Profanity 101


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, it regularly airs on 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 someone, 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 evocation 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 illustrative–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, elected the most foul-mouthed president in American history in 2017. 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 Culture, For Pastors and Teachers, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Profanity 101

  1. Great post, Mitch. I also miss civility in private conversations, in public and especially on media. My 3rd grade teacher always proclaimed, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” SHE WAS WRONG

    Liked by 4 people

  2. ashok says:

    Love is all there is. But yes to know and live that is also His grace 🙏


  3. hannahtk says:

    I really appreciate your post. I posted one months ago on the same topic. It’s sad that it’s not even much of an issue in the culture any more and that users of profanity are getting younger and younger. It’s so commonplace in the world any more that they probably wonder what we’re even talking about.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Aw, for various stressful reasons I needed to see this today – thank you Mitch xx

    Liked by 3 people

  5. brunniegetchell says:

    Great post !

    Liked by 3 people

  6. JOY journal says:

    Amen! I annoy my teenagers with such expressions as “fiddlesticks” and “rats and blue blazes” on occasion, just for the sheer pleasure.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. revruss1220 says:

    Great post once again, Mitch. It reminds of one of the premises of a book I read a few years back: “Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker. The book argues that we live today in one of the least violent times in the history of the world. He traces all the factors that have led to this decrease in violence and one of them he found – surprisingly – was the invention of cussing. Apparently once a person had words to use to express their anger, they no longer felt the need to lash out with swords or fists.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Very helpful post, Mitch, including good points to share when the subject of foul language comes up. I’ll bet that huge construction worker doesn’t use profanity anymore! A friend of mine has told me she used to pepper her conversations with very colorful language. Then she met Jesus, and bit by bit those words disappeared from her vocabulary–not because she made an effort but because her relationship with him grew. Those words not only became unnecessary, they completely lost their appeal.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. dalegreenearts says:

    I worked in a prison for a number of years and it really numbed me to the use of taboo words because I heard them all the time. I’m not there now and it seems odd for people to not use curse words but I’m getting used to it.


  10. joyroses13 says:

    What a wonderful post and what a great friend you were to that construction worker!

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Imelda says:

    A timely and thoughtful post.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. da-AL says:

    Great post – we should all be thoughtful about how we speak – love the ending that underscores how intention is the most important, however

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Lynn Abbott says:

    Yes and yes, again! Just as you say!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. cricketmuse says:

    Unfortunately it is difficult to remove offensive vernacular once it has taken root. It is a pernicious weed and must be dealt with continually. Grace is appreciated. Remorse over an unwise word choice is a bitter taste all experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. anitashope says:

    Great post. I have always said cussing was a lazy and poor excuse in not learning how to properly use the dictionary. I hear my mother in my head saying “Just because “they” accept is a ok does not make it ok.”

    Liked by 3 people

  16. A.C. says:

    Great post! Cursing, and individuals that do so more often has been associated with higher IQ, larger vocabularies, and even increased pain tolerance. I’m just saying!

    Liked by 4 people

  17. You handled this much needed topic so well. Thank you. BTW, great story.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Laura says:

    I recently wrote a post about the name of Jesus being used in a profane way. Wanting to see if anyone else was writing about profanity, I searched wordpress for that word. Your post was the first one! And I immediately recognized that I already follow your blog, but missed this post! Thanks for speaking out. My post here:

    Liked by 1 person

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