Disclaimer: though censored, this blog post will be using words that are profane and not fit for all company. This is not a devotional, but it is from a Christian’s perspective. I have bias. You have been warned.
Me and the idea of vocabulary have an interesting relationship. Notice that I don’t say my vocabulary specifically, but rather, the general idea of the use of words. I don’t fret as much with what words I use as with how I use the words I use. The purpose of talking, for the most part, is to convey a message. Though I know people who seem to be able to talk without conveying any coherent message. Thus, my brain often automatically chooses the words that are associated in my head with some concept or another. I choose the words that I think will most readily convey the message that I intend to relate. I’m by nature an introvert, and most of what I say is calculated beforehand and, to me at least, is important at some level.
But we were talking about vocabulary. Let’s do that.
I was raised in a conservative Christian home, and the topic of swearing was not a major theme in my house, but I was taught throughout my life that language is an important part of how we present ourselves to others. I cannot ever recall either of my parents swearing in any sense of the word, though “non-profane” exclamations were frequently uttered (crap, dang, darn, crud, etc…). I remember hearing my neighbor use that particular four letter word that is used for excrement, and I was quite curious as to its meaning. (My parents were not happy with the new word I had learned, and they ensured that he was sober before I was entrusted to his company again.) I was not exposed to much foul language in everyday conversation when I was younger–partly owing to the company my family kept, and partly owing to the social environment that pervades much of the Southern U.S.
Now that I’m older and have had the chance to really consider the implications of the words that I use, I still do not swear, per se. I do still use various exclamations, but they’ve never been a profanity substitute for me; they’re just exclamations that take the form of words. That’s my take, anyway. Allow me to attempt to explain.
I view profanity in three distinct levels. First of all is the use of exclamations. I’ll call exclamations words that occur after a moment of surprise, disgust, horror, etc.
Wow! That house is huge!
Dang! Why did you have to sneak up on me like that?
D**n, man! What are you wearing?
Let’s start with the first, simple exclamation. We can obviously have words that are used when people are surprised or mad, but that have no negative connotations. Nobody would or does consider these words profanity. I’ve never heard “hey, watch your language,” after someone says “wow!.” These words exist to express our emotions in an audible and standardized form.
The second level is comprised of exclamations include the “non-profane” words that are sometimes cited as profanity substitutes. I use these words fairly often, and I do regret the frequency with which I do use them, but I don’t consider their use morally wrong. I merely regret at times that my vocabulary includes words that are at their best annoying and at their worst vulgar. Let’s use the word “crap” as an example. This word has been used so commonly as an exclamation that its origin has been largely overshadowed. If someone calls a thing crap, he is calling it worthless or nonsense, but he is not necessarily calling it excrement. The word is vulgar, disgusting, and unfortunate, but it is not profane.
I have heard arguments that this level of exclamation is merely a substitute for profanity, and while this may sometimes be the case, I do not think that it is a rule. Excrement is not by default called by a profane name. Excrement is disgusting, repulsive, and generally not something with which we want to be associated, but it is not profane. Vile things are easily made profane, but let’s not dissolve into that discussion. The most neutral term for excrement is excrement. Moving up the scale, I would say that poop and crap are generally on the same level, though the first is more juvenile. Neither of these are profane. Only moving up that scale do we get to the language that is considered profane, and I will trust that the reader will know to what word I am referring. Perhaps if one has become accustomed to swearing, then the use of a second-tier word may be substitutionary, but that does not bring that word up to the level of an inherently profane word.
From a Christian perspective, I would say that it would be best for us to refrain from the use of second-tier language for two reasons, the first being that some are easily offended or tempted to swear, and we should be accommodating of as many as possible, especially when all we must do is avoid certain verbiage. The second reason that I give is that some words are just generally not quality vocabulary. The root of crap is excrement, and comparisons to excrement should generally be reserved for something that is genuinely worthless, deserving of being called refuse. Flippant references to excrement are, in my opinion, not the best use of our vocabulary, and I think that the Bible is quite clear on doing everything we do to the best of our capability. Are we sinning when we use second-tier language? Probably not, but I don’t think it should be a habitual occurrence.
Let’s move on to the third level. This level is that plane on which resides those words that are not acceptable in the presence of minors (miners are ok, though) and polite company. These words have been largely marginalized and accepted by society, yet their use still determines the ratings of movies and games, the appropriateness of conversations, and whether or not one should put a warning before one’s blog post. Self-references for the win. This level is a place that I’ve always found interesting. Certain words are considered less-offensive than others, but they still find themselves in the realm of profanity.
