Back to profanity in
Concept Clarifier

Concept Clarifier in
separate window


First among issues that never should have been issues

Everybody knows the Bible forbids profanity - everybody, that is, who lets other people tell them what the Bible says.  The New Testament does speak against cursing and swearing.  What do those words mean?  To curse is to verbally wish some kind of bad news on someone, usually invoking a supernatural agent to carry it out.  To swear is to enforce what you are saying by invoking a curse on yourself if you are lying.  What does this have to do with the concept of taboo words?  Nothing!

So where did people get the idea that profanity was immoral?  I can't claim to know, but I suspect that it went something like this.  Profanity is often used to express anger.  Anger often leads to violence, and violence is usually unpleasant.  Therefore, any verbal expression which threatens violence is socially negative, and would therefore be forbidden in polite society.  But polite society has no voice of moral authority.  They can't just say profanity is offensive, because it's not offensive to everybody.  In order to call something wrong, you have to connect it to an absolute standard of good & evil.  In western civilization, the Bible has dibs on that.  Therefore the Bible must forbid profanity.  The closest Biblical prohibitions are against swearing and cursing, so swearing and cursing had to be equated with profanity.

Once profanity is linked to cursing, then people who deserve an emotionally charged reprimand have an undeserved counter-attack on a person who delivered that reprimand.
Consider this scenario:

Joe fails to do his job, causing undeserved grief to other people including Fred.
Fred says, "Do your bleeping job!"
Joe says, "Fred cursed at me."
Yeah right.  Like Fred's use of a flasely labeled "curse word" is morally worse than Joe's failure to do his job.  Joe's moral failure is equaled in the eyes of fools, by Fred's alleged cursing of Joe.
The charge is bogus because:
1.  The bleep word has nothing to do with cursing.
2.  Fred didn't call Joe a bleep or bleeper.  The bleep word modifies "job", which means that it's nonsensical in this context.
3.  If Fred had said, "Do your job, you bleep," then Joe could have rightly said, "Fred called me an offensive name," but that's all.
4.  And even then, Joe deserved worse punishment than being called an offensive name.

The "he cursed at me" counter-attack is an attempt by a moral weakling to use the assumed moral weight of the Bible against a justly deserved reprimand.  It has been popularized by a world full of moral weaklings who deserve to be called fools and other offensive names and metaphors.

From the communicator's viewpoint, the only bad language is language that fails to communicate.  Profanity is often beneficial.   Used selectively, it adds nuances of emotional specificity to statements which would have otherwise been flat - or at least less emotionally precise.

A = B.

That's an emotionally neutral declarative statement.

A = bleeping B.

That statement contains the same message with more emotional precision.  It may mean,
1.  A = B, and I'm angry about it.
2.  A = B, and I want you to be angry about it.
3.  A = B, and I want you to be angry about the fact that I said it.
which may mean
3a.  A = B, and I want you to be offended by the fact that I said it.
   Note that 3a is the only one that's deliberately offensive.

Or the bleep may take the place of an exclamation point or two at the end of the sentence.

A = bleeping B.

may mean

A = B !  ... or  ... A = B !!!!

Among those of us who are accustomed to profanity, "A = bleeping B" may simply mean "A = B".  We just feel more comfortable with the bleeps.

But the rights of the communicator to free speech must be balanced by the rights of the communicatee to not be forced to hear or see what he doesn't want to hear or see.  This balance is often hard to judge.  Sometimes there is nothing more objective than popular opinion to determine who has the right to do what.  Some prissy prudes are offended by anything outside the bounds of pulpit-speak.  Such assholes damn well deserve to be offended.  But children and others with legitimate sensitivities don't deserve to be offended.  They should have the right to public places and public air and radio waves that are free of messages that may cause them undeserved grief.

This means some censorship is appropriate.  Where to draw lines is something I don't feel qualified to tackle.  I think such cases should be examined by legislators, grouped in categories, and determined by majority vote.

I speak with the authority of personal experience in saying that profanity also releases the stress of anger, which would have otherwise remained inside to do those nasty things stress does to people.  Also from personal experience I assert that a person in pain has a moral right to profanity, no matter how many fools or children are present.