Our every day language is a gift. It shows who we are as individuals, how we fit into a culture, who we want to be like, and who we don’t want to be like. Our pronunciations, word choice, dialect and expressions, again, say a lot about who we are as a people.

the_wolf_of_wall_street_minimalist_poster_by_dcomp-d6ie0crThe best authors of every generation reflect the vocal nuances of the settings of their books, as well as the plot lines their characters follow to make the books exciting for us to read — and to tell the story they want to share. For example, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird does not let a page go by that you do not know the action takes place in the deep South. And, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch helped me to feel like I was a long-time resident of Manhattan — more so than anything Woody Allen has produced.

But we may be in the midst of a sea change in the way we use language. The other day I saw a story that appeared on several news aggregators on the Internet: Characters in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street dropped the f-bomb 508 times in the movie. Really? 508 times? Who counted and why?

From the very basics that I know about moviemaking, these f-bombs were written into a screenplay that the actors used for their lines. It was planned. It was purposeful. The f-bombs were not improvisational, which, to me, is even more disturbing. I’m not a prude by any means and I’ve dropped my f-bombs, too, BUT the f-bombs are not part of the routine language of anyone I know. Even with the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen, the use of the inflammatory f-bomb is occasional, usually to illustrate and raise the level of intensity for a scene or plot line.  Plus, there was no tolerance for the f-bomb in the house where I was raised. And, that seems pretty common among my friends, acquaintances and family.

And, it is somewhat comforting to see the reactions of other Americans to the story about the 508 f-bombs. Many of these news aggregators allow readers to register comments about the news story. It would appear that people had strong opinions about the 508 story — many saying that the story helped them decide NOT to see the movie.

When I attended creative writing classes in college, the subject of using f-bombs took up a number of classes. The most universal feeling from the instructors was that because the f-bomb is so incendiary, that it should be used in rare occasions, and only when truly, truly warranted. The teachers cautioned that when they see a lot of f-bombs, it is usually from young writers who lack creativity and imagination. The use of the f-bomb, they said, is not really a strength, but a weakness.

And, language is changing on TV, too. A couple years ago, Patti and I changed cable providers from Time Warner to Verizon FIOS. As part of the deal, we got Showtime channels. We started watching Dexter one evening, and the female forensic pathologist on this show started spewing the f-bomb and kept it up every time she was on screen. It did not add anything to the show. We switched channels and have never watched another episode. Nor have we missed it, either.

And that gets to the cynical solution — money. The Wolf of Wall Street is not doing well at the box office. Can’t imagine why, it has Leonardo DiCaprio. The more people endorse/vote/deny with their pocketbooks and wallets, the greater likelihood that people in TV, movies and publishing will have to pay attention. I’m completely in favor of the first amendment, but I am also in favor of creative artists using judgment not shock. Shock is cheap, good judgment is celebratory and divine.