A Note on Profanity

A Note on Profanity: It’s a Complicated Topic

When I sat down to write this post about profanity, I had a very clear picture of the idea I wanted to convey. The singular idea was that we provide words power. A word is just a word. A phrase is just a phrase. It is the speaker and the receiver who give a word or phrase the power to be offensive.

That idea was my knee-jerk reaction to a few posts I’ve read recently about the use of profanity. It is my knee-jerk reaction when anyone gets offended at the use of a word – well, the use of one word in particular, which I won’t be saying here so you just have to guess. I will say it is commonly used in my favorite blogs and TV shows.

After some trouble getting my thoughts from my brain to the screen, I decided to do a little research before writing; see what is already out there about profanity. The number of articles and blog posts written about the use of cuss words, offensive words, and the possible alienation of using these words surprised me.

My research only brought forth more questions and a broader view of what profanity encompasses. The issue of profanity use is complicated. It goes beyond cuss words by including derogatory slurs as well, an aspect of profanity I didn’t consider before this writing. Instead of providing me with a direction for my blog post, I researched my way into a tangled web of words and ideologies about their use.

I still assert that we are responsible for giving a word power. It can only be offensive if the deliverer intends it and/or the receiver demands it. However, there is much to discuss and I love a good discussion, especially about words.

Here are a few questions about the use of profanity.

  • Why do we allow a word or phrase the power to offend?
  • What causes cuss words to be alienating?
  • What value, if any, do cuss words bring to writing?
  • Can other words outside the purview of profanity be offensive?

The last question stems from the same idea that we give words power. A person could wish someone a nice day, but tone of voice and body language clearly did not convey well wishes. The tone used has the same intention as using a cuss word. How is it different?

Based on the number of blog posts, articles, and even books written on the subject, it clearly fascinates many people. It fascinates me. It is interesting to learn how words get their meanings, how those meanings evolve over time, and the ebb and flow of what is acceptable language.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Except when they do.

2 thoughts on “A Note on Profanity: It’s a Complicated Topic”

  1. I agree that we give words power, and I think it is in the delivery and the receipt. I remember the first time the word lesbian was used to define me, I was in grade school and didn’t even know what it meant, but I knew it was an accusation and allowed it to be hurtful. It is a word, that is at times, still thrown at me in a way that is meant to be accusatory, but the power is gone.

    Also, I love “the F word” , specifically the multipurposeness of it. Interestingly enough, I use it in casual conversation, but I have never used it in my blog. And, not I’ll be pondering the why of that…

    1. I was thinking the same thing about “the F word.” As I was writing this post, I noticed I did not want to use it even here, when it could legitimately be part of the post and even as I am defending that we alone give words power. All very interesting thoughts to ponder, which is why there might be a follow-up post to this one soon.

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