(God) damn it
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).
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.
Saturday, May 06, 2006