Profanity 101


(Rated R for language)

No, I’m not going to teach you how to cuss. My guess is you already know how. When I was in my early 20s, I was proud of my liberal use of profanity. It was what set me apart from the uptight older generation (i.e. my parents). They needed to “get over it.” Words were just words.

Or were they?

For good or for bad, profanity has reached a new level of cultural acceptance. The movie Midnight Cowboy received an X-rating when it was released a few decades ago. Not because of graphic sex or violence, but because it used the f-word. Once. Today the film regularly plays on daytime television—with no restrictions.

What is profanity. And why does it matter? Broadly, it can be broken into two categories:

  1. Cursing (cussing, swearing), in the traditional sense, is to invoke a curse on another, usually in the name of a deity: “G-d damn you!” In its clearest form, it is judging another, putting oneself in God’s place. In its most casual form it is referencing God in order to spice up dialogue: “Jesus, that’s the coolest g-d damn car I ever saw!” Why should that be offensive? In a word: respect. Using God’s name “in vain” (casually or without respect) is forbidden in the Old Testament because it demeans the Author of life.
  2. Crude Language is not cursing, but rather the evoking of unpleasant or private images. We don’t relieve ourselves or have sex in public, so neither should we evoke verbal images of those things in public, because language is visceral–we see the things people talk about. There are shades of grey here, of course. “Crap” is somehow less crude than its cousin “s—t.” We look to “spice up” our language with crudities, and sometimes it’s acceptable. Sometimes. But other times its overkill, like pouring so much Tabasco sauce on your food that it’s all you can taste.

The glue of civilization is civility, respect for others. But civility is quickly losing its value. And this is across the boards. Yes, liberal youth display increasing disrespect for others’ sensibilities, insisting that f–k is just a word, for example (disregarding the fact that for many it evokes the image of a loveless, self-gratifying sex act). Conservative elders, on the other hand, recently elected the most foul-mouthed president in American history. People from all ends of the social spectrum are participating in the growth of a profane culture, a culture pierced with the fault lines of disrespect.

It’s time for of us to rethink, not just the words we use, but the attitudes that underpin them. If it’s only you who need to “get over it” when I offend you, not me, then we are one step closer to the devaluation of life, to kill or be killed.

There is a counterpoint, however: it’s called grace.

I was serving at a church in California some years back, when a huge construction worker came in, his hands shaking with emotion. “Do you have God here?” he asked.

“Um, yes.”

“Good. I gotta talk to Him. Right f-ing now!” He proceeded to tell me that he’d been running from God “for a long, long f-ing time,” until an hour ago when he’d fallen from the top of a five storey building. And sprained his finger. He held up the digit and said in a trembling rumble, “No more running, man.”

I told him how much “the God of second chances” loved him, and he nodded as tears streamed from his eyes. Then he prayed for the first time in his adult life, inviting God to come and live in his heart. It was the most profanity-laced, and also the most beautiful, prayer I’ve ever heard.

Respect and grace.

No other combination can heal our shattered world.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Profanity 101

  1. Amen! I had to let go of my amazing skillz, my ability to shock sailors with my words, but it was worth the sacrifice. We are our words and we have to power to speak life into the world.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Paula says:

    (I’m assuming it was tears streaming from his eyes because you drew a vivid picture of this experience with the construction worker.)
    I would like to share this with some friends on social media. Is that okay?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Words are powerful, so we have to use them for helping and not hurting! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. @vapor_sage says:

    I have two beautiful daughters 10 and 14. I am forever asking them to find suitable adjectives in their communication. Swearing, in my opinion, is being lazy or a futile attempt at being cool or funny. I have a hard time not laughing when my little one drops and F- bomb
    Thanks, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Will Marler says:

    Great job Mitch, you never disappoint. Not me anyway…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike Cullen says:

    I love the God of second chances

    thanks Mitch

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Since I give occasional reminders to my facebook friends about not posting profane or nude pictures on my wall, I think I will share your link with them. Thanks for breaking it down. Many of your words were my thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on heartshabitation and commented:
    I really like what Mitch had to sat here.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Mitch! Good post. Language is such an amazing gift. I love words, the Word, and the beginning of consciousness, signaled by our ability to abstractly identify something with funny little squiggles in the dirt or on the cave wall. I’m sad that obscenity has become mundane and hateful. I used to believe (and maybe still do) that a well-timed obscenity is as essential as the wise, authentic use of terms of endearment. Best, Rita

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “People from all ends of the social spectrum are participating in the growth of a profane culture, a culture pierced with the fault lines of disrespect.”

    Why is this? Are we running from God just as the construction worker had been? I don’t understand it and lately it’s been getting me down.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Wise words, Mitch. And that story about the construction worker almost brought tears to my eyes. Praise God he IS a God of second chances–even third and fourth sometimes! And what a thrill for you to be there when this guy was ready to let God transform his life.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. beigebirds says:

    One of the reasons why I left teaching in a public school was the brazen and prolific use of profanity by middle school students on a daily basis. Our principal said, “Don’t write them up when they curse. Use it as a teachable moment instead.” There weren’t that many moments, minutes, or hours in a school day to address every incident. Now I teach in a prison. Profanity is not allowed. I’ve never been more a peace as a teacher. Someone once said (and I”m paraphrasing horribly), “Profanity just shows your lack of having the right words to express yourself.” I really appreciated your post,

    Liked by 1 person

  13. goroyboy says:

    Great teaser title. Another good one could have been”locker talk” Loved the message as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. says:

    the infusion of profanity into everyday talk seems so silly. There are many better adjectives and verbs out there. It becomes a way of life for some. I think even
    God can look beyond that when a repentant heart comes to Him for forgiveness. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Lee Poskey says:

    Mitch, that was a great article you wrote. And I couldn’t help but laugh about the candour of that construction worker.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Brother Murf Shares “Profanity 101 — by Mitch Teemley” | Brother Murf's Corner

  17. Respect and grace… YES! THIS! A Thousand TImes This! Thank you. (Although I must admit that every now and then in certain circumstances there is no adequate substitute for making the point or expressing something than the carefully chosen, emphatically pronounced curse word).

    Liked by 1 person

  18. smzang says:

    Profanity 101 should be read by all from age 12 and above.
    If young people were exposed to this mindset instead of
    to curses sprinkled casually with no ill will or expletives
    thrown about in fits of rage, the taste for swearing and for
    crude language would fade.

    Your article would be a great topic for those little blurbs on TV
    titled “The More You Know”
    Cussing isn’t cool.
    Violence begins with violent language.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Great post. I really like the distinction between cursing and crude language. Swearing is not a virtue.

    The only time I swear, e.g., say “sh–t” is when I accidentally hurt myself. Swearing can help reduce pain — if you don’t swear all the time:

    Liked by 1 person

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