mrs-grundy1“You take the trouble to construct a civilization…to build a society…you make government and art, and realize that they are, must be, both the same…you bring things to the saddest of all points…to the point where there is something to lose…then all at once, through all the music, through all the sensible sounds of men building, attempting, comes the Dies Irae. And what is it? What does the trumpet sound? Up yours.” — Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

At Knocklofty we are well aware of the immense diversity and excitement of the web. Ideas and information, both dazzling and brilliant, as well as stupid and meretricious, flow freely. It is a wonderful resource and will become a true mirror of humanity.

It is in the process of developing a new language and it is one of the largest contributors to our stock of words; some are the embodiment of wit, expressing complexity with brevity, and remain. Others arrive and fade away as slang fashions continue their inevitable change.

But there is one depressing feature of language on the web that seems to endure, and that is the use of a couple of dozen common offensive words. We all know what they are — sexual, anatomical or excretory, used as nouns, adjectives, intensifiers or just as plain expletives — so there is no need to list them here.

Their too-frequent use, especially in otherwise well-conducted weblogs, robs them of any impact they may have had in the bad old days of taboo and prudery. Those who do use them are demonstrating not only poverty of thought and imagination but also contempt for their readers; in effect, they are saying ‘I can’t be bothered to find a word to explain what I mean, so I’ll just drop in a dirty word to show how cool and smart I am.’

In doing that, however original their thoughts might be, they have the effect of signalling that here is yet another dreary, foul-mouthed, semi-articulate ranter and that it is probably not worth the effort to read further. These over-used, worn-out and essentially stupid words will drive readers away even more effectively than cliché, muddled grammar and slipshod punctuation.

If you are stuck for a word, there are plenty of resources at hand without leaving the keyboard; find a thesaurus, a dictionary or an apt quotation on the web. If you show a little respect for your readers, more of them will come back.