Tongue Tied

A couple months ago, Rand of A Form of Sound Words said:

"DARN it to HECK! I can’t believe Billy believes that load of CRAP. I mean JEEEZ, what is he thinking. I tried and tried to talk some sense into him, but OH MY GOSH, he’s stubborn."

"I apologize in advance to all the good and faithful Christians reading the above phrases and are offended. Your reaction is appropriate. I still felt it was important for me to post it as an example. You see, in the above four little phrases, we have a remarkable four blasphemies, and one gross word that any civil human would avoid using (non-Christian’s included)"

Four blasphemies? Where?

"blasphemy – To speak of (God or a sacred entity) in an irreverent, impious manner."

"Damn" (meaning to condemn to Hell) has lost the naughty edge it once had, but I can understand a particular scrupulous person’s desire to avoid using it inappropriately. At some point, its use as an interjection became popular. In an effort to curb one’s use of an objectionable word or phrase, finding safe substitutes is only natural. In fact, I’d say the practice is laudable.

Odds are you got into the habit of saying it because you heard lots of people around you saying it. Their habits rubbed off on you. Now that you’re watching your tongue, though, you find that the habit is hard to break. You have to fight instinct every time your stub a toe. If you manage to substitute "darn", "dang", "dag-nabbit", or even "d’oh", you should be pleased, not ashamed. Shoudl you always be content with mere substitutions? Of course not. Course language just makes you sound ill-bred and poorly educated, thus lacking a sufficiently diversified and sophisticated vocabulary. It also shows lack of constraint and slavery to one’s will, rather than submission to God’s.

"Hell" is not sacred. In fact, it’s anthetical to sacredness. It is not a blasphemous word in and of itself. However, if one speaks/writes of damning someone/something to Hell, that verges on blasphemy as damnation is God’s prerogative alone. In general, the word shouldn’t be used lightly, lest we forget what Hell is and its relation to salvation. However, I don’t think saying/writing it is nearly as bad as Rand makes it out to be. As with "damn", I see no harm in using a substitution.

Inappropriate use of the Name that is above all other names, Jesus Christ, is indeed blasphemy. I cringe when I hear anyone abuse it. I don’t just approve of, but also applaud substitutions in this case. Again, they;re not ideal, but they’re a lot better. Their use at least demonstrates recognition of wrong-doing and desire to change.

"God", when used similarly to Rand’s example, might be blasphemy. I’m not sure. I know I don’t like to hear the word used that way. However, because "God" is not a proper name, I do not believe its abuse is nearly as serious. Ancient Jews were so serious about not blaspheming the name of God, "YHVH" (often translated as Yahweh) that they always substituted the word "Adonai" (meaning Lord) when reading aloud from Scripture. That practice went a little too far, though, because superstitious belief (that speaking a name could give a person power over another) were associated with it.

One gross word? Ummm…perhaps it’s not the most intellectual thing to say, but I don’t think "crap" is really gross unless you describe its characteristics. As far as I’m concerned, the mention of feces in an interjectory context merely represents the messy and unpleasant situation the speaker/writer finds himself in.

This isn’t the first time I’ve pointed out this post. Why bring it up again? One of my regular reads, Joe Missionary, wrote about it and caught my interest.

"First off, words in and of themselves are devoid of filth. It is the culture which determines that a particular word is offensive. The word ‘bloody’ is more offensive to the English ear than it is to the American ear. In a similar way, consider the four-letter ‘s’ word meaning ‘excrement’. This word, which is offensive to my ear, is an ordinary word on this side of the world. When we spoke with a Christian about it (whom we heard utter it), she was surprised that it is considered foul language."

I agree that words do not have inherent meaning. All meanings are culturally defined. However, I would add that if one intends a word to be offensive, regardless of how it is taken by the hearer/reader, it is objectively offensive.

"If I bump my head and say, ‘Shparndoogie!’, is that just as bad as saying ‘Dang that hurt!’"

Nope. Such nonsense words merely express emotions that probably haven’t been processed suffiently to be expressed in coherent speech. That is, they are essentially precognitive. We are no more cursing than a baby is when it cries to express pain or hunger.

"Words change meaning. The word ‘gay’ is a perfect example. So what about these substitute curse words? Take the word ‘jeez’ – it is most likely derived from ‘Jesus’. However, it’s my opinion that most people who say ‘jeez’ – even Christians – are not thinking of Jesus or the name of Jesus when they say it. What about the word ‘piss’? I know, I said I wouldn’t say any more curse words, but I’m just quoting from the Bible: ‘…any that pisseth against the wall’ (1 Sam 25:22, KJV). In 1611, this word was an ordinary word. Today, it’s considered vulgar. Not only do words change meaning, but the perceptions of words change as well."

See above about intention. On the flip side of intention, a word that will likely cause the listener/reader to be offended is objectively offensive. However, it may not be subjectively offense. That is, you may not intend to offend. One is not likely to intend offense when reading from the KJV, for instance.

"Allow me to suggest a couple principles for us to follow:"

"1. ‘Be careful…that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak’ (1 Cor 8:9). I have felt the temptation to flaunt my freedom in particular areas; I assume this is a common temptation. I may be 100% convinced that ‘shparndoogie’ is not a curse word; but if I am aware that some consider it offensive, I shouldn’t use it around others."