I’d like to make an argument for the disuse of profanity, but let’s start by exploring why people use profanity. Profanity seems to be more and more often seen in mainstream society as an institution that is acceptable and normal. The shock factor of certain words has worn off, and vocabularies have been stunted in the area of exclamations. This is unfortunate in itself, but I have an equal problem with marginalization of definitions. It is not uncommon to hear someone exclaim “d**n that idiot driver,” when in reality, if the speaker were to consider the source meaning of the verb in his statement, he might reconsider his proclamation. This could bring us to a discussion of intention versus statement, but I’ll stay away from that for now. Suffice it to say that I think that this is unfortunate and indicative of a much larger problem.
I think that many people who regularly and casually use profanity do so without an intentional thought as to what the words mean or imply. If this is the case, I would encourage them to consider the meanings of the words they say. I’d love to have a conversation about the intentions of a phrase versus the meanings of its individual components, so please feel free to comment.
The last note that I wish make might be obvious, but I feel that I should still say it. Certain profanity, in my mind, has a place in our vocabulary; the damnation or damning of an object is a proper use of the word, but the implications are serious and should be taken as such. Hell is a place, and I have no problem with the word Hell. Used as an exclamation, though, the place is trivialized to a mere utterance of surprise or anger. On that note, the use of “h-e-double-hockey-sticks” is an obvious substitutionary phrase. It’s amusing, yes, but it does nothing in the way of lessening your language. The allusion to a word is the same in the mind of someone who knows the word as the utterance.
Certain other profanity, however, has no place in our vocabulary, if we are attempting to use language in the best way possible. The various profane sexual words that refer to genitalia or or actions are purely vile. They have no redeeming value, and I am of the view that they should not be used. Excrement in its profane form is simply base. These words have no worth outside of shock value, and they can do nothing to add to our experience when conversing. Oftentimes, they have the opposite effect.
That’s all for now, and these are my thoughts on profanity in language.
I did a recording of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal quite a while back. That turned out fairly well, but I wasn’t completely pleased with the voice or recording quality. I’ve since gotten a better microphone, and I worked on the voicing a bit more with this one and went for a more active voice.
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum
Feedback? Suggestions? Comments? Insults?
I still haven’t got the voice or recording exactly where I want it. This microphone does a better job of reproducing bass, so my voice isn’t entirely tinny here. I don’t have a soundproof room in which to record, either, so every now and then an ambient sound will work it’s way into the background. I’ll keep working at it though. Taking suggestions for another recording!
I have had the privilege of meeting many people over the short course of my time on this planet. Some have had a greater impact than others, but all have changed me in some way or another. It’s a concept that we don’t often think about, but every interaction with every person changes us in some way or another, from the smile you give to a store clerk, to the intimate friendship that you share with a brother or sister. When I encounter another person, I’m faced with choices. Should I just smile and nod? Should I stop and have a conversation with her? Should I ignore him altogether? Every choice we make adds to who we are, and every person we meet presents with a choice.
I often struggle with how I should interact with certain people. My goal is to like everyone and be liked by the same, but I’m not always the most social butterfly you’ve ever seen flit by your window. In fact, I’ve been (probably aptly) described as a turtle–a not-quite anti-social turtle who likes his comfy little shell. At a party or in a crowd, I’m just as happy talking to one person about the ceiling tiles as I am hanging out in a group of people sharing jokes. I also don’t do well with truthfully intimate relationships.
I sometimes tend to be so guarded that every person who doesn’t know me extremely well knows and sees a different face, and perhaps the faces don’t even know each other. I destroyed one of the best friendships I’ve ever had with that behavior, and I have since learned quite a bit. I’d like to think that I have improved, overall, quite dramatically because of that one catastrophe. This post isn’t meant to be about me, however; this is a post about you.
If you’re reading this, you know who I am, or we’ve had some sort of interactions before. I would like to thank you. Thank you for entering my life, and thank you for shaping and changing and helping me to expand who I am. Even if the extent of our interactions was a small conversation or an exchange of WordPress or Facebook comments, you managed to impact my life in some tiny way. I have learned that even negative interactions are, in the long run, often positive, for unless the consequences are so severe that recovery is not possible, the lessons learned are as valuable, and perhaps even more so, than those taught by mere vocalization or demonstration.
This is a post for everyone; everyone who has ever entered into my sphere of life or whose sphere of life I have intruded. This is a post for those whom I have not yet met, but whom I will. This is a post for those whom I never will meet, for I think that it applies even to you.
Christmas is approaching, quite rapidly, and for some this is fantastic, but for others, this will be a depressing and gloomy time of year. Just remember, you have a choice with every interaction this season. You can smile and be a positive experience, or you can become a painful lesson to someone else. In the same way, you don’t have to take offense or react negatively to negative interactions this year. Be thankful for the positive, and learn from the painful. More easily said than done, right? Perhaps, but then again, we’ll never do anything if we don’t make a conscious decision to try, and maybe by trying, we’ll find that we can.
In closing, thank you for your interactions. Thank you for being there. You have made a difference, even if you don’t see it.