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.

Comments 6

  1. John wrote:

    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.

    Posted 28 Jun 2005 at 4:17 am
  2. Joe wrote:

    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…

    Posted 28 Jun 2005 at 6:33 am
  3. stuff wrote:

    In the immortal words of Bart Simpson, “yeah, hell damn fart!” And don’t forget, “crap, boobs, crap!”

    Posted 01 Jul 2005 at 4:41 pm
  4. Mark La Roi wrote:

    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!

    Posted 03 Jul 2005 at 6:01 pm
  5. gbm3 wrote:

    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).

    Posted 28 Jun 2005 at 3:42 pm
  6. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    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

    Posted 29 Jun 2005 at 5:21 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 2

  1. From Ales Rarus - A Rare Bird, A Strange Duck, One Funky Blog » Unclean Lips on 02 Mar 2006 at 1:08 pm

    […] Tongue Tied Part I […]

  2. From Tongue Tied, Part II @ Ales Rarus on 21 Nov 2006 at 5:07 am

    […] July 1st, 2005 by Funky Dung A couple days ago, I wrote about the A Form of Sound Words post about "synthetic cursing" and the response from Joe Missionary. I promised I'd respond to Messy Christian and Jeff the Baptist. Today I will. […]

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