Saturday, May 06, 2006

On Swearing

Shoot
Shit
Crap
poo
Darn
Damn
Dagnabit
(God) damn it
Hell
Heck
Frigging
Fucking
Freaking
blankety-blank
bloody
blasted
blooming
fanny
butt
ass
pissed
ticked

What do the following words have in common? They all are expressions which are considered by wide swaths of the population to be "profane" themselves or are related to words considered as profane (though the word profanity itself seems to be falling into disuse.) Some of the above words are widely considered profane in other countries, but not in the US (bloody and fanny being two of those).

Should there be a place in the our culture for profanity? If so what is it? Certainly, there are in many cases more

Why do so many in our culture consider the use of some words like damn and shit to be anathema, while not batting an eye at the use of euphemisms for those words like darn, shoot and ticked which themselves carry the same meaning in common Enlish parlance. Growing up I had a youth pastor who would gently encourage the kids to rid their language of all cuss-like euphemisms. He wasn't very successful. Even in subcultures in which cussing is strictly forbidden, euphemisms for cusswords are common.

There used to be very strong prohibitions against doing so in a lady's presence. One coworker I know who commonly swears in the presence of other men, does so much less in the presence of a woman and still apologizes for doing so when a woman is around. The women's movement changed all that for most people. Women are coequals now and are no longer to be sheltered from the unpleasantries of uncouth males, but I digress.

Growing up I used euphemisms for swearing like shoot and darn an awful lot. As I've gotten older and recognized the hypocrisy of this double standard I was holding, I stopped using certain euphemisms to the point that I rarely use them now.

I've also started to cuss more. It started small, a little word here and there. It grew to be more common, and I find myself questioning its benefit.I admit, though, that sometimes it can be hard to stop, especially when one is searching for reasons to do so.

There are some obvious drawbacks to swearing. Some people are definitely offended by it. It turns them off. Sometimes they can get offended and take it personally. In fact, that is sometimes the intent when people swear. Swearing is often used to purposefully offend people when one doesn't desire dialog, but insult. If this happens when unintended, though, it becomes much more difficult then to communicate.

Aside from offending some people, they do have a point that there is always another way to express what one is thinking without resorting to vulgarities. It takes more creativity to express oneself without swearing, but it often is more effective in communicating the facts of the situation.

One thing swearing does convey well is emotion. The problem with this is that swearing is used so often by so many people to express so many emotions that it has almost lost all meaning. A result of this is that one opens oneself up to misinterpretation regarding ones feelings. My own unscientific surveys have found that people who don't swear are far more likely to read very negatively into those emotions, but that all tend to read some level of negativity into those emotions. Since swearing is most often used to express a negative emotion like frustration or anger, sometimes this is the desired result. What happens though, when one's words are taken further than they were intended. Were they an effective means of communication? Was it worth using them in the first place?

It seems to me that swearing can in some cases be effectively used to communicate emotion. However, one must be aware of one's audience and be sensitive to how it is being perceived. I'm not very good at that. I tend to either cuss around most everybody or around almost nobody. As my kids get older, I realize that I am quickly going to have to make a decision whether to continue to cuss at all. My guess is that it will have to go; in fact I hope it does go. I don't want to simply start substituting euphemisms for those words, though. My kids will be old enough to see through that before I know it, and I don't want to send them off on the path I have been on. That means that soon enough I need to make a decision to either accept the occasional cussword around my kids or really bump up the creativity level on my communication. That's something I find to be difficult and something I know precious few people who do. There isn't much societal support for such decisions (can you hear me whining and making excuses).

Doug

Addendum: I didn't really get into taking the Lord's Name in vain on this post. In general it seems that using offensive remarks about people's religion as a form of communication is simply a bad idea. As a Christian, it seems especially egregious if I were to speak God or a revered figure like Mary in a disrespectful and irreverent manner.

48 comments:

Mark Congdon said...

Doug,

Interesting thoughts. Swearing itself doesn't concern me much. At the same time, I almost never swear, or even use the euphemisms for swear words.

I had a friend in college who was very uncomfortable with the use of particular swear words. So, my roommates and I would intentionally use those words (the f-word was the main one) as often as possible, in every sentence, whether they applied or not, just to see his reaction. :)

However, what does bother me is the directed anger behind many uses of swear words, especially the f-word. That word in particular is generally used to express significant anger toward another individual. That anger is poison to the one who holds it (whether expressed or not), and is very damaging to relationships when expressed. I have major problems with that level of directed anger.

The s-word is more generally used to express intense frustration, and as long as that frustration is short-lived, I think it is harmless. The use of cuss words in those situations doesn't bother me, because the underlying emotions don't bother me. I've found other ways to express that frustration than cuss words or euphemisms for cuss words, probably because of the sensitivities of people around me... but I don't have a problem with others who cuss in that way.

For me, it's really the underlying emotion, not the particular words used to express it, that are the issue... but neither do I find any specific pleasure in using particular words to express my emotions, so for the sake of the comfort of those I spend time with on a regular basis, I have found it quite easy to find other ways to express those emotions.

I'll be very interested to hear what others think...

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

I'll have to think about this more, but I think swearing by its nature gets its appeal from its intent to be offensive. Also, in many cases it degrades good or normal things (such as sex or, in a more extreme way, God) by turning them into expressions of contempt or offense. Some of them, like wishing for someone to go to hell or accusing them of incest, are simply terrible things to say to someone. Others are simply ridiculous, IMHO.

I don't swear at all--even the euphemisms. The closest I come is saying "rats" or "man", and I try not to do that. I do tend to make growling "Argh!" type of noises and say things like "Oh, no!" or "Ouch!" in situations where many people might swear.

This weekend I opened the freezer and was deluged with ice and grey water from a jammed icemaker. My silence as I froze to the spot, mouth open and staring at the wreckage, was enough to get the attention of everyone in the room.

In a way, I think using a swear word to express frustration or anger is a deflection--a way of avoiding putting honest and clear words to your feelings. It's harder and more personal to say "I'm angry" (or "That makes me mad") than to simply use profanity, because the first option requires owning your emotion and taking responsibility for it, where the second doesn't.

I've never felt that not swearing inhibited my expression of emotion or opinions--to the contrary, I think it causes me to communicate more effectively.

In a discussion, profanity is I think very similar to name-calling--a way to avoid using rational discussion and derail the conversation by causing offense or making personal attacks instead of dealing with the real issues.

Angela

Kevin said...

