I seem to have something in common with younger and older generation born-again Christians. The scoop is that David Kinnaman, author “unChristian”, found that “the only two areas of statistical similarity between older and younger born-again Christians are views on abortion and using the f-word on television”. I find myself agreeing with these attitudes towards profanity, but my motivation is not necessarily biblical in nature.
I wouldn’t call myself a prude, but I really don’t enjoy swearing. My lovely wife is ex-Navy, so she drops a few word bombs here and there, and this, in itself, does not bother me. She says that the light use of profanity is merely a linguistic emphasis of the topic at hand. I’ll categorize this as “adding emphasis”. Other people seem to use profanity for shock purposes as they attempt to stand out from the crowd. This seems to be the case in some music genres. I do believe that strong emotions, both positive and negative, can bring profanity out. This can be the case for me. This is another case for “adding emphasis”, with the trigger being emotional instead of intellectual / conversational.
Do I believe that the use of profanity is an indication of mental weakness or moral weakness? The well trodden sayings “profanity is the linguistic crutch of the inarticulate” and “profanity is the effort of a feeble mind” come to mind. It may be true for some, but I’ve known some users of profanity, like my lovely wife, who are anything but inarticulate and feeble minded. I reject these overarching statements, and in general look back to the explanation of “adding emphasis” for people using profanity.
So, if profanity is mostly a verbal tool for adding emphasis, why don’t I use it? Simple, for me words are powerful. Words have weight and do have impact on the listeners / readers. Some words are more powerful than others. The gravity of a word is a complex mix tying back to history, general use, sub-tribal use, social / political emphasis, and culture. There are words that bring to mind the phrase “Them Thar Are Fighting Words!” and there are words that we throw away like gum wrappers. Some people believe that the use of profanity is not a big deal. My wife’s explanation may be that she came from a sub-tribe (the Navy) that was f* this and f* that. Then there are people like myself and born-again Christians who believe profanity should be avoided. The born-again Christians could be categorized as a sub-tribe. I see my avoidance of profanity as part of my personal history.
I’ve mentioned that I believe that profanity more power than is due typical conversations, but there is a personal element at play too. I used to be a very sarcastic person with a biting tongue. I attribute this to being the oldest of brothers. A bully? Yes, and in the immortal words of John Austin’s Night Court character, “… but I'm feeling much better now”. Somewhere in my late 20s I decided to step back from my sarcastic ways. I may still have a side-ways humor, but I temper what I say with a dose of compassion for the recipient. Maybe this is an element that I share with Kinnaman’s born-again Christians. I learned to live the saying “don't say anything at all if you only have only unpleasant things to say”.
What impact has this had on my life? Are there any indicators that people can look to and say that they have an attitude similar to mine? Well, I listen to all kinds of music, including electronic dance music and hip-hop. I love the raw energy of these music genres. I don’t love the use of words f* and m*f*. I’ll skip to another song when a DJ / artist uses their artistic license and turns to profanity for emphasis. Does this mean I am a prude when it comes to music? The answer is no, especially if you consider that I am a huge fan of Lords of Acid. What is the difference between lewd lyrics and a few f* bombs dropped for added emphasis? Why am I OK with one and skip past the other? The word usage preferences of my personal history are compounded by the idea that words having power.
I like the idea of saying that words have a magnetism. They pull things in or repulse things outward. Words like f* and m*f* speak to activities and people that should be sacred. Words like G*d* are a curse that asks for the worst to befall a person. The use of words can open doors in yourself and in the larger reality. This is heavy stuff guys! In my world, and in my opinion, throwing around a few “G*d* you” with “f* you” for “emphasis” is like throwing around a live grenade for emphasis. The pin isn’t pulled, but if it were, the impact is anything but conversational. Words are powerful, and their use can reward a person or extract a terrible price.
Paying homage to David Kinnaman, I’ll close this with a Biblical quote: Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”. Swear if you must, especially if it means little to you, but know that the world is listening. Be clear why you use profanity, for you are of the world, in the world, and act with the world.