Mute or profane

Some children refuse to speak. “Selective mutism” is more common than autism, reports the New York Times.

Some children can’t speak without cursing. “Popular culture has made ugly language acceptable and hip,” reports the Washington Post.

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  1. Selective Mutism: This may just be a reaction to being dumped into an overcrowded sardine can packed with strangers. These strangers are adults with incomprehensible rules and regulations (mostly derived from PC not than common sense), and other children under no compulsion not to be hostile. That is the reality of modern schools. I would not be surprised if most “selective mutes” are smart kids who find the best way to stay out of political trouble is to shut the @*&# up.

    Compulsive Cursing: For most normal kids, it has nothing to do with anger or hatred. It’s just monkey see, monkey do. Not only has society (i.e. Hollywood) lowered the bar on acceptable speech, but so have the adults in a child’s life. Note that swearing itself is perfectly PC, except when such words demean women and ethnic minorities.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    No shit?

  3. I will admit that my first reaction to the idea of “selective mutism” was “dangit, why didn’t I think of that?”

    I suppose it’s too late now for me to develop a case?

  4. The W. Post article about profanity focuses in a tired, pseudo-analytical way on kids seeing/hearing certain words and placing them in their “lexicon,” as the American Univ. student said. There is only a brief mention of a decline in language skills.

    Exposure is not the cause of the problem, it is a sympton (although it certainly doesn’t help). Profanity is used now (in contrast with its use historically) as non-specific, catch-all language because the average person – including those not yet fully developed, read: “students” – has such a tenuous grasp on vocabulary and communication skills that they have to resort to words that mean almost nothing. Simply put, they aren’t equipped to choose the proper word in a given context or situation.

    Consider examples like, “Check this shit out!” where the offending word can mean anything at all: an amazing catch by a centerfielder, a dumb magazine article, or the quality (good or bad) of someone’s shirt. Essentially, it points to anything worth noting. “Shit,” in this example, offers no description or value in the communication; it just calls attention without qualification of any sort. There is no purpose to the word, and “shit” and others are chosen because people don’t possess the ability to express themselves more clearly. Those who *are* able generally aren’t in the habit of communicating properly. For that *small* segment of the population, exposure may be at fault.

    The next time someone of any age describes something as “cool,” ask them why it’s cool or what makes something cool. I’ll bet one of my kidneys on their response a) coming after a short pause/state of confusion after they realize they’re being asked to qualify what they’ve said thousands of times without consequence or questioning and b) offering little explanation beyond “cool.”

    Unfortunately, most of the people – teachers, parents, etc. – who try to break kids of the fashionable ‘non-communication’ words do it in an obnoxious way that doesn’t solve the problem, makes themselves appear ridiculous, and generally broadens the gap.

  5. … kinda like how I read my post after submitting and thought “$%^%” when I noticed I had a typo on “symptom.”

    That really meant, “I’m embarassed for not having edited the post.” Instead, it was “that sucks” or “#$%^.”

  6. SuperSub says:

    Good points Matt. Although I wonder if the acceptance of the use of curses and non-descriptive words enables the speakers to not bother trying to learn the correct term.
    While I am unaware of the psychological basis for selective mutes, I would assume that it, like the constant swearing, is tied to the home environment. A toddler who is constantly ignored, does not socialize, or is punished for simply talking would not only fail to develop comminicative skills, but also be extremely shy in public.

  7. ‘Selective mutism’ is a bogus diagnosis. If it had been around when I was in school, I would have been so labeled. What it is, is extreme shyness — the not talking is a symptom, not the main problem. And it is genetic, though the environment determines how/whether the kid learns to deal with it. That NYT article makes me furious.

    (Obviously I’m talking about the kids who haven’t been abused — horrific experiences might well cause something similar, but that’s not what they’re talking about here.)