I think of swearing as just words: a means of communication. The question is, what are we communicating when we swear? A lot of swear words are vague in their applied connotation, but society has agreed to give them power -- power to shock or raise attention or convey a greater magnitude of emotions that the person does not feel they can otherwise express. Clearly, they have a purpose, otherwise they would not exist.

Swearing can be important in therapy, for example, for cases where people have been holding in their emotions rather than expressing them. Swearing can be a reasonable place to start releasing pent up emotions, because it is freeing and gives the swearer the sense that they have better, more strongly communicated the gravity of what they are feeling. It can be important to know that you can swear and express how you feel as best and freely as you can and still be loved.

If used sparingly, swearing can get people's attention; though it will probably then attract some people, while repelling others. Of course, there are also those who swear as a speech impediment, similarly to how others might insert "like" between every other word. But, in general, since the meaning of swear words is so vague and intended to be saturated with emotion, they bring a big risk as to what will actually be communicated and the reaction it will receive.

I think it is a shame that people have innate fears of words whose definitions are so vague. It seems that the societal power of traditional blasphemy or swear words has largely waned, giving way to the waxing power of racial or gender epithets. Perhaps in part due to political correctness, these highly charged and uncomfortable words trigger fear and hate, which is probably why they are ripe for comedians to exploit.

So, like Mark and Angela, I tend to view swearing as reflective of the swearer's emotions that they feel they cannot otherwise express, and strive not to take personal offense. I try to assume the best intentions. On the other hand, I also strive to express myself clearly and effectively, and that generally means not using swear words.

Of course, we are speaking of swear words as cursing or profanity, rather than taking an oath. IIRC, the history of the confluence of those definitions is interesting, perhaps even significant for Christians, but alas, I've forgotten it at the moment.

Mark Congdon said...

there are also those who swear as a speech impediment, similarly to how others might insert "like" between every other word.

Kevin, what a delightful and useful way of putting things! :)

Mark

Douglas_Coombs said...

"there are also those who swear as a speech impediment, similarly to how others might insert "like" between every other word."

I second Mark. Nice turn of words.

purple_kangaroo said...

In relation to the "speech impediment" point . . .

One of the issues I think is a concern with using profanity is that it seems to be one of those things that's very hard to control. If it becomes habit, it seems to be nearly impossible to break.

It's much easier to not swear or to choose to severely limit swearing if you didn't grow up hearing it and aren't in the habit.

So many people find themselves in a huge struggle to try not to use profanity--either at all, or around kids, or in church, or whatever the particular situation in which they want to limit it.

I think it was a definite advantage to me that I didn't grow up hearing or using profanity. It's much easier to not swear if you never have, then to stop or limit it once you've gotten accustomed to it.

I am glad we're not starting our kids off in life with that battle. If they choose to use profanity once they're adults, that will be their choice--not just a mindless ingrained habit. If they choose not to use it, they're off to a good start already.

"I will not be ruled by anything . . . "

I don't think profanity is at all necessary to life or to effective communication, so I guess to me the question is this:

Why choose to start a highly addictive (for lack of a better word) habit that has huge drawbacks and potential for hurting your respect-worthiness and personal interactions, when there is little to no benefit in using this type of speech in the first place?

I can see a lot more reasons NOT to swear than reasons to do it. Unless a person seriously has a desire to lower the strength of their arguments and peoples' repect for them, and think being offensive to others is a positive thing. May as well stop showering while you're at it. :)

I guess I really do see swearing as equivalent to name-calling, telling dirty jokes or burping loudly on purpose at the table. There might possibly be a few situations where it could be appropriate, but by and large it will be more of a detrimental thing than a positive thing in someone's life if they make a habit of it.

purple_kangaroo said...

Oh a related note: what do you all think of obscene gestures? Is it "just a hand movement" or is it something you see as negative?

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

I think your comments apply to certain types of swearing, but not swearing en masse.

Generally speaking, all other things being equal, it is a good thing to use similar language to one's friends and companions. Using mild expletives which are not pointed personal attacks or derogatory descriptions of groups of people (in other words, that don't flow from unhealthy character traits or attitudes) can, in some situations, be a good and beneficial thing.

I guess in theory one could consider that gestures could fit the same description... but in our particular culture, I can't think of any obscene gestures that are ever inocuous.

I think that in many current cultural situations, certain uses of swear words are completely inocuous, and in some circles, avoiding the use of swear words completely would stick out like a sore thumb, causing unnecessary ostracization.

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

Really, Mark? What kinds of words and in what situations could not using swear words cause unecessary ostracization in situations where it wouldn't be connected with other unhealthy activities (such as, for instance, drunkenness and drug use) which would make that a bad crowd to be included in, anyway?

I can't picture any group of people I'd want to be a part of or want my kids to be part of in which not swearing would cause ostracization.

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

I can envision such possibilities easily in the theoretical sense, and have experienced a couple in the real-life sense. But, it's not a big point worth disagreeing over... just different life experiences.

A nice stereotypical example might be a neighborhood poker night. The types of words one might say when they lose a hand are not intrinsically bad. If one person has a completely different vocabulary in those situations, for no particular reason, it has a tendency to make the other people uncomfortable or make that person be viewed as an outsider.

I am a bit confused what swearing has to do with drunkennness and drug use? Those sort of came out of the blue...

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

I haven't experienced and can't imagine any group ostracizing me because I said, "Oh no!" instead of "Oh, c---" when I got a bad hand at playing cards.

If a person is judgemental or rude toward people who swear, that's one thing. I can see a group not interacting well with someone who has that kind of attitude toward them, and rightfully so. But that's not what we're discussing here.

I think I can pretty confidently say that any group of people who would actually ostracize someone simply because they don't swear isn't a group I'd want to be a part of.

I was just saying that a group where swearing is a prerequisite for being accepted is probably the same type of group where there would be peer pressure to do other negative things.

purple_kangaroo said...

So, Mark, essentially you're saying that the danger (and negative consequences) of offending someone by NOT swearing is sometimes greater than the danger of offending people by swearing?

That saying in a card game, "Oh, wow, that was a really bad hand" could be actually more offensive in general than saying, "D---! What a c--- piece of b---s--- that hand was!"

And that maybe we should swear for that reason, because not swearing moght be more offensive to more people than swearing might be?

Am I understanding you correctly?

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

the danger of offending someone by NOT swearing is sometimes greater than the danger of offending people by swearing

This seems self-evident. Offense is in the eyes of the beholder, and some people are offended by what they perceive as snobbery and not at all offended by swearing.

