation for the spoken and written word? Imagine a world without promises, laws or treaties because people do not value written or spoken contracts. This is a world that does not place value in words.

This trend must be stopped in order to save the world from anarchy. Social media sites must be cleansed of writing errors, and the use of certain four-letter words must be reduced to prevent the destruction of society. This will not be an easy task.

There are approximately two billion active social media accounts in the world. The world economy could not support enough English majors to act as editors for social media. That leaves one option: an educated populous. If everyone took an extra twenty seconds to fix the errors in their posts, a huge societal calamity could be avoided. If someone believes that their post does not deserve an extra twenty seconds to proofread, then perhaps the post was not worth writing. After the social media sites are cleansed, children will easily be able to realize the value of the written word.

The issue of certain four-letter words is more difficult. The difficulty lies in instructing children when it is appropriate to swear. Cursing is not something that should not be commonplace. When used frequently, swearwords lose their potency, and then there is nowhere to escalate to when the situation requires it. If one swears when dropping a fork, what would one say if he were shot in the leg? To give some words meaning, people must spare them until needed. If society can be more delicate with its profanities, children may realize the value of the spoken word.

Again, this will be no easy task. Every man, woman and child will have to do his or her part. A societal shift must occur before any real change can happen, and society is hard to shove around. Nevertheless, if this plan succeeds, one day, a chaperone will be able to scold a five year-old without hearing a response that prophesies the doom of civilization.

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Author: Joshua Wagner

Josh Wagner '19 is a chemistry and mathematics double major who enjoys bike rides on the battlefield and waving around a red pen as the Gettysburgian's Managing Opinions Editor. When not editing for the Gettysburgian, he can usually be found working in the College Life Office, helping students with calculus as a PLA, or studying in the library.

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