Devon Dick | Expletives out of order and out of place
Recently, a valedictorian at a tertiary institution concluded his speech with the use of an expletive. Expletives in our context are crude expressions; obscene expressions; curse words; swear words; cuss words. It is an expression that is widely regarded as offensive, and hence there is a prohibition against its use. In addition, what is considered an expletive in one society might not be in another country. Each nation has its own value system and ethos.
Furthermore, every good speaker knows the importance of how to start with an interesting story to hold the interest of the audience and to end well. A speaker’s last words are very significant as it ought to sum up the speech. It should be memorable and uplifting. Therefore, the valedictorian’s use of an expletive to conclude his speech was deliberate, dramatic and unforgettable, but it also created a few problems, including double standards.
When dancehall artistes use expletives at a show, the police might pull the plug on the performance or have the dancehall artiste warned for prosecution. However, no action was taken against the valedictorian. It gives the impression that there is one law for those with a first degree, and another law for those without tertiary certification. If you have a first degree, then the use of expletives is seen as artistic licence, while those in the dancehall space have no licence. Furthermore, ordinary Jamaicans have been fined for the use of expletives in public space. This is also double standard – one law for the degreed and another for persons who are poor.
The double standards are further heightened in that if a radio station were carrying that speech live to the public, then they would have been in trouble with the Broascasting Commission. However, the expletives can be broadcast in public at a graduation ceremony with no sanctions.
Additionally, the use of expletives was in the wrong jungle. The expletives could have been used in a classroom setting at that university. It could examine the role of expletives; the different usages of expletives, the obsession of Jamaican cuss words with women’s activities and whether they are sexist words. There are expletives in Orlando Patterson’s novel Children of Sisyphus (1965). Therefore, students would have to discuss them. However, expletives are not for valedictory speeches. A valedictorian speaks in a representative capacity and not just personal reflections and tastes. So, a valedictory speech at a cultural institution should not be a sermon encouraging all to accept Jesus the Christ as Lord and Saviour. It should not be a political partisan speech telling us to vote for a particular Jamaica political party.
Similarly, when Calabar boys sang jeering songs at Kingston College boys about their sexual proclivities in the chapel in the presence of the school authorities, it was condemned. That is for talk one away, and not for public consumption in a chapel.
Going forward, do we want a 19-year-old giving a valedictory speech at a high school graduation using expletives? There are children using expletives on the road, does it mean that at a primary school graduation the valedictorian can use said expletives? Soon we would have a warning at graduation saying expletives might be used. Or we will say that this valedictory speech is for mature audience only.
Can we imagine if expletives were used by classroom teachers to motivate students.
Every society has words that are not acceptable. Most boys will fight if something derogatory is said about his mother. Certain language is inappropriate. It can be offensive.
There ought to be a sense of occasion. Whereas we wear a swimsuit to the beach, we would not select that outfit for a graduation ceremony. There is a difference in language used for private consumption, personal discussion and public speech.
The bottom line is that expletives used at a public function are out of place and out of order.
Rev Dr Devon Dick is pastor of Boulevard Baptist Church and author of Enduring Advocacy for a Better Jamaica; The Cross and the Machete and Rebellion to Riot: The Jamaican Church in Nation Building.