Article by Duncan of/from Philosophy On Ice‘
A small indicator of my respect for any given person leans on their tendency for using profanity, and their acceptance of it as a linguistic necessity for communication. It is no accident that those who are most interesting in life usually are partial to using ‘bad language’; that term being one which should no longer apply to such diverse and useful words that only the babyish prudes of this world wince at in public.
Let’s start with blasphemous words – the easiest to discredit as offensive. In meaning, they are usually synonymous with cursing, often with a sense of incredulousness. ‘Jesus Christ!’ one might exclaim, as they see their beloved kitten dive into a blender without scruple. ‘Thank God that Whiskers has not been reduced to mincemeat!’ they might add, before comforting the kitten at once, and licking it with a fresh tongue as a weird means of interspecies bonding. Most people will have had the experience in life of being given a good telling off by religious individuals who hold an eerie sense of religious propriety, defending as they do so that ever more lenient third commandment (for which the punishment is death, by the way). On these occasions, however, you can have good reason to politely tell them where to stick it.
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Aside from being invasive on your belief system, whatever it may be, these zealots are failing entirely to acknowledge the true usage of these words. When I exclaim ‘Jesus!’, I am not calling for the return of the prophet, or addressing a pubescent Spanish boy. What I am really saying is ‘Ouch’, ‘Wow’, ‘Oh no’, or one of various other uses for the curse. Whilst trepidatious about being stoned to death for using the words themselves, it is understandable that these individuals would not want to indulge in using the words, but one ‘should’ not impose this absurd notion on others.
Let’s talk about ‘Fuck’ – everybody is intimately familiar with the word. Here we have a word that is so diverse that it can be annexed to any sentence. ‘Fuck off’, ‘Where’s my fucking Lego’, and ‘Get the fuck out of my conservatory’ are sentences that are all rather incoherent linguistically but of which simultaneously are all perfectly understandable to us. If you have Lego, that is. The point is that the word itself is stripped of all meaning in most cases, and simply used as a tool for emphasis in language. ‘Get the fuck out of my conservatory’ provides a much more austere, uncompromising request than the dithering, pathetic ‘Get out of my conservatory!’ alternative. Aside from this, there is a more obvious connotation of the word. The general meaning of ‘having sex’ is attached rather frequently; genitals becoming a childish focus and a running theme through most ‘filthy’ language. ‘Twat’, ‘Piss’, ‘Shit’, ‘Cock’, ‘Dick’, ‘Arsehole’, ‘Cunt’ – the more sensitive the area of focus here, the more offence that ostensibly seems to be caused.
If you were wincing as you read that brief list then do not worry, it is entirely natural – I winced a bit whilst writing them. It is because we are taught from an early age, as a matter of simplicity, that these words are bad in themselves. Which they are not – neither phonetically, nor as a word with a direct reference to a body part. ‘Bad language’ is entirely based on the context in which particular words are used in any given situation, in which we can deem them rude or offensive, or indeed humorous, emotional or profound.
Profanity, of course, can be inappropriate too – it is clearly a situational judgement. Should we liberally be swearing at or around children? It would probably be wise that we do not. Not because of the idea that, stripped of meaning, these words are bad, but simply because it is probably not a healthy environment for a child to be constantly surrounded by sexual references, which profanity often has attached to it. In the same way that we censor violence, some things are prudently not exhibited to credulous minds that may or may not understand the meaning of such things yet. Exempting children though, if you feel you are not enough of a grown up, and you believe you must in fact be censored from these things, you have probably not actually emerged from that childhood squeamishness at all.
The bottom line is; we should not be treating ‘bad’ language as bad at all, but simply as another tool available to us within the art of language. Whilst these words are not always appropriate, if you can learn to use them correctly, they can be incredibly effective and incalculably useful to us. The only reason they should ever be described as ‘offensive’ must be in direct relation to the rest of the words uttered within the sentence, within the context of that situation.
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