The Forbidden Word's Forbidden-ness

Instead of working and doing the writing I need to do, I spent yesterday wandering around the city. I did have a few meetings and business to do and stuff like that, sure. But I had fun so it's hard for me to classify it as a day of work. I suppose it's hard for me to classify any day recently as work then.

I feel a bit guilty about it, but due to my contract and its various technicalities, this is the last summer I have off of the tenure clock. So I don't feel too bad about goofing off a bit. It's the last real summer I'll have until I am promoted, I suppose.

I got a new phone - a blackberry - and I like it very much. I stopped in the mobile phone store to look to see if they had some cool cases for my phone. At the counter there was an upset woman talking to the sales clerk. Next to her was a guy and his little girl, probably about 2 or 3 sitting on the counter. The woman described her phone to the salesguy as "total crap."

The dude looked at her and said, "Could you not use that sort of language around a child please?"

First reaction: What year do you think this is? I suspected they probably spent too long in Johnny Rocket's (right next door).

Second Reaction: Where does the "sort" of language come from?

There is an assumption Dad has here about the badness of the word - that it's internal and material. And the presence of the bad word, like a bad spell, can corrupt and ruin the child.

But we could give Dad some credit here, and perhaps assume he believes that the word is socially marked as bad, tabling the origin of the "sort." Perhaps he doesn't want that langauge used around her because she will start to use it and mark herself as a certain "sort."

I wonder which one it is. For the first belief, no matter how comfortable that might make us, doesn't really offer a lot in terms of understanding the fluid and independent nature of language. The second option fails to take into account the very real beliefs of people as to the nature of evil and suffering in the world. Either way, someone is going to be left out. The first option is like the somnambulist - blissfully unaware that where they are walking is not where they tread. The second is like the plastic Buddhist master - aware of the imagined elements of reality - "the pencil laughs; the desk counts to ten" - phrases that try to point this out but merely alienate those who are keen to listen and understand their errors.

Is there an intervention I could make here to discover, help, or interrogate the role of language? What is the function of the rhetorician in these situations? Is there a compelling need to bring these issues to the forefront of minds?

I will never know what could have been in this situation as they only had one Blackberry case, and it was not what I wanted. It was also 20 dollars, and I'd seen it for five on the internet. I left.