I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life -- Karl Jung Memories, Dreams, ReflectionsEver tried to swear in a foreign language? Unless you are very well acculturated to it, it doesn’t feel at all the same as cussin’ in your mother-tongue. No cathartic results. You might even begin to wonder how such a concatenation of sounds came to develop such a “nasty” meaning.
A friend’s anecdote shows how it might happen: At age 6, in 1949, he was helping his Mom wash windows using a spray-and-wipe technique. He was the sprayer. She stopped and went to the front door to chat with a neighbor. He walked up behind her and said, “This damn spray-bottle isn’t working …” Crack! Without missing a word or turning around she smacked him right in the mouth! (6-year-olds’ using such language was intolerable!) He joked that he wondered afterward what was so wrong about saying “spray-bottle”?
Considering he told me this story fifty years later shows that the event left an impression on him. But he got over it, it seems. As he told me the story, he did not flinch or stutter as he uttered “spray-bottle.”
However, some people obsess for a long time over matters that most people pass over quickly. Such seeming OCD (obsessive-compulsively disordered) behavior is often provoked by an initiating event that can come to supplant the evil consequence it originally was taken to foretell. His mother’s smacking him for saying “spray-bottle” is a good example. What was she trying to accomplish? Keep him from saying “damn!”? Why bother? To keep the devil away? Or maybe it was just a show to prove to the neighbor that she was raising her son on the strict-and -narrow? What was her worry?
Often a worry is based on the fear of something that people believe they have little power to control. So a ritual develops believed to forestall or lessen the consequences of the initiating event. So it is that people on sinking ships or falling planes turn to prayer. (In order to have an all-knowing, all-powerful and merciful God reconsider what He permits to be happening?)
But cuss-words come and go. Two hundred and fewer years ago such gems as zounds, bloody, My God (said casually), blaggart, could hardly be mentioned in polite company. (Does the term “polite company” still have much meaning?) In a single generation in the US, for example, vulgar, blasphemous or obscene words can transform from the publicly unspeakable to common, often even ceremonial parlance, e.g. suck, crap, deep doo-doo, shit-faced, while childrens’ nursery rhyme vocabulary has become more than border-line risqué. Think of “little pussy whose coat is so warm” or “cock-robin.”
Randall Collins has proposed that there three historically continuous interests have shaped curriculum in schools around the world: Status, Vocation, Social Control. Despite giving somewhat more than lip service to status and vocation, most schools emphasize inculating social control mechanisms, neuroses, weakly attended to by family, church and community.
The persistence and the power of the Social Control schooling mission across ages and cultures are an indication that such obsessive-compulsive behavior is primarily inculcated to protect entitlement structures and privileges, be they consequent to leadership position, Status, or group membership, Vocation.
To examine these issues further, see Permissible School Violence