Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Sincerity of Swearing

Bear with me if you don’t like this title. I seriously want to step away from my inclinations and think about vulgar words. Are there times when they can be honest?

This used to be an easy question for me. Growing up in a squeaky-clean, super-Catholic homeschooled family, I had a mouth more devoid of curses than G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra is devoid of brains. High school and college have changed that. A lot. I stopped homeschooling in the eighth grade, and have been exposed ever since. And I’ve used it enough myself to ask serious questions, based in experience.

So can swear words be sincere? By this I ask if it can actually be a legitimate expression, under whatever circumstances.

After thought, I have decided that there are times that we “have” to swear. By this I mean when someone is under so much pressure, and he/she must let it out without throttling someone, and the first word to come to their mind is, “S---!”. I find the latter option more agreeable than the latter. Total control, obviously, would be best, but we are weak, and there are times when we simply cannot endure another second without venting. See Black Hawk Down  or World Trade Center if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

Of course, there are times when we say it without a thought. Like if a friend sneaks up behind you and grabs you. Or when you’re painting on the roof and you nearly fall off. Surprise doesn’t leave much time for choosing words. Neither does fear. During my first driving lesson, I said a string of things that made me glad it was a driving instructor in the passenger seat and not my mother. I was terrified. My shaky hands were on a wheel controlling one ton of metal and rocket fuel. One false move and I was going to hurt something. Blindly, I babbled vulgarities. Literally I could not control myself until when my teacher asked me why I was swearing.

On top of all that, many people don’t mean the meaning of what they say. If you break my ribs with a sledgehammer, and I yell, “F--- you!”, I’m not commanding you to fornicate with yourself, which is the most sense one can make from the phrase. I’m saying that you just hit me and I’m in pain and I hate your guts and will rip them out the moment I have the strength to walk. Think about “h--- yeah” or “d--- right”. They don’t make any particular sense. We’re adding them for emphasis, almost like one would add Tabasco to a pizza.

That’s been a convincing case for me, but it doesn’t change one thing. You can’t change what the words mean. Only a whole group of English users over time can do that, and I don’t think it’s been done yet for curse words. As things stand right now, “s---“ still means dung, “f---“ refers to carnal knowledge, “g-d---“ still invoke God’s eternal punishment, and so on.

American society over time chose these words as its bad words, and this is important to our psyche. We’ve been trained that these are the words we’re not meant to say. Even in a secularized world, films still get PGs or PG-13s for “d---“ and “g-d---“, last time I looked. So the effect when you say them is that you are breaking a moral law. Which is still true, anyway, looking at what the words mean. Double whammy.

Plus, there many other words to express your frustration. As I said, this requires self-control. And for that, you need to grow into someone better. Deepen your reason; deepen your faith, too, if you’re Christian. If the lack of a better you is what makes you swear, odds are you want to stop swearing to get the better you.

I conclude that swearing can be honest. Sometimes. As an understandable mistake. But it must be a mistake that is understood, regretted, and detested. Constantly it must be fought. Ideally, you’d never say them, not even once. Control your tongue and you control your mind; control your mind and you control everything else.

What do you think?  


  1. Sean, great stuff!
    I agree with you most heartily. Word cannot be devoid from their meaning. If that's the case though it would seem to follow that you could swear appropriately. You could "damn" the evil in the world, for instance.Thanks for keeping me on track sir, and keep it up!

  2. Thank you both for checking it out.