That saying in a card game, "Oh, wow, that was a really bad hand" could be actually more offensive in general than saying, "D---! What a c--- piece of b---s--- that hand was!"

I don't quite follow the "in general". My statement is completely dependent on the specifics of a given situation. I'm not attempting to say anything that would apply generally. The appropriate use of language in any particular group (assuming that the language is not inherently wrong or that the attitudes underlying it are not harmful) would be dependent on the makeup of the group, and I don't feel that any "in general" statement can be made.

And that maybe we should swear for that reason, because not swearing might be more offensive to more people than swearing might be?

The "more offensive to more people" is not something that was part of my comments. Balancing relative levels of offense in a mixed group is a tricky thing, worthy of much more discussion than I am willing to give here. My example was one in which nobody in the group took offense at swearing, so no comparative offense calculations were necessary. Such situations are conceivable, and the theoretical existence of those hypothetical situations is what I was referring to.

If a person is judgemental or rude toward people who swear, that's one thing. I can see a group not interacting well with someone who has that kind of attitude toward them, and rightfully so. But that's not what we're discussing here.

In real life, many people sense judgmentalism where it doesn't exist. Sometimes it is more effective, when there is no inherent wrong, to join in the inocuous behavior rather than leave the underlying level of discomfort and uncertainty in some peoples' minds. In Rome, do as the Romans, you know. Again, this is all predicated on the assumption that the swearing under discussion is inocuous and has no inherent wrong to it.

Flexing on things that are themselves unimportant, for the sake of group identity or relational ease, can be a very wise thing to do.

Again, depending on the specifics of the situation.

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

So, if everyone swears when other people are doing it just to fit in, how would you know if some people are actually offended by it and just swearing because they're afraid not to? I guess I just don't really get the "do something you don't like doing and wouldn't normally do just so nobody notices you might possibly be different from the rest of the peer group" status quo.

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

If swearing is something that I "don't like doing" (assuming you mean don't like in the "dislike" sense, not the "don't take special enjoyment in" sense)... then I agree with you that swearing in any such group would be counterproductive.

My example assumed a completely neutral attitude toward swearing on my part.

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

See, the differece is that swearing is by its very nature offensive, rude and to some extent socially unacceptable in our culture. That's what makes profanity profanity, by definition. If it wasn't considered profane, it wouldn't be profanity.

So if someone is offended by profanity, it's probably because it's offensive. I would tend to think that if someone is offended by another person's not using profanity, it's probably because it makes them feel guilty or uncomfortable about their own use of profanity.

So yes, I guess I feel that there is an inherently negative thing about using profanity. Depending on the words, some are I think inherently wrong to use in that way. Others are just rude and uncouth, and IMHO immature.

If someone swore on my blog I wouldn't hesitate to remove or edit the post, and if they were using profanity excessively in my home or business establishment, or in front of my children, I think it would be reasonable to ask them to tone down their language or leave.

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

the differece is that swearing is by its very nature offensive, rude and to some extent socially unacceptable in our culture.

I disagree that swearing is any of those things "by its very nature". It is socially unacceptable in some parts of our culture, in some social groups. Some types of swearing, possibly some particular words, are "by nature" offensive or rude (going back to earlier comments, I think this is because of the underlying motives behind the swearing). But, I believe that some swearing is inocuous... the poker game scenario being one hypothetical example, I think.

So yes, I guess I feel that there is an inherently negative thing about using profanity. Depending on the words, some are I think inherently wrong to use in that way. Others are just rude and uncouth, and IMHO immature.

"Depending on the words"... in that we agree. Let's talk about the words that are not "inherently wrong". You call them rude, uncouth, and immature... all descriptions of social attitudes toward the use of those words. Those negatives social attitudes are far from universal in our society. Therefore, in particular social groups where particular swear words (which are not intrinsically bad) are not considered rude, uncouth, or immature, I consider them to be just words, like any other words.

If someone swore on my blog I wouldn't hesitate to remove or edit the post, and if they were using profanity excessively in my home or business establishment, or in front of my children, I think it would be reasonable to ask them to tone down their language or leave.

Certainly reasonable, and fully within your rights. I hope nothing that I have said in this discussion came across as contradictory or derogatory toward what you described in this paragraph.

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

Mark: If they were just words, like any other words, they would not be swearing. A swear word or profanity is, by its very definition, a word or a way of using a particular word that is considered offensive in some way by a society in general.

The word screw, for instance, is a perfectly good and acceptable word when used to refer to a little piece of metal with spiral threading used to hold two pieces of wood together. In another meaning it could be perfectly appropriate to use in the bedroom or referring to bedroom activities, in the right context. In that context it may be a little uncouth, but I wouldn't really consider it swearing.

However, if used in anger and particularly directed at a person in combination with the word "you" it simply IS an offensive term in our society--and anyone using it that way is intentionally using it for that effect. That's what makes it a swear word.

It's a way of communicating not only anger, but also disrespect. That's what the word used in that way means, period. In that sense, it's going to be in some sense innately offensive even in a group of people who use or hear it so much that they hardly notice it any more.

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

However, if used in anger and particularly directed at a person in combination with the word "you" it simply IS an offensive term in our society

Agreed. I think I've been consistent and explicit on that point throughout this discussion, as regards words "used in anger" and "particularly directed at a person".

I'm confused why you keep using examples in which I have explicity agreed with you, but as if you think I disagree with you about them.

A swear word or profanity is, by its very definition, a word or a way of using a particular word that is considered offensive in some way by a society in general.

Well, if that's the way you define a swear word, then there are by definition no inocuous swear words. And, the words that I am referring to, which are inocuous, must be called something different. Sorry.

Let's use the example of a poker game, and a player losing a hand, and good-naturedly saying "d---". By our society in general, at least large parts of it, that is not considered offensive. Therefore, by your definition, it is not profanity or a swear word. But, that's the type of word I've been talking about. I guess it needs another name. Any suggestions?

You used the example of "screw you", pointing out that that phrase is a way of showing anger and disrespect. You're exactly right. I can't think of a single hypothetical situation where using the phrase "screw you" would be worthwhile.

But the usage examples that I have been working with are very different than that example. My examples are not being used to show anger or disrespect. I've tried to make that repeatedly explicit.

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

Dictionary.com has the following definitions which are relevant to this discussion:

Profanity:

1. The condition or quality of being profane.

a. Abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language.
b. The use of such language.

