“Society is getting more violent. People react more stongly to an incident [than in the past]. ” Why is that? “Manners have gone out the window.”
“Ah, Terry [Snow, former Listener editor], why do we bother? Because we’re pedantic? Nah. Because someone has to uphold the idea of a common comprehension. You might fry tomayto while I boil tomahto but as long as we both know it’s a red fruit, communication exists; and where communication is lies understanding. Understanding has prevented lots of wars, excluding those sparked by religion and greed.
“I think Terry would agree we don’t care so much about the words, and probably wouldn’t care at all if they didn’t underpin that understanding. But they do. Nothing else does.”
Could there be a link between increasing violence, loss of manners and falling standards of language?
A woman working with violent prisoners noticed how limited their vocabularies were. They were never peeved, tetchy, irritated, annoyed, aggravated or even furious they were always at force 10 which was expressed in almost incomprehensible sentences in which the F and C words starred.
“If you can’t name your feelings, how do you recognise them and if you can’t recognise them how can you control them?” she asked.
The man jailed for swearing at a judge probably still doesn’t understand why.
Incomprehension begets frustration. Just think of people dealing with someone who doesn’t speak their language who try speaking more slowly and loudly in the mistaken impression that will help.
Frustration can easily turn to anger and anger can turn to violence.
Where do manners fit in? At the heart of good manners lie respect for, and consideration of, other people and self-restriant. An excuse me is much less confrontational than a shove, a sorry beats a shrug and a whoops with a smile is more likely to get a smile in return than an expletive.
Too simple? Yes. The causes of increasing violence are more complex than declining standards of language and manners, but they are part of the puzzle.
If we took better care of how we spoke and had a better command of the vocabulary with which we speak we’d find it easier to understand and be understood.
As part of that, if we minded our Ps and Qs it would help to reduce the Fs and Cs which are part of the violent language which leads to violent acts.