Mid-century country crooner Roger Miller penned an iconic song in 1964 retelling the story of the ne’er-do-well recognizing his own shortcomings while sitting in a bar instead of being home with his wife and 1-month old child: “Dang me, dang me. They ought to take a rope and hang me.” Capital punishment may have been too great for the transgression, but it was clear that he saw the error in his ways. Still, he didn’t rush home. And then he found a way to put some of the blame upon his upbringing: “My Pappy was a pistol, I’m a son of a gun,” he sang. Although the errant subject of the tune did not learn his lesson, the record did earn a Grammy Award for best Country & Western song. It seemed that the repentant, but not too much, tone resonated with audiences.
By today’s standards, the lyrics are quite tame. Notably absent are the aggressive use of profanity and assertive, if not hardcore, references to victims. Somewhere along the line, our posture has changed. It is unlikely that Miller was unfamiliar with the vocabulary that would ultimately become commonplace in popular music. Still, he elected to use the more colloquial and less intended to offend. Likely, audiences at the time would’ve refused to listen or buy gratuitous lines.
Much of the humanities has shifted into the profane in the last few decades. The internet is filled with vile and unproductive uses of modern language. So-called news and creative writing aggregators push out article after article expressing a number of opinions wrapped in strong language. Mostly, we ignore them. Today’s retinue included “&$^#-less in Seattle” and “@#%^ Writing.” Studies show that expletive use can reduce stress for individuals. But for mass consumption, does it reduce anything other than IQ?