THERE'S NO QUESTION ABOUT IT--refinement is out and vulgarity is in. Long gone are the Victorian days, when piano legs were skirted so as not to offend the sensitive. During the 1940s, the following joke about Pres. Harry S. Truman was considered risque. Giving a lecture to a women's garden club, he advised the audience to mix the dirt with lots of fresh manure. After the talk was over, a woman came up to his wife, Bess, and said, "I wish he would have used the word, `fertilizer.' "To which Mrs. Truman replied, "Heck, it took me 20 years to get him to say, `manure.'"
Like vulgarity itself, the meaning of the word has changed through the years. Originally, it referred to the lives of the common people. For instance, in Rome, vulgar signified the ordinary language of Latin as spoken or written by the masses, differing from the magnificent literary Latin of, say, Cicero or Virgil. Today, its primary dictionary meaning runs the gamut from "coarse to indecent." Further, "it refers to that which is banal and characterized by ignorance or lack of breeding." That says it all, but pretty soon its definition will have to be revised to something like "an expression of pop culture."
Like so many other shifts in mores and morality, the plague of today's runaway vulgarity seems to stem from the 1960s' Vietnam War protests and disillusionment, together with the celebration of drugs, free love, and general license at Woodstock. One sees it in bumper stickers such as "Sh_ _happens." Of course it does, but why not instead say that "Things fall apart"? The first is just tasteless. Similarly, the currently popular comment of being "pissed off" is easily substituted by the better-mannered one of "becoming irritated." The vulgar phrases that "something sucks" or calling someone an "a_ _hole" are becoming commonplace, even appearing in newspapers. The movies, and now TV, like little kids defying their parents by cursing, are full of this kind of talk. Nowadays, there are more "bleeps" blocking out words in interviews with professional athletes than the rest of the interview. Expletives are the order of the day, it seems. Meanwhile, women, who used to be the backbone and preservers of society, have become liberated to the extent that they hire male strippers for their parties.
Much of today's permissive vulgarities stem from the entertainment industry. Elvis Presley was in the forefront of exuding sex symbols with his gyrating pelvis. He had a remarkable singing...