Words of Mass Emotional Disruption

Sitting across my good friend at a Starbucks in Times Square, I politely sip a little bit of my Strawberry-infused drink and proceed to ask her, “How the fuck are you doing?” She’s taken aback, slightly, her eyes widen, pupils dilate slightly, and her smile begins to tense a little. Of course I prepared for this statement that was coming, preceding it with the topic of the paper at hand. I continued my unscientific experiment, letting her know “what if I swore every time I greeted you?” Taken aback once more, her thoughts jogging, she said in a complacent tone, “Well, if the society accepts it, if the world decides it’s okay, it’s okay. I’d be comfortable at that time.” I smiled slyly, somewhat satisfied with the response and returned to the keyboard, wondering, why is that we are so ready to accept the general trend when it becomes the general trend without adhering to the principles of the past?

It’s incredible to see how the English vernacular has transformed from its complex linguistic background of German and Nomadic roots to the rich Latin vocabulary that has enriched our thinking caps, to the Shakespearean dialogue that still manages to confuse a 9th grader’s mind. Along the way, our pent up emotions have transformed the language with the pursing of our lips followed by a flick of the tongue and that exasperated sigh when the phrase emits from the pit of our stomach. No other few letters in a word can take root in an ear canal and cause your heart to drum fast, your thoughts beat loud, and your mind fire up in emotional tension.

Yet, even in the atmosphere of a coffee shop, a modest conversation is not a necessity, even in the public eye. I remark to her, “you’re such a little bitch,” in response to a comment. This time, instead of feeling disturbed, she grinned a little wider, the expression of her face lighting up, and tilted her head to indicate her “victory” in annoying me as a result of my response. That same word, if used in a derogatory, demeaning context, would have a deeper, more effective emotional response, probably with one resulting in her slapping me across the face. But this type of discriminate behavior based on the circumstance of the word is placing the word at a disadvantage. I feel bad for the word “fuck” and “bitch” since they get treated and applied in selective circumstances, appreciated by some as gratifying, disabling and hurtful to others. By utilizing this terse language, it becomes easy to activate emotional response of an individual, in a very quick, effective stab without having to reach in the depths of the dictionary located in our mind.

I have an extensive religious upbringing where my parents instilled the idea of swear words as the path to hell outlined by the devil himself. All you had to do was listen to the whispers of shaitan, repeat after him, and you were guaranteed a spot in a fiery blaze. I wonder how my mother and father could sit back, sunken in their chairs, and exchange their own demeaning words in my presence, as if I wouldn’t catch on! But I accept the necessity of restraint for our tongues are powerful tools of emotional enabler. I might not be able to beat up a guy with my bare hands but I sure as hell can destroy an ego with a few choice words of my own.

I guess people are afraid of the complex power hidden behind loaded phrases and terminology. But the best of leaders are the ones who can take command of heavy handed “big-boy” words and turn them into weapons of mass emotional disruption. Even words with seemingly nice connotations can often have that heavy handed punch as asshole and a fuck or two. I wait until she finishes her phone call, readying the completion of my little 4th grade science project with some mental preparation. Just as she’s about to tell me what her conversation was about, I interrupt her, gather a sly smile and tell her “I love you.” And for a split second, she’s forgotten about the emotional tirade of her phone call and filled her stomach with butterflies. The word “love” isn’t a curse word, right?

Ashraf Ali