2. ‘[S]et an example for the believers in speech…’ (1 Tim 4:12). As Rand says, let’s glorify God with the words that come out of our mouths. Or at least try."

My thoughts exactly. Don’t settle for suffient; aim for laudable.

Perhaps I’ll tackle the opposing viewpoints of Messy Christian and Jeff the Baptist in the next few days.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

8 thoughts on “Tongue Tied

  1. John

    Also important to keep clear that there is a theological prohibition on taking the Lord’s name in vain. There is no religious prohibition on saying cuss words.

    One is a matter of sin, the other of ill breeding.

  2. Joe

    Good post, Eric – I look forward to reading what you have to say about MC’s and JtheB’s posts! I agree with you about the issue of intent. If I said “piss” to Rand just to get his KJV goat, that would be offensive in that I know it’s a distasteful word but am calling it clean.

    And John, I would say that while there may not be prohibitions against cuss words (I’m not sure there aren’t, though), there are enough commands for us regarding positive speech that I think the prohibition can be implied.

    Anytime someone seems to me to be defending swearing, it makes me wonder why…

  3. Mark La Roi

    It’s hard for me to say His name easily in public. To even say His name out loud always causes me to recognize that my mouth is forming His name. It’s like when it slips over my tongue, all reality shudders for an instant.

    He’s an awesome God!

  4. gbm3

    Just a comment:

    Swearing in other European (and derived) cultures quite often has to do with ‘blasphemy – To speak of (God or a sacred entity) in an irreverent, impious manner’.

    French and British English are full of them. There it is clear blasphemy (at least to me).

  5. Steve Nicoloso

    Read charitably, Messy Christian’s defense of so-called “cuss words” seems based on the idea that better to be “authentic” than “inauthentic.” This is an absurd argument. We suffer from too much authenticity already… The same could be said that if one feels like murdering, it would be better to murder than be “inauthentic” and resist the temptation. The argument is so poor, it almost convinced me of the opposing view… almost.

    I think Jeff the Baptist’s argument is weak, perhaps hastily conceived or penned, but more toward the point in that he is able to rightly discriminate between violation of the 2nd commandment (by Catholic counting), viz., blasphemy, and mere obscenity, which is culturally and subjectively defined.

    What I’d propose is a four-ary breakdown, a spectrum, of Dangerous Words, recognizing of course that even the strongest word is inherently weaker than the weakest meaning and intention.

    1) Objective Violation of the 2nd Commandment–vain use of God’s name: YHWH, Jesus, Christ, maybe others, uttered either as a curse or a intentionally false oath. This is, I think, always a grave matter. I’d don’t think I’d count the exclamation “god” as a per se’ violation here since that is not God’s name.

    2) Cursing Proper–invoking deity or other holy thing or attribute in vain generally or with a specific eternal intention. Here we would find utterances such as god, goddamn and possibly hell, if the intent is to say dammit to hell. Possibly in this category we might find things like “Holy Moly”, but such utterances seem more nonsense than actual profanity. I guess if Moly was a real, unholy thing, then maybe. Dangerous words of categories (1) and (2) are both types of profanity proper. But type (2) fails to be obvectively grave, depending on the circumstances. Damning or wishing hell upon something detestible like, say, sin or heresy or a possibly rotten money-pit of a car or the pain of your thumb once hit by a hammer is not necessarily an evil, unjust, or vain desire. In some cases it is a positive good. Of course we should never wish, not even jokingly, damnation or hell on any person, so certain uses are definitely wrong. Type (2) Dangerous Words are still extremely dangerous and we should definitely not be in the habit of uttering them willy-nilly, just ’cause we feel like it.

    3) Obscenity Proper–these are words that refer to conjugal relations and associated body parts, having often or generally a lascivious connotation. Oddly two of these (less dangerous dangerous words) are among the 3 most taboo in the English language… one beginning with F and referring to copulation and the other beginning with C and referring to female sexual anatomy. Others here include “d*ck”, various erectile euphemisms, euphemisms of sexual position and exploit, &c., &c.. Sexuality is perhaps the richest soil for the development of slang in the English language (I suppose we should thank either the Victorians or the Puritans for that… perhaps both.) Use of words and themes in this category is dangerous, but sometimes called for. They should be used judiciously and precisely for their shock value and/or their fine ability to convey shades of meaning not readily offerred by other nouns or adjectives. Paul’s angry reference to removal of the male member in Galatians falls under this category, I think.

    4) Mere Offensive Words–in this category are all the rest and run a gamut from silly (and perfectly innocent) euphemisms for excrement, urine and vomit, to much more potentially wicked terms such as racial slurs. With these words, it depends entirely upon the intent of the communication. Obviously to intend a racial slur is extremely wicked and extremely grave. To refer to a destable thing by some euphemism indicating excrement may be perfectly justified, even laudable in the right circumstances. St. Paul’s reference (Philippians) to the fleshly things he valued in his former life as a Pharisee as skubalon (“sh*t”) is an example of this kind of usage.

    Joe M. muses:

    Anytime someone seems to me to be defending swearing, it makes me wonder why…

    Simple. Some things are worth defending! 😉 … though to be precise, I offer no defense of violation of the 2nd Commandment. There isn’t one… except perhaps ignorance.

    –My $0.02

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