The Evolution of Swearing

Apr 5, 2010

After decades of being an outcast in spiritual circles, it appears swearing is making a comeback.

Maybe you’ve noticed. A muttered “S—” in the hallways at church, a slip of “D—” at that edgy Christian conference. Even the occasional, well, you know. THAT word. Of course, the “H” word has long been more acceptable. It is, after all, a real place we church types spend a great deal of time hoping to avoid. As for the others? I’m hearing them a lot these days. Not only do they seem to be moving off the “bad” list, they’re well on their way to hip. Could it be that swearing is turning (Dare I say it out loud?!) nouveau chic?

I’ve never been much of a swearer, although I’ve considered taking it up from time to time. I’m not saying I’ve never done it. Hardly. But swearing to me has always been like smoking. Sure, it makes you feel a bit wild, let’s you hang out with that cool crowd, exhaling pollutants in the air like a bad girl. I’d probably enjoy it for a time. Might even discover momentary relief from all of this stress. But sooner or later I’d feel a need to quit, and after growing accustomed to it’s easy thrill and roll off the tongue, it’d be waaaaay too much work trying to give it up. I just don’t have the energy. I have enough bad habits already.

One friend thinks swearing isn’t a big deal: “There are plenty of other things to worry about.” Another (a former expletive artist, by the way) believes it’s disrespectful and shows ignorance: “It takes intelligence and maturity to choose better words.” The Bible talks about speaking only those things that build up, but I can think of plenty of non-PG13 dialogue that would fail that test, too.

Anyway, this is what I’m pondering, and it’s turning into a bit of a theme for the week. More posts to come.

What’s your take on swearing? Big deal or not a big deal? Why?

(pic courtesy of stillsearc, stock.xchng)

25 Comments

  1. Erica M

    What a well-written post on a subject I usually treat with a condescending eye roll. I guess it’s been so long since I’ve been inside a church, I’ve missed the profanity creep, but I love your treatment of it. Balanced, curious, no judgement.

    To answer your post questions, I don’t think it’s a big deal. But I know others who think it’s a very big deal. The trick is to be respectful, right? I use profanity on my blog because I write the way I talk (heh). On the other hand, I will very rarely use it in comments, especially on someone else’s blog. To me, that’s like casually using it while handing your debit card to the grocery cashier. There’s no real reason for it.

    I enjoy following you on Twitter. Thanks for letting me ramble in your comments.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Hi, Erica. Thanks for coming by and adding your insight. I appreciate it a great deal. And I agree … the idea is to be aware of the people around us and be respectful. Glad we're twitter friends. ~ M

      Reply
  2. Susan

    So many thoughts come to mind, reading this, Michele, which tells me this is one good post.
    Certainly, what comes from the ladle of lips comes from the well of the heart. I recall St. Peter swearing when he betrayed his Lord. Also, taking the Lord's Name in vain, has a far larger meaning than cussing, mostly how we act and life our lives
    But there is a need for a balance.
    I recall getting reamed out and lectured to by a pious co-worker when in excitement I slipped out the adjective "sh-tty." I shied away from that person and felt he was dangerous to open up to. Sometimes pride, arrogance, self-righteousness are over-looked, while the pious shame others for a misspoken expletive.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      "From the ladle of the lips comes the well of the heart." Such great verse, and one that scares me. I know better than anyone the things I'm capable of saying out of hurt, frustration, anger. It doesn't have to be profane to be hurtful, that's for sure. I can relate to your "slipped" word … how someone responds to me can put me in a shame place so quickly. Makes me want to be more grace-full.

      Reply
  3. Robyn

    This is a pretty big issue around our house because my high school sophomore has developed the habit of swearing. I find it really offensive and have declared that the language in our house should be G-rated (we have younger children also) which includes put downs and tone of voice. My teen, in an oh-so-teen-like way, informs me that any word can be a swear word if the speaker wants it to be one. I respond by saying, "It is true that the attitude is often as important as the words being spoken but in our culture there are certain words that send a message regardless of the tone, volume, or situation." As I re-read what I have written the conversation with my daughter sounds like we have calm, reasonable discussions about this topic but let me assure you that it is accompanied by much eye-rolling, door-slamming and occasional expletives ( predominately from but not limited to my teenager).

