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.
The man looked up at the giant building and its rows of blinding mirrored windows. “The Idea is Simple,” read the slogan emblazoned on the sign. A giant TCE logo sat midway up the face, playing host to several nervous pigeons. Our friend checked the time once more before taking a deep breath and plunging into the crowd that flowed into the building. As he looked around, he noticed that some of the people wore suits and professional wear, but most of the throng was dressed quite casually, even too casually, he thought, as he noticed some boys in pajama bottoms.
The crowd was split into queue lines as they moved through the door. The scene was not unlike a transport station of sorts. Ticket lines and baggage checks stretched as far as the eye could see to the left and right. “The Concept Engine, experience total connectedness. Experience simplicity.” A woman’s voice repeated TCE propaganda on a loop as the people moved to their various lines. Glass elevators shot up and down the walls constantly, the screens within showing various nature scenes with soothing TCE voice-overs. “Welcome to The Concept Engine. Go beyond your thoughts. Experience the Concepts.”
Our man joined a line labeled “First Time” and began reading a brochure he had picked up at the front.
“All of humankind,” it began, “is now connected through the Internet. We can contact anyone we wish and see their image, live. We can send files from New York to Hong Kong in less time than it takes to hand your officemate a paper, but we still have the barrier of language-based communication. International imagery is confusing, and translators are expensive. The Concept Engine aims to fix the problem of communication. We will revolutionize the way you talk, or rather, don’t talk. With communications streams to over 100 different countries, you can talk to virtually anyone anywhere in the world.
Think of your topic, consider what you want to do, and your partner will immediately understand you. The next level of human communication has emerged. Welcome to The Concept Engine.”
With his ticket in hand, he jogged to reach elevator 37, his designated transport. “From the cave man’s drawings and grunts, to the discovery of the Rosetta stone, to the emergence of acronymous text language, communication has evolved and changed drastically over time. We have eliminated language all together. Prepare yourself for raw communication.” The elevator voice droned on as elevator itself flew towards its destination.
The seat was fairly comfortable, he thought, as he settled into the white chair labeled 23,947. The helmet-looking apparatus was waiting for him, and the arms straps secured his wrists against the armrests. “Hey..!” he began as the device automatically began to close. Soon, his thoughts were blurred. He could no longer form the words he felt were necessary. His ideas were nothing but raw conceptions. His years of training as a journalist faded into nothingness. All he felt was an extraordinary affinity for the idea of a concept. Happiness flooded his mind.
“Language elimination complete. Subject 23,947 conformed.” The message flashed briefly on a computer screen somewhere deep in TCE offices. “Subject 23,948… 23,949…”
The man walked out into the sweltering heat of the building’s front mall. He blinked several times and looked around him in a confused manner. He looked up at the TCE sign and felt comforted, though he wasn’t sure why. Another man walked out behind him and smiled in his direction, and though they said nothing, each understood the other, almost as if they could read each other’s minds. They thought for a few more minutes about the deals their companies had required them to make, and soon, their negotiations were at an end. The lights faded again and he found himself sitting in a chair labeled 23,947. He felt as though he would never need to read or talk again.
“Subject released. Infection complete. Logged and prepared for return.” The computer screen flashed names and information at a dizzying rate.
“Goodbye for now, and remember, for the most complete communication experience, use The Concept Engine.”
And so he headed out of the building, trying to remember why he visited in the first place but sure of one thing: language is dead, and he would definitely be back soon.
“TCE — It’s the Thought that Counts.”
So, I haven’t written in like… forever. You’re welcome. The Concept Engine was an idea I had a couple years back when I thought I wanted to write some sci-fi. I wanted to expand on Orwell’s idea of simplified language, and what better way than to eliminate language altogether! Perhaps you’ll see this idea exploited some more at some point, and I’ll try to make it a bit more cohesive next time. Right now, I’m working on an alphabet for use in a fantasy series at some point, whenever I get around to actually writing something. I’ll post some more on that sometime soon. Good to see you again!
Bye for now,
The atmosphere was one of light-hardheartedness and general mirth. Small talk and generic persiflage tickled the ears of passersby; the ubiquitous red shirts and old-style, ripped blue jeans that comprised the uniform of the shopkeepers might have been distracting, had the scene itself not provided a multiplicity of foreign and wild distractions. The floors were scattered haphazardly with tiles of multifarious shape and style. The mad colors blended with the dull grout and otherwise quotidian construction of the old building. Indeed, had those employed been dressed in naught but their essentials, the newcomer to this exhibit would have thought it none the stranger nor less fantastic. The walls held hand-painted murals and glass mosaics of nefarious looking poultry and graphic demembrations of various fowl. Many have pondered the state of consciousness of the artist from whose mind these images came: demented, insane, inebriated?
The establishment manages, somehow, to escape giving the impressions of a spurious or dubious nature. The real danger lies in the posterior of the curious shop. The clandestine–nay, even surreptitious–operations of those who work behind the visible operation. Indubitably, the operations were properly sanctioned through the various and customary routes of authoritarian government obtainment of permissions, yet when one was allowed into the cookery, the crushing reality of the atrocities committed therein were brought to light. Composed of the organization was this verse of undoubted truth and verisimilitude:
‘Twas a scene so foul, In the indeterminable bowel,
Of that terrible, queer, and violent store.
The place did give, of its own derive,
A feeling and aura, reminisce of Pandora,
Hidden behind that deathly door.
For whom did it open? For what was within?
What could in the dreadful unknown be?
There behind that door of metal,
Wrought from pan, pot, and kettle,
There work the ones who peddle,
The lovely fried goodness, we call, KFC.