Swear: To use profane oaths; curse.

Curse: A profane word or phrase; a swearword.

(Those are all from the American Heritage Dictionary)

Expletive: An exclamation or oath, especially one that is profane, vulgar, or obscene.

Profane: Marked by contempt or irreverence for what is sacred.
Vulgar; coarse.

Vulgar: conspicuously and tastelessly indecent

Obscene: Offensive to accepted standards of decency or modesty.
Inciting lustful feelings; lewd.
Repulsive; disgusting

Swearword: An obscene or blasphemous word.
Profane or obscene expression usually of surprise or anger.

purple_kangaroo said...

D--- means "wish harm upon; invoke evil upon" condemn to everlasting punishment, or to send something or someone to Hell.

Using that word as an expression of anger is profane and inappropriate, and degrading something very serious to the level of an etiphet, and that's why it's considered a cuss word. By its very nature it is a swear word because society in general considers it inappropriate. Also, the Bible specifically says not to use it in that way, I think--doesn't it? And so therefore it is especially offensive to those who revere the Bible.

People who truly don't consider it inappropriate, I would think, are those who don't think Hell is something real or serious, or don't see anything wrong with swishing for someone to go there, and therefore aren't offended by someone using it lightly. If it's used properly as a serious theological term, it's not swearing in that context.

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

I'm not interested in debating the specific word d--- with you, if you feel it is in a special boat (akin to taking God's name in vain, which this conversation is expressly not discussing).

Do you feel that there are any words which are not inherently (in their non-literal uses) offensive?

Backing up, let me state my thesis, without resorting to hypothetical examples. I'll try to add the necessary qualifiers.

I believe that there are some words which are currently called "swear words" in common parlance, but which most people in our culture do not find inherently offensive, which do not profane things I consider sacred, and which do not denigrate any group of people. In some conceivable situations, where there are no people present who dislike or would be offended by such words, and where the words are commonly used by a majority of the group members as words of emphasis or good-natured frustration (never anger or frustration directed at another person)... in such situations the use of "swear words" (common usage) is innocuous, and one who is neutral about the use of such words might well choose to use them in that particular context for the sake of group community.

Does that help move things forward at all?

purple_kangaroo said...

Well, there are a few words in Doug's list that I wouldn't consider swear words or offensive, if that's what you mean?

Honestly, though, I can't see any real advantage to using swear words in general, even in a situation such as you describe, and can think of several disadvantages to using them.

Also, how likely do you think it is that someone could use such words and never use them in anger or directed toward a person?

Kevin said...

I think both of you are making valid points.

I think most swear words tend to connote more than their literal meaning. e.g. Is it equivalent to call a woman a "bitch" as to call her "spiteful" or "overbearing"? What does it mean to "damn" an inanimate object? Or say "shit" versus "poo" or "doo doo"? By consensus, we charge these words with emotion, far beyond their literal definition. But why would we, as a society, agree to give such power to certain words if they are never to be used?

Perhaps as a test? -- to more easily distinguish those with bad habits or uncontrolled emotions? The vulgar from the elite or refined? Of course, it can be used by both sides.

Since society condemns swearing in public, swearing in private can be a sign of comfort within an inner circle -- i.e. a group wherein we know that we will not be condemned for anything we say. You do not have to swear, but know that you can swear without condemnation.

In other cases, for example, racial epithets are permitted from within a group, but not from outside of it (as Mark perhaps implied)... I think that these may even be considered the worst words by modern standards.

Or, perhaps such words are intended to be used, but only sparingly, when our own emotions feel so excessive that all other words seem inadequate. Of course, if we abuse these swear words, they lose their power. And, as some words lose their power, we freshly endow previously innocuous words with that power. (cf. "niggardly")

But I think PK's quote is key: "I will not be ruled by anything...". Above all, we should strive for self-control and effective communication. Swear words are generally too emotionally complex to communicate effectively, and certainly not helpful for children who are just learning to express and control themselves.

purple_kangaroo said...

Kevin, I find your line of thinking interesting about why society would endow certain words with such power/meaning if they're not "supposed" to be used that way. I tend to think of it differently.

Rather than swear words being words that were coined with the intention of expressing strong (usually negative) feelings, I think they are words which were coined for other purposes and are being misused. In almost all cases it's not the words themselves, but their misuse, that is offensive.

To profane something is to take something that is holy and use it in an unholy way. That's what makes the use offensive. It it were being used properly and respectfully, it wouldn't be profane.

That's the whole problem with taking God's name in vain. It's not that God's name is inherently offensive (well, in our current society that could be debated, but . . . ).

The idea is that God's name is such a powerful and holy thing that its misuse in that way is offensive. Even though that's not the subject of our discussion, I think it applies to most if not all swear words--they are swear words because they are using words for objects or actions in an inappropriate way.

Bodily functions, for example, are a normal and natural part of life, and there's nothing inherently wrong with them. Pooping in the toilet is necessary and inoffensive. Purposely pooping on someone's doorstep or on their feet, however, is the height of insult.

Many swear words are the verbal equivalent of defecating in an inappropriate but not supremely offensive place, which is why I think the use of words for bodily functions (even the milder equivalents) as exclamations is at the very least rude and uncouth, and in many cases truly offensive. These words I would call uncouth.

Words for urination and defecation fall into the uncouth category, as might words for certain body parts. These are objects and actions that, as a society, it's not normally appropriate to discuss or do in public. So using them casually as an exclamation is somewhat shocking. That's where they get their appeal as swear words.

However, uncouth words are often not considered highly offensive unless they're specifically directed at someone or something we value. That's why saying a word for defecation as an exclamation of surprise is generally less offensive than calling a person by that word would be.

Generally, the most offensive swear words misuse something that most people see (or at least used to see) as a sacred, honored or precious thing. They're the verbal equivalent of using a sacred book or a photograph of a loved one as toilet paper. I would call these words profane.

Words that refer to God, something holy, or something precious and valuable like sex or human beings (i.e. a particular people group) are offensive when used as swear words because using those words that way cheapens and profanes them. It puts something good or powerful in a negative light, cheapens or devalues it.

What category people would put a particular word into (and therefore how offensive they would find it) depends on how they view the object or action the word portrays.

For instance, most people don't consider words for hell or eternal damnation to carry much power because they don't believe those things really exist or are important. But for those of us who do believe in them and believe they should be treated seriously, those words are much more offensive when used that way.

