Some of my colleagues asked me for the first time today about why I don’t use curse words at all. At the beginning of the year, I’d been expecting some kind of comment. By this point, I’d gotten used to no one apparently noticing that I don’t use about half the vocabulary of a typical surgery resident, and so I stumbled over the answer. It’s funny, because I’ve heard them exulting over another guy in the program, senior to me, who looks and acts like the perfect Southern gentleman, but is apparently starting to develop the temper and accompanying vocabulary which the other residents seem to expect from each other. Hearing that made me even more determined not to join them; but it’s hard, listening to this stuff fifteen hours a day, not to let it slip out when you get angry.

The really strange thing, or sad, I suppose, is that when I tried to explain that I think taking God’s name in vain is wrong, they didn’t even seem to have the concept that some things are wrong to say. Our society accepts such an amazing level of filth and obscenity in common speech that there is no shame left.

I must have read too many Victorian novels. It used to be that even saying “leg” in front of a lady was frowned upon – let alone all the rest of it. (That’s where skirts on beds and chairs came from – even the furniture’s legs were supposed to be covered.) I admit that, trying to join an old boys’ club as I am, I can’t expect to be treated as a lady. But even the concept of appropriate and inappropriate, decent and obscene, seems to be totally foreign to modern minds. Strangely enough, many of these guys still will open doors for the women on the team. I don’t know why that one last vestige of civilization remains.

With this background among my professional colleagues, it’s touching when one of my patients – usually an older man, but sometimes younger ones too – will apologize for letting quite mild words slip out. I smile and nod, and refrain from telling them that I’m used to much worse.

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