Offensive Language? In MY forensics?!

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Expletives have been on the list of taboo issues since...the concept of offensive language was born? As an English major, I cannot remember a time in the history of the written word where certain topics and words have not been banned or frowned upon. Hundreds of years ago, if you wrote a piece that contained anything deemed offensive (typically questioning government, discussing off-limit topics—such as sex *gasp*, or using foul language) you could be put in jail, not published because government approval was often necessary, or even kicked out of your country. In fact, many authors either published work anonymously or from the safety of another country to avoid such persecution. Look into Jonathan Swift or the Marque de Sade. They could offer you some interesting stories.

Even in today’s fairly open society there are words that are still on the offensive list, and every year new ones are added. Language is constantly in flux, yet it seems the use of expletives will forever be taboo. If you wish to be taken seriously in society, using certain choice words will be detrimental to success. Expletives are thought vulgar, shocking, and completely beneath an educated individual. Further, cuss words are believed to be harmful on principle (I argue it is the context NOT the word itself that is harmful; if I said ‘kumquat’ in a severe, nasty tone but an expletive in a polite manner, which would you be more offended by?). But that is for another discussion.

The question is though, should a person use “offensive language” in a speech piece? I feel that there are numerous factors that need to be thought of before reaching a conclusion. The very first thing I would check is whether or not your team or your league even allows for swearing—officially or unofficially. If they do not even grant the use of some of the “lesser” words (we all know the distinctions people; there is a difference between ‘crap’ and that classic “FUDGE” moment in A Christmas Story) then I would say forget it and not make an attempt to be edgy and honest. Do a piece on rainbows/cookies and how puppies saved the world instead.

If you have the okay, then the next thing I would check is how the language is being used in the piece. I love to use my First Amendment right, but ONLY if it serves a purpose. Okay, when I am hanging out with my friends I may be more liberal with my speech, but in formal settings I watch my language with everything I say. Words are powerful and if you are just blurting out garbage (stupid comments, swearing, bigoted remarks, etc) it only decreases your value. If, however, the language means something and adds value to the content, then I say use it. For instance, if I were to be performing a piece dealing with gangs I would expect there to be rough language. If the word “golly” was used I would burn that piece for it is TOTALLY INACCURATE in regards to a majority of gang related language. Or, if a character who normally speaks proper is having an emotional moment and they use an expletive, that single word would really capture how distraught they feel. Again, it is all about the context of how the word is used. If you are simply using a word to be edgy then most likely you will receive a comment on how unnecessary that word was.

Another question I would ask is if the language was excessive. Using a swear here and there could just be seasoning for your piece to enhance the flavor. But, too many and the words have no effect, become annoying, and might actually cost you a rank. Not every judge likes swearing but most likely will let one or two slide if they meet the above criteria. Push your boundaries too far and soon your reputation begins to fall as well as your rank.

Finally, I feel one needs to question if they are okay with swearing in a round. Using “dirty” language when you are hanging out away from adults is one thing, but actually saying those same words in front of a judge or audience can be daunting. In college you will get over it; censorship is not an issue in pursuit of the realistic truth. But in high school, swearing openly like that can be a raw, naked experience. I hardly swore. Even with teachers I were close to. So ask yourself. Can you do it? Because a half-hearted swear is like a half-hearted promise—a disappointing failure that sounds fake upon delivery.

From what I remember of competing in high school, cussing was a rare occurrence. I might have heard a word or two from time to time, but restraint and common sense were applied to ensure that the use of those words NEVER distracted from the piece. If at any point the expletive because the focus of your performance, something is wrong. If you ever question if using a word is appropriate, then my guess would be no.

Everything in forensics is built around language. Be aware of how the language you use affects the delivery of the message behind the words. The better aware you are and the easier this question of “offensiveness” becomes.

using swear words can be tricky. i agree, i would only use them if they added something to the piece. the problem is everyone has a different opinion on what is necessary. so how do you determine if your judgement is, i guess, the average opinion? hmmmm

YOU cannot. The best you can do is get a collection of opinions prior to going to competition and hope for the best. Humans are so varied in opinions anyway that even if you use a "lesser swear" like 'crap' you may encounter the judge who still thinks it is blasphemous.

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