The Use of Words, Part One (Profanity)

Posted on

LanguageDisclaimer: 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.

On Swearing

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.

~ Chris

How Much am I Worth?

Posted on

Relativity. Strange concept, isn’t it? I’ve noticed that quite a bit in this world is considered to be relative. Time isn’t relative, in measurement anyway, but out perception surely is. An hour of enjoyable games or conversation can seem much shorter than thirty minutes of drab lecture time. We often seem like we need more time when a deadline is present, yet an upcoming holiday can seem to take ages in arrival.

Enjoyment is relative. Some people may read this post and think it’s interesting; most will probably fall asleep halfway through and wake up in time for lunch… I personally like eating spicy food. Some of my friends won’t eat anything hotter than an Altoid mint.

Value is another relative. I value my family and friends above all else earthly. I’d place my Labrador and computer stuff I next in line, but really, all of my possessions could be destroyed if it saved my family from some peril. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that seems like it’s giving the observer quite a bit of power, doesn’t it?

I could go on, but I’m getting relatively tired of examples. Let’s go back to enjoyment. Psychological relativity. When one says that something is relative, he is implying that it is not constant. That brings up a question in my mind; what is constance? In order for something to be constant, it must have constraints. Those constraints must be placed by an entity who/that is in himself/itself is constant or universal. Do universal constants actually exist?

In theory, I suppose they do. The only reason things are relative is because we (humanity as a collective) don’t have the capability to define them absolutely. This blog post has an absolute worth–if we had the time to sift through everything ever written, rank it based on an absolute value system (also theoretically determined by everyone), and assign it a value. Of course, this could never happen. Most of us would be dead, either from old age or boredom, before we ever finished a tenth of what’s been written, but it’s a fun thought.

This is where a divine entity comes in. God is often said to be omnipotent and omniscient; two words which, when combined, make me think of a vastly superior computational engine. A perfect Wolfram Alpha on steroids. That makes me wonder how He sees us. He can calculate our worth to the last, seemingly unimportant detail, and it’s all absolute. He not only defines the constraints, He embodies them.

This is where things get funny. This whole blog post has been centered around the relative worth of things, but if the worth is pre-defined by an absolute entity, what is the use of another value system? If Person A says that a check is worth $5, and Person B says that same check is worth only $4, who is right? In this case, it’s the bank, not the people bickering over the worth of the piece of paper in their hands. I think this is similar to how God sees us. We’re all bickering and arguing over our relative worths, yet our systems matter not at all when we go to the bank!

People often see themselves as worthless. Even if they acknowledge a God, they see Him as too big, or too abstract, or too withdrawn from this world to care about mere people. They think that because they’ve messed up or failed, that He won’t take the time for them. Others see themselves above “god.” They see Him as a concept; a scheme thought up to control the masses and a marketing strategy to sell leather-bound books. Does value really work that way, though? Can we all hold ourselves in abstract value, relative to our surroundings, opinions of others, and feelings? Do we have a choice?

I’ll argue that we do. Judging by the Bible, we are worth far more than sparrows, and God even sent His son to die for us, but again, I am using my relative value system to assign worth to my interpretation. I think I know that I’m right, but you can choose to interpret those verses however you wish. I suppose that all we can do is make the best cases for our value systems. We won’t really know who’s right until we take it to the bank. I’d just hate to be wrong.

Have a relatively good day,
~ Chris

PS – I know this a much differently themed post from what is normally presented here. I generally tend to steer clear of heavy content, but I really felt like writing on this subject, and this blog presented a good platform to present it in a semi-personal manner. If you got too mired up in this one, let me know, and I’ll bake you some cookies. 😉

On Unicorns

Posted on

I don’t know when the last time was that I posted about unicorns, but it’s definitely been far too long. I’m not really sure what all to say about unicorns, but I have a lot I’d like to say. If one was to read the EULA for this blog, he or she would find that unicorns are an essential belief for any who call themselves a reader of this humble blip in cyberspace.

First of all, I think the image of the unicorn has been vastly denigrated. The creatures who once possessed great strength and power have been reduced to little glittery creatures too closely associated with rainbows and Barbie dolls. I think any toy maker would think twice about his choice of portrayal were he to meet a real unicorn. Always beware of making fun of anything with a sharp horn–particularly mythical creatures. 

Unicorns have vastly influenced our society. Did you know that unicorns are in the Bible? From the Oxford English Dictionary entry on unicorns:

c1580 Sir P. Sidney tr. Psalmes David xxii. xiii, Show to heare me, By aiding, when fierce Vnicornes come neere me.

Obviously, one could not disregard the Psalter in favor of modern myths and tales! I mean, King David calls them fierce! This coming from the guy who killed Goliath, I wouldn’t want to mess with those creatures.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, Unicorns are noble creatures, most decidedly not glittering fairy-ponies. Although, Tolkien seemed to think too lowly of unicorns, for they never show up in Middle Earth

To be honest, I believe some conspiracy is afoot. The great and noble elves have been reduced to cooking-baking and toy-making midgets, the fairies have been made into tiny ladies that steal children’s teeth, and even dragons are being domesticated!

Most drastic and unfortunate of all of the degradation of the creatures of old, however, is that subjection of the mighty unicorn to the position of gaily colored little ponies. I’m sorry, but something is seriously wrong with our culture. What do you think? Do you think that unicorns, dragons, fairies, and other mythical creatures deserve their lowly position in today’s culture?

Until Next Time,