Most people might consider a word like d--- to fit into the uncouth category, whereas I would be more likely to put it into the profane category.

Sometimes words change categories over time or fit into different categories in different cultures because the object or action they describe is viewed differently.

Blood is a sacred thing, taken very seriously, in some cultures and in the history of many religions. Thus to some people using a word for it as a swear word is profane. To others it's only slightly uncouth.

A sacred cow is an interesting one, because to some cultures/religions it is truly a holy thing, and thus to use it as an exclamation is profaning something holy. In other cultures/religions a cow that is worshipped is the height of a profane thing in itself, so it is offensive not because it is a misuse of something holy but because it is an incredibly unholy thing.

So I guess maybe there are 3 categories:

Uncouth: the inappropriate use of something not generally discussed in polite society.

Profane: taking something holy or valuable and degrading it by using it in an inappropriate way.

Evil: taking something generally considered horrific, profane or evil in itself and using it to describe something in an offensive way.

I think that most swear words either do or have at some point fit into one of those three categories.

Euphemisms are generally words for the same things used in the same ways, but either disguised or substituted so that people know what is meant but the offensiveness is less obvious--essentially like whispering a word instead of shouting it.

Words like blankity-blank or the visual depiction of swearing as asterisks and number signs I'm not sure about. I don't think they qualify as swearing, really. They may be more equivalent to narrative words: Saying "he swore violently" is not in itself swearing.

Narrative swear words are more like saying, "If I swore, I'd be swearing right now. But I'm not going to swear."

There might be a fine line sometimes between euphemisms and narrative mentions of swearing; I'm not sure about that.

What do you all think of this way of looking at swearing? Accurate and helpful to the discussion, or not?

Mark Congdon said...

PKanga,

Very helpful... thanks!

I agree with you in regard to the profane and evil words. I also agree with you that uncouth words are highly offensive when "specifically directed at someone or something we value".

What I have been spending most of my time attempting to refer to (sometimes ineffectively) are the uncouth words, used impersonally, in particular contexts where your criteria don't apply.

Your criteria were: "These are objects and actions that, as a society, it's not normally appropriate to discuss or do in public. So using them casually as an exclamation is somewhat shocking. That's where they get their appeal as swear words."

I'm referring to situations where the use of such words are not shocking, just habitual. They are an exclamation just like any other exclamation... they're just the habitual one that group is accustomed to using. The word, used in that context, means nothing more than "I'm exclaiming". It really no longer has any connection to its original literal meaning.

Using words for shock value is, in almost every case, a lazy way of communicating.

Using words in a social group where there is no shock value, but the word is simply a habitual part of the language of the group, is something that I would consider to be appropriate.

I can imagine scenarios where it would be not only appropriate, but advantageous... but I doubt I will ever find myself in such a situation, so it's a pretty insignificant point.

Also, how likely do you think it is that someone could use such words and never use them in anger or directed toward a person?


Highly likely. I can think of a number of people I know well who use uncouth words as exclamations on a regular basis, but whom I have never heard (and can't imagine hearing) use those same words as personally-directed attacks. There is a significant difference in usage between an exclmation and an attack, even if the word is the same.

Mark

Kevin said...

PKanga,

I agree that swear words can be diluted, particularly by contextually indicating that they are not intended to offend (i.e. "appropriate" use vs. misuse). I also agree that the literal meaning of a swear word is usually offensive to some degree.

However, I don't think that the literal meaning is the most relevant criteria for swear words since, for all (?) swear words, there exists a less offensive term with the same meaning that is not commonly considered a swear word. i.e. Are euphemisms also swear words?

Swear words are born of the highest offense, so it makes sense that they are selected from the most sacred or sensitive issues in society (which broadly might currently be gender and racial issues). But I think that some additional communal endowment of emotional response is required to establish a "swear word".

e.g. many of the most severe swear words (in the U.K.? :)) don't seem to have a particularly offensive literal meaning attached to them.

I think your categories are more oriented toward degrees of offense, which is useful in the larger discussion, but I don't think it distinguishes swear words from other verbal offense.

Kevin

purple_kangaroo said...

This is a really fascinating conversation. I think of swear words as offensive by nature, so if it's a non-offensive "swear" word, then I think of it as "not really a swear word." I think that's where Mark and I were crossing lines a bit in communication.

But obviously there are words that are considered offensive or profane by some people and not by others.

Also, as you point out, Kevin, even words with the same meaning and use have degrees of offensiveness.

I'm really curious now about the history of swearing itself, and what makes a swear word a swear word.

Also, I find it interesting that to Mark the degree of offensiveness is determined by the emotion conveyed by the word, whereas to me the degree of offensiveness has more to do with the meaning of the word itself. Fascinating stuff.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Holy Cow, Batman. I sure missed alot. I was only able to peruse most of the comments and pick out a couple things to comment on.

"Swear words are generally too emotionally complex to communicate effectively, and certainly not helpful for children who are just learning to express and control themselves"

Good point about the kid angle, Kevin.

As has been pointed out, damn is a problematic word because it is often associated with taking God's name in vain, which I was trying to exclude. It is valuable to include, in two ways 1) it is not always used profanely and 2) while some people are highly offended at the word damn when used in the profane sense, many at the same time take no offense at the word darn when it is used synonymously in the exact same profane manner (e.g., the movie That Darn Cat).

For instance, if somebody were a newspaper (or blog) editor, would they remove or edit one word and not the other? This seems problematic to me from the standpoint of definition and meaning. The two words are synonyms. From the standpoint of people's reactions and the audience, it can certainly be understandable and even appropriate on the principle of not giving offense. Do you leave in darn and act but take out damn, offending some who see it as hypocritical or take out both and come across as hyperjudgmental and a bit wacky.

I just question why segments of our culture damn specific words to the outer reaches of uncouth society and glibly accept synonyms without comment. For instance, there is nothing profane about my usage of the word damn in the previous sentence. It's usage does not dismiss or profane hell or anybody else. It is accurately describes the condemnation to a specific fate received by the word among specific subcultures. At the same time, I would have been hamstrung by my mother for saying such things while That Darn Cat was a well-liked movie and nobody said a single word about the profane usage of the word darn in that context growing up.

It also seems that some words have nearly lost their uncouth appeal/meaning. In fact, Webster defines screw as having both a vulgar meaning and a completely non-vulgar meaning when used in a cuss-word like situation (e.g., I was screwed out of a job). When one stretches the meaning of the word screw is that then appropriating the vulgar usage or the non-vulgar? For instance, when saying the schedule is screwed in the context of something going wrong due to an accident or bad weather.

