I get it: I’m older and crankier than some of you. There is an entire generation of young Americans, many of whom have a casual regard for the rules of polite speech which marked my early years. For some of these young people, the ‘f’ word is just another, more expressive means of communicating.

To which I say: No, it isn’t.

Every once in a while, I have to repeat the rule that offensive speech–name calling, profanity, blasphemy and obscene speech–will not be tolerated in my combox. Failure to maintain that standard will result in the post being removed and, if necessary, the reader being permanently barred.

I’ve had this conversation with some of you; but it bears repeating, what with the knock-down, drag-out fights going on in my combox of late. I don’t mean to be unkind; I don’t mean to exclude viewpoints which differ from mine. But mine is a Catholic blog, and I expect the conversation to remain civil and–hear this!–clean.

Why can’t I just get over it? Let me explain.

When my children were still quite small, we went for a walk around the block. Along the way, we encountered a teenage boy with a black t-shirt on which was a crude message “F*** You”.

“Mommy,” asked my younger son, “what does ‘F*** mean?”

So what the neighbor kid had done was force me, a careful parent who tried to expose the kids to age-appropriate activities and great ideas, to explain human sexual activity to a preschooler. The ill-mannered neighbor had injected his vulgarity and disrespect into my personal space and my family’s vocabulary.

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But suppose you have no small children? Well then why, I ask, would it be reasonable for a total stranger to impose himself in your world, demanding that you think–RIGHT THEN!–about penises and vaginas and how they come together in a violent, unloving relationship? Please… stay out of my world. Stay home.

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Now think about the world of the Internet: Isn’t it really just like the sidewalk in my city, where that grubby kid wore his vulgar black t-shirt? There are voices–some familiar, many that I’ve never heard before–clamoring to be heard. Not everyone who gets into my personal space is my friend. That ill-mannered stranger in the black t-shirt is there.

But listen, guys: You’re no longer just hanging around with the guys at the bar. The conversations you have on-line, on Facebook or Twitter or in someone’s combox, aren’t just among friends. The world’s not like that anymore.

Parents can protect their children and themselves by staying away; but the thing is, we–mothers and fathers and children and everyone–have the right to be there. Kids have the right to be on-line, doing their homework, playing games, chatting about school and baseball and friends. Elderly people are there. Priests and sisters, schoolteachers and secretaries, people you’ve never met and about whose standards and life stories you have no knowledge.

The Internet is a public space, not your private playground. Keep it clean.

Thank you.


This post was originally published at Patheos. It’s a good reminder, though, of the comment policy for this blog. It’s also an explanation for why you really should keep it clean in all of social media.