On Thursday evenings, I have to send my mother to church. About 3 hours later, I have to pick her up. In the interim, I arrange meetings with other people or do stuff on my own (e.g. have dinner, do grocery shopping, sit at a fast food joint and read/mark assignments).
Not so long ago, I was quietly sitting by myself at Subway one such Thursday night, nursing an ice lemon tea and trying desperately to mark exam papers to meet a deadline.
Four young men, all friends in their late teens or early twenties, sat at the next table to eat their sandwiches. With typical exaggerated bravado of that testosterone-filled age group, the four were posturing and chatting away loudly about their respective activities and concerns.
I cannot remember the exact content of their discussion. The main thing that drew my attention to them was not so much the level of the noise they were making, but the words that were coming out, especially from one particular young man.
Practically in every other statement that this young man was making, the ‘f’ word in all its grammatical ramifications would pop out. Every 30 seconds or so, he would say the ‘f’ word as liberally as Singlish speakers can pepper their speech with ‘lahs’.
The prudish matron in me wanted to stand up, confront the young man about his public crudity and demand that he be more careful and courteous to others. Unfortunately, caution stepped in. What impact would a stranger really make on the future behaviour of this young man? So I did what most Singaporeans do: minded my own business.
However, the writer/presentation skills aspect of me was appalled by this young man’s mindless usage of one of the strongest words in the English vocabulary. Please understand: I am not against using the ‘f’ word: in fact, I do use it occasionally, and usually to release some kind of heightened emotion at a particularly vexing moment (and usually muttered to myself). If said so casually like the young man did, the word loses its potency with overuse.
I pitied the poor range of this young man’s vocabulary. Imagine when the occasion warrants genuine swearing, what sort of words could the young man use anymore? “F’… “F, F”… “F, F, F”??? How absolutely bland…
Then my imagination ran wild. If only the caregivers of this youth had exercised discipline when he was younger and literally scrubbed his mouth out with a toilet brush every time he uttered the ‘f’ word, perhaps he would have been instilled with better manners and a higher respect for using words appropriately.