I'll admit to using many words unawares that they had a vulgar background. When I first started using the term, "such and such is screwed," I literally thought that it's etymology was that of metal joining wood with pressure. Similarly, I didn't know that prick could mean penis until today. I thought it just meant a jerk. Oh, simple naivite. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. It was a perfectly useful and descriptive term until today. I've even used it to describe the occasional behavior of a very nice and fairly ambitious homeschooler in C's algebra class when he relates in a frustrated manner to other students who are being lazy and trying to get his goat.

Anybody know where the term "get his goat" comes from?

Doug

Douglas_Coombs said...

"One of the issues I think is a concern with using profanity is that it seems to be one of those things that's very hard to control. If it becomes habit, it seems to be nearly impossible to break."

This is a good point and one I'm working through right now.

At the same time, swearing strikes me as a bit like smoking. Addictive smoking is bad and can kill not only the smoker but those around him or her. However, an occasional smoke is not in and of itself sinful... at least as far as I can tell. I don't smoke or chew, but I certainly don't want to get in the face of the many friends (Protestant and Catholic) who like to celebrate significant events with a cigar or pipe. I must admit, I struggle to see why one friend in particular loves to go out after the Easter Vigil and celebrate with the new crop of converts by smoking cigars, but who am I to tell him it's bad. He's a much holier person than I am. I just don't go hang with them because after growing up around a very addicted smoker, I'm rather sensitive to the stuff.

Doug

Kevin said...

Good summary, PKanga. Glad you could join back in, Doug.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our modern concept of swear words seem related to oaths. In particular a "curse-oath" wherein you swear that something terrible will befall you if you do not live up to your oath. At this point, though, it seems to have morphed and abstracted into a means to offend or emotional catharsis.

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica has a somewhat interesting article on oaths, which I skimmed... it appears to have been OCR'd.

As I may have implied earlier, I think the pejorative use of "vulgar" to mean "crudely indecent" is also telling of our associations with swear words.

I don't know if it's accurate, but the entry in The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy for "get someone's goat" reads:
"""
To make someone annoyed or angry: “Gavin may seem unflappable, but I know a way to get his goat.” This expression comes from a tradition in horse racing. Thought to have a calming effect on high-strung thoroughbreds, a goat was placed in the horse’s stall on the night before the race. Unscrupulous opponents would then steal the goat in an effort to upset the horse and cause it to lose the race.
"""

grandmac said...

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that people who do swear have traditionally been looked at as being very uneducated and non-cultured.

I also think that one should stick to not swearing (and many other things) even if it does make you fit in better in the certain circumstances Mark suggested. Others look at Christians and their lives as examples of how their life could be different with God in charge, not the same. Being on construction sites a lot we were exposed to many instances of swearing when someone didn't know we were there, but even non-Christians realized that we would be offended by it because of how we lived our lives and would stop swearing if they realized we were there and apologize even. I think we do not realize what impact we can have on others by not following along with what is accepted when we think we could fit in better.

Mark Congdon said...

grandmac,

Your point is quite valid, if it is assumed that the swearing being discussed is an unhealthy thing. Much, maybe even most, swearing is unhealthy.

I'm not at all convinced that all swearing, in any situation, is unhealthy. I think that if we start applying the "we should be different" rule to things that are really unimportant, we unnecessarily isolate ourselves from the world.

Should Christians go to movies? Should Christians play cards? Should Christians dance? Should Christians listen to loud, upbeat music?

I personally know people who, for each of the questions above, would say "No". But I think they're wrong. I think Christians (and everyone else) should work to discern what types of movies, card-playing, dancing, music, etc. are acceptable (and safe for them), not simply make the entire category illegal because some of the specifics are unhealthy.

I think the same principle applies to the use of words that are commonly considered "swear" words in our society.

Mark

grandmac said...

I would agree that we have to look at each thing and decide if it fits biblical principles. I was not trying to imply that we try not fit in, but that we do not compromise biblical principles, change who we are personally or values we have in order to fit in.

To me if you don't normally swear and you do when with others who do "to fit in" better, it sounds like you are compromising yourself. This is just my opinion about the situation in general and not meant as a slam. I also think most non-christians understand this aspect better than christians, as in general many non-christians understand when you refrain from doing something or dressing a certain way (the list could go on) better than christians. "In my experience" I have been given a much harder time by Christians for what I choose or not choose to do than by non-christians. It seems like the christians expect you to change to try to fit in, while non-christians tend to accept you more for what you believe and how that affects what you do.


A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Lu 6:45

Are swear words part of the "good treasure of our hearts" that bring forth those words when we speak?


I love how the Jewish Bible reads about how we should be with non-christians.

Colossians 4:5 Behave wisely toward outsiders, making full use of every opportunity - 6 let your conversation always be gracious and interesting, so that you will know how to respond to any particular individual.

Now there is a challenge for us. Scary thought - I have to be interesting? as well as gracious? :-)

Mark Congdon said...

grandmac,

Again, I agree with you. We should never "compromise biblical principles". We should never "change who we are personally". We should never go against "values we have". I fully agree.

In situations where using certain words (whether they are called "swear" words seems up for debate in this conversation) does not compromise biblical principles... and where using those words does not go against one's identity... and where using those words does not compromise one's values... but where one's general non-use of the words comes from situational propriety... then, it could be appropriate to use such words in a different situation where the situational propriety was different.

In your case, clearly using such words would go against your personality and values, and so it would never be a good thing for you to use them.

Mark

Amy said...

I didn't have time to read the last little bit of this discussion, but I did want to respond to Mark's comments about it being better to use bad language in certain places.

I have found that when I am around those who swear, they are very aware of the fact that they are using bad language, and they respect me for not using it. I've had people appologize to me for using words on this list. Why would they be ashamed if they don't think the words are bad? I have never heard of anyone looking down on someone for NOT using a bad word.

Also, as Christians don't we make people uncomfortable all the time? I kinda thought that was the point. We are shining the Light of God. The darkness hates the Light. Those who want something DIFFERENT than darkness will be drawn to the Light.

Just my two cents. :-)

Mark Congdon said...

Amy,

Thanks for joining in!

I think my comments to grandmac would apply to your comment as well...

Mark

purple_kangaroo said...