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I have three teenagers, so I know of what you speak! 😉 It's so difficult to know how to deal with these situations. On one hand, I want our home to be a safe place for everyone living here, and part of that means keep the language G-rated. Profanity can come across as belittling, controlling, hurtful, even if it isn't meant as much. On the other hand I feel like I spend far more time addressing things like profanity than I do talking about healthy conflict, how to say I'm sorry, how to offer forgiveness/grace, etc.

      Reply
  4. Roby

    Michele, I like that you pointed out the associations made by cussing – a little wild, cool kind of a "bad-girl", rebel image. I don't know why but sometimes those adjectives are appealing to everyone, even believers. But I am a believer and have a relationship with Christ, which means daily I am supposed to do my part to be more like him. It just doesn't fit. In the Bible, James speaks to believers saying that praises and curses should not come out of the same mouth. If I have to pick one, I'll pick praises. I certainly do not always control my mouth the way I would like but believers are supposed to be in the world and not of it and in our choice of words, we have an opportunity to be set apart. Sorry this is so long, now you know why my teen rolls her eyes!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks for mentioning the verse in James. Yes, you're right. It doesn't seem to fit. Not that it won't ever happen, but I don't think it should be our MO.

      Reply
      • Robyn

        Well said!

        Reply
  5. Anonymous

    We talk about this a lot around our house, including the old questionable Christian workarounds (jeez, gosh, darn) and whether those are even okay. My friend Amanda is a grown PK with a very large adoptive family and doesn't allow for those, either – but I admit they slip out of my mouth without even hitting my radar.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I remember this being a huge "no-no" growing up, including all those workarounds. Now with three kids of my own, I still don't like it and let them know. But maybe my message needs to be less about profanity and more about making sure all our words are honoring the people within our hearing. Just something I keep thinking about … Thanks for bringing up all those other "tamed" words. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Ashleigh

    As a recovering swearer (that looks ridiculous in writing, haha), I think swearing is most definitely a big deal. It becomes an addiction that is difficult to give up. I got hooked because a lot of my friends used swear words all the time. It was never acceptable in my house growing up, so I learned how to filter it, use them when talking to the friends that wouldn't really understand if I used a different more intelligent word, and didn't use them around the people that knew the real me and knew that swearing was not who I was. I am still working to give it up and I still have days that I struggle with it and I've been working at it for almost a year now. I've decided it's all about self control, there is no need to give in to talking like that because other people do and quitting that language only requires some self control in choosing different words that are going to honor everyone around you.

    Just a few thoughts… 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      I like that: "a recovering swearer." If it makes you feel any better, we're all in recovery in one way or the other! It's difficult to give up, isn't it? More difficult if the people you hang out with do it. Makes me think of other habits like gossip, negativity, criticism, etc. I am more likely to do those things if I'm hanging around with people who are doing the same. Comes down to self-control and making a deliberate and repeated choice, like you said.

      Reply
  7. Rhonda

    As stated above Michele, another well written post! I especially love your comment about "my message needs to be less about profanity and more about making sure all of our words are honoring the people within our hearing. " That's probably where I'd land. Yes, I find certain words abrasive to my delicate sensibilities, while others don't offend nearly as much. However, everyday words can pierce my heart far more quickly than "d@#&" when delivered with a razor sharp tone.

    Reply
  8. Jerolyn

    Great post Michele. As previously stated, it's so easy to focus on the obvious profanity instead of looking at all the other stuff that comes out of our mouth. While we pretty much have a G-rated house that doesn't mean it doesn't slip out in other adult conversations. I love the reminder of the verse in James – very good words to live by.

