I see where the philosophy club at the college is going to host a discussion about profanity - along the lines of attempting to discover when a word crosses into the realm of the profane. A titillating subject, no? I've thought about that in the past and, as a writer, I've considered how much, if any, potty-mouth my characters should possess. People do swear, both adults and children -- so where do writers self-prohibit and where do they let loose? If you find an answer to that question, let me know.
In an ironic twist of linguistics, swearing is sometimes
referred to as adult language. Not quite
sure when the last time some people walked around a middle-school was, but perhaps
they should revisit just to make sure they understand the concept of adult
I recently watched The
Boondocks Saints. Yes, it's an older
movie - testimony to the fact I don't get out much. Both the plot and the
premise of this film were interesting. The
characters weren't as realized as they could have been, but with all the
bloodshed who had time to notice? However,
the greatest flaw was the pervasive use of the f-bomb. Half way through the movie I was tired of
hearing it, yet like the houseguest that never leaves, it stayed until the very
end. I mean, I get it. The good guys were from a rough neighborhood
and worked in a meat processing plant and the bad guys were bad guys. But still.
At some point I suspect the writer just ran out of dialog and
substituted that one word so his characters would have something to say until the
movie had finished.
Compare this to another cinematic giant, Kill Bill, Vol. 1. There's the same type of language in KBv1,
but it's far less obtuse; it doesn't crop up in every scene and this helps the
dialog sound, somehow, more mature (at least as mature as a kung-fu
sword-fighting movie can be) than TBS.
Like I said, ironic.
It's also fascinating when people who know I'm a pastor slip
and say something they feel is profane.
This is often followed by an apology.
Now let me get this straight.
First, a human being who claims to believe in a God who knows everything
they do, every thought they have, and the motives behind it all, figures they
should apologize to me (of all people) because they used a swear word. Look, if you can say it in front of God, just
who do you think I am? The pastor is not
the language police