So I guess the pivotal question is, are all "swear words" inherently morally wrong (including milder euphemisms), no matter what? Or are some wrong and some morally neutral?

For instance, using colorful words to refer to a person's buttocks might be a bit uncouth, but I doubt it's a sin. Is it a good testimony, or just kind of silly, when someone goes to great lengths to avoid ever using the anatomically correct or most culturally common words to apply to something?

I've discovered that some of the "inoffensive" terms most people don't consider swearing could be problematic, too. For instance, "Oh my goodness" is a euphemism for taking the Lord's name in vain also, and for Pete's sake refers to Saint Peter (as one step away from God).

Drat, rats, and "for crying out loud" are all minced oaths refering to God.

So, as I've been guilty of doing, using a term like "oh my goodness gracious" or even just "oh my . . . " instead of a slightly more offensive term might not help your testimony so much as brand you as an affectatious hypocrite.

Which leads to an interesting question . . . a lot of people use the term "God bless you" (or "bless you" for short) when someone sneezes. It's not technically swearing, but if it's used as a matter of course, without really meaning it, then isn't it using God's name in vain?

I think Mark has a good point that some of the words which aren't insulting or taking God's name in vain might be pretty inoffensive and probably not actually sinful when used in certain contexts.

Plus, the offensive but not profane words do change over time. Pregnancy used to be an unmentionable cultural taboo, for which euphemisms still abound. The King James Bible matter-of-factly uses the word "piss" because it simply was not an offensive word at the time. Words for bodily functions being considered swear words at all is a relatively recent development, I believe.

Wikipedia says of the word profanity: The original meaning of the term was restricted to blasphemy, sacrilege or speaking God's name in vain. However, the term has been extended to include expressions with scatological, sexist, derogatory, racist, or sexual themes.

Saying "rats" or "oh my word" may actually be more morally wrong than saying a variant of "poop", because the latter is not a use of God's name in vain.

To be consistent and avoid all swearing and profanity, one would have to avoid nearly all commonly-used exclamations.

If a person truly wants to avoid all swearing or profanity, they would do best to stick to words that are onomotopaeic (describing sounds) rather than euphemistic (describing objects or ideas) or minced. Safe choices would include words such as "wow", "aargh," "ack" and "oops".

Kevin said...

Then all you need is for someone to attach some questionable meaning to one of your "safe words" to take it away from you. As you and Doug have pointed out, people use euphemisms or minced words without even realizing their history as such... ah, ignorance is bliss. Luckily, everyone else is probably likewise ignorant, so is any harm by association actually committed?

Perhaps we can conduct an experiment and shout fictitious "swear words" at passers-by: pin racker! foo booter! shin stuffer! What a gay time that would be. :)

Maybe you're right and there are times that you don't really want God to bless somebody when they sneeze. Instead, let's say, "God's will be done," to which they'll retort, "What's that supposed to mean?". Or maybe it's best to stick with the more agnostic "Gesundheit"?

Which brings up the question of meaning and intention. When someone swears, do you think they generally mean what they are literally saying? If not, then what is the expected meaning? What about when they are trying to be funny? Even quoting swear words appears to be a no-no.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Onomotopaeic words...

What a long, convoluted pronunciation to describe such simple words.

Doug

purple_kangaroo said...

I love the word onomatopoeia and use it wherever possible. Mainly, I just like the way it sounds--a rather fitting reason, I guess. :)

I think I misspelled onomatopoeic in my earlier post, though. Or maybe I should have said onomatopoetic.

I'm not sure on the correct usage of those two words. Do they have slightly different meanings, or are they interchangable--anybody know?

purple_kangaroo said...

Kevin, that's a good question. I think that most of the widely objectional words, people do know what they mean. But I know a lot of people use the euphemisms without knowing what they mean.

D. R. Driver said...

Onomatopoeic will mean the same as onomatopoetic, which is characterized by onomatopoeia. Try echoic if you prefer.

Let me add an interesting case you've not exactly touched on, in a very interesting and durable conversation.

I am an American, living and studying in the UK. I know several other Americans here doing (or accompanying those doing) the same thing. We have conversations about our experiences. I have had a conversation about one word probably a dozen times in the last two years: fanny.

Back there it means “bum.” The sort of word a mother uses to a child who needs to get back in her highchair. Over here it means cunt, which is about the worst curse word I can think of. (And Kevin, w/r/t your comment some weeks back, on 5/13, the Brits I’ve talked to agree the is about the most offensive word imaginable, and its meaning is very literal.)

It happens that many of us don’t know this when we arrive, and discover it by saying a seemingly innocent word, and offending the pants (or trousers, I should say) off our Scottish hosts. Which raises several issues. One, swearing is context dependent. Two, there are sometimes reasons to avoid words that aren’t swear words to you at all. These are fairly obvious. There are more, though.

Three, with an outsiders perspective, swearing can be funny. I’ve more than once seen the topic of fanny/cunt come up with Brits and Americans such that the usual connotation for the Brit became transparent, and parties from both sides of the Atlantic shared a good laugh. Then again, Mark may wish to testify that I have a damaged sense of humor. (Even so, I have another example: when Will Smith says “Damn!” to the sugar-water lady in MIB.)

Four is actually just a repeat of one, but now I’ll make the point. I work with a very Christian girl from New Zealand who tells me many of our harsher words are mere euphemisms in Kiwi land. I have little personal experience here, but she suggests that as a culture, they are far more laid back about offensive language. And therefore, maybe, language is less offensive. I have no doubt that it’s still possible to be rude, but even growing up in a family of teetotalers, she swears it was not a problem to say the ‘s-word’ in front of her grandma. Put differently, how hard is it to offend a surfer? Is there something wrong with these people?

Kevin said...

Nice of you to join in the discussion, D. R. Driver. :)

Thanks for your example of a culturally dependent swear word. I think it further highlights that it is generally not the literal meaning of swear words that is offensive, but rather some culturally attached emotional response. Else, what does it mean to be "female genital organs"? Clearly, something strongly negative is additionally implied that goes beyond the literal meaning.

Put another way, if we replace a swear word with its literal definition, is the fundamental effect changed?

I also agree that swearing can be funny in the right context, probably in large part because it is inappropriate.

I like your final questions.

steviepinhead said...

Wow! Long thread and interesting comments, folks! Who woulda thunk?

I'm just gonna throw out some rather random thoughts sparked by what's gone before.