    Reply
  9. @melissacaddell

    Fascinating post. I (as a Christian swearer) am cautious of the company I swear in, mostly because I don't want to create a problem for others. What words are considered profane is mostly a mattter of social convention. I think that the language in church is changing because the language in our culture is changing–i.e, what is acceptable. But I remember when a pastor dropped a major sweary word from the pulpit and I was stunned. I don't remember what his topic was, but several years later, I can remember the word he used.____Listening to what others are saying, I think that when the Bible admonishes about the tongue, I think that God is more concerned about speaking words of life, not death (cruel, tearing-down words), than he is about people dropping an f-bomb. God is all about relationships, not rules.____As a writerly-type, I have heard it said that resorting to swear words is the sign of an uneducated mind, that they show a lack of originality in expressing yourself. Aw, poop.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      "Resorting to swear words is the sign of an uneducated mind." Yep, I've heard the same thing, too. I agree that it lacks some originality. I also think you make an interesting point about how the culture is influencing these changes within the church … now the question is, should it?

      Reply
  10. Robbie Iobst

    I grew up in west Texas with many, many relatives who cussed. My mother threatened bodily harm if we ever took up those "words" but she taught us to never judge our aunts and uncles either. Kind of a balancing act. In my adult years, freedom in Christ exploded in my soul. Around the time I hit 40, I guess. I now feel free to curse if I want to but I use judgment. I never take the Lord's name in vain. I try to never cuss in anger. And I try to make sure the people around me know that when I cuss it is simply for shock and humor effect. That's it. Sometimes, originality in expressing myself means choosing a word that fits the moment and spreads a little joy. Yep, joy. Now I have to add a caveat. I have an 11 year old and I never cuss in front of him and if he ever cussed in front of me well…I would threaten bodily harm. :0)

    Reply
  11. Michele Cushatt

    Oh, so true Rhonda. I can think of many words I've heard even this week that weren't profane, but definitely cut me.

    Reply
  12. Kay Day

    I was, like most of you, raised in a home where cussing was strictly banned. Including the words butt and fart. So, now that I'm a grown up and free, I do get that little thrill when I say a bad word. Because it doesn't really seem like "sin" to me, but it does seem bad. Bad and dangerous. LOL Ok, maybe not dangerous, but it's that bad girl thing you mentioned and I have always been such a good girl. I kinda enjoy not being good for a change, but in a safe way. Does that make sense? I'm not smoking, not binge drinking, etc.
    At the same time… it isn't something I want to get in the habit of. And there are some words that still won't cross these lips.
    The thing I wonder about is why it's okay to say poop–we even let our two-year-olds say it–but that other word is bad. Who made these rules, anyway?
    It's not like I'm a potty mouth or anything. We're talking once every few weeks or so and usually when I feel the word best expresses what I want to say. Oh, and I would never say these things in church or around anyone who would be offended. But you've given me pause for thought. In fact I took a day to even respond. I really want the words of my mouth to be pleasing in His sight!

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Excellent point … how did "poop" make it to the okay list and the others didn't? 🙂 Seriously, it's an interesting thought. Some words are perfectly acceptable to some and considered profane to others. For example, "crap." I don't think it's profane, but I know some who do. At the least, I think it's overused. Still, anytime I find myself making a list of what's okay and what isn't, I think it's a red flag, a signal that I'm falling into a pit of legalism and missing the point.

      Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Excellent point … how did "poop" make it to the okay list and the others didn't? 🙂 Some words are acceptable to one person and considered profane to another. For example, "crap." I don't think it's profane, but I know some who do. At the least, I think it's overused. Still, anytime I find myself making a list of what's okay and what isn't, it's a red flag, a signal that I'm falling into a pit of legalism and missing the point.

      Reply
  13. Michele Cushatt

    I can attest that I have found moments of joy at the hands of your verbiage … usually involving side-holding laughter and tears shooting out of my eyes. Thanks for your candid perspective, Robbie.

    Reply
  14. alece

    my views on this have changed a lot over the years. now i care more about the heart underneath the words than the actual words themselves. because the same unbridled anger can be laced in the word "frickin" or "crap" as is in the "real" bad words.

    i also think there's a difference in where/when/how words are used. cursing someone out is very different than saying "damn it's been a long day"… know what i mean?

    and i gotta admit. sometimes curse words are the only ones that truly match the emotions of the moment. and while i know we shouldn't be led by our feelings and that it doesn't me license to do whatever i want blahblahblah. i know all that. i'm just sayin, sometimes i can't find a "good" word that's strong enough to say what i'm thinking/feeling.

    Reply

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