1. I do thing there are cultural contexts in which "bad" words become "sub-culture" identifiers. Teenagers will use certain words to "inflect" a sentence, to add rhythym or coolness or a sense of group-identification or rebelliousness against the (linguistically-acceptable or adult-imposed) norm. While the words used in this fashion are initially understood to be "bad" on some level, in most cases, the frequency of use quickly "debases the currency" or at least dilutes it, as some of you have noted.

Pretty soon, "frickin' this" and frickin' that (to indulge in a slight euphemism) has little more impact--in terms of invoking either the indelicate sexual connotation or the linguistic prohibition--than does the teenager's incessant insertion of the word "like" between every third word of dialogue.

I think this catches a little of the flavor of Mark's discussion about the inoffensive habitual use of "bad" terms in specific contexts. If an easily-offended adult happens to overhear an animated teenage discussion (in the back of the bus, perhaps), the words may "regain" their original impact (at least in the auditor's mind, and perhaps in that of the conversing teens, if they realize the effect they're having, and "amp" it up a bit...).

Otherwise, however, the "bad" words employed rather mindlessly in particular situations (boys' night out) or in particular subgroups, can largely lose their "bad"ness. So intent and context are certainly key, as I think Mark has emphasized.

steviepinhead said...

More Stevie ramblings:

2. PK (I think it was) also made an interesting point about the tie-in to defecation and other bodily functions. Anthropologically, there is an interesting structural overlap of certain central metaphors for viewing the world: thus, the basic bodily biological functions--eating, drinking, pissing, pooping, passing gas--are performed via orifices that are also employed for reproductive (menstruating, impregnating, birthing), ritual (singing, imbibing the sacraments, swearing an oath, incanting a magical curse or formula), and communicative (talking, warning, pronouncing) functions.

Our bodies have an outside and an inside, resembling others externally but containing our unique selves internally. To some extent, this duality corresponds to a spiritual or metaphorical opposition between the material, world-like body the immaterial self or soul, the locus of thoughts and values, the unworldly or divine.

Likewise, household items will have close associations with these basic bodily functions (chairs, tables, basins, clothing, food containers, plumbing), and many will have an entrance or an exit, an inside and an outside, a visible and an invisible aspect, or will have "limbs" or other features that are analagous in one way or another to a human/animal body (chairs have legs and arms and seats, musical instruments may have bodies and heads and necks).

The house itself has an entrance and an exit, an inside and outside, a plumbing and ventilation system, and so on, which may also come to stand in for or symbolize aspects of its inhabitants' status, health, and prosperity. As with the body, food and water and fuel must enter in and waste must be jettisoned. A house may be "dressed up" (painted, landscaped, decorated) for everyday and special purposes. Like a body, a house may need to be defended from inappropriate invasion and accident, but must be welcoming and inviting to appropriate visitors and gifts.

One's close and extended kin, by blood or marriage, and one's village, town, city, subculture, tribe, and society may be visualized or symbolized in similarly bodily-structural terms--with outward walls, boundaries, and edifices, flags, crests, and anthems, and inward ritual observances, values, spirit, and hidden sanctums.

Ultimately, the landscape, the world, and the cosmos itself may be viewed, to a certain extent, as a "corpus" with an inner (self, safe, civilized, controlled) dimension and an outer (other, dangerous, savage, wild) dimension, and by a process of extension or inversion, there may be supernatural "over" or "under" worlds in which mythical and magical beings, ancestors, ghosts, or gods exist in their own "counterpart" reality, which is perceived as something ordered and structured more or less like our regular world, only more so--with homes or palaces, gates and bridges, kinships and rivalries and hierarchies something like our own.

So perhaps we should not be entirely surprised to realize that "bad" words bring together a seemingly disparate group of concepts or activities:basic bodily functions, reproductive functions, kinship relations, and cosmic or divine beings. We enter this life through a portal and process that is at once the very primal essence of the biological, physical, material, sexual, and earthly and at the same time a mystical, mysterious, magical cosmic gateway between the ineffable and the mortal planes.

We exit this life, often in brutal, painful, or demeaning ways, but at the same time we depart in a highly-ritualized, culturally-charged manner on another mysterious cosmic soul journey.

Little wonder that humans invest these fundamental, overlapping, primal "containers"--of self, family, kin, society, reality, and cosmos--with such intensities of meaning. If these orifices, apertures, entrances and exits are blocked, constipated, or turned to "inappropriate" uses--or if they are hyper-functional (emitting too much waste, noise, over-the-top behavior), then babies may not be born, fish may not spawn, game may not be plentiful, crops may not be bountiful, relatives may not be welcoming, alliances may not prove enduring, the ancestors may turn away, and the cosmic forces may not smile down upon the people.

Serious stuff, and someone who violates the cultural norms of moderation (not too open but not too closed, not too available but not too retiring, not too forceful but not too meek, not marrying too closely but not marrying too far, etc.) is imperiling "us" on a host of levels.

For that reason, perhaps, when we want to express intense pain, disapproval, hostility, anger, or social sanction, we hurl epithets that accuse the malefactor of failing to confine and control waste products, failing to mate with the appropriate kin, gender, or species (!), and failing to maintain an appropriate relationship with the deity.

steviepinhead said...

Final Stevie ramble (for now!):

3. I think Kevin (or someone) made a point about speech defects. And others have questioned whether "bad" language is an actual category of words, or is entirely dependent on shifting social contexts and mores.

In this regard, I think syndromes like Tourette's are fascinating, since they apparently involve some sort of organic or biochemical irregularity that results in a "dis-inhibition" on uttering profanity. We have all heard of "language" centers in the (human) brain, Broca's area and the like. Is profane speech somehow primal ur-speech, having to do with bodily functions, violence, and cosmic forces, which must first be "repressed" or "re-directed" (what's the Freudian term I'm looking for here?) in order for us to converse about "higher order" matters?

Likewise, we are all familiar (by observation or personal experience) with the dis-inhibitions that can result from intoxication: of course, we don't all allow ourselves to become irresponsibly dis-inhibited in the first place and, even when we do, we don't all react by uttering more profanity, becoming hostile, violent, or abusive, or acting out sexually. Still, it is interesting how dis-inhibitions in one of these realms seem to run along with dis-inhibitions in the others...

Looking back up at all this, I realize that it's the usual case of too much "Stevie" all at once. I'll break this into several separate posts so people don't feel they have to "swallow" all this at once.

sarah lee said...

I swear if I had to do this over again,
I would just do the paintings and never show them. See the link below for more info.

#swear
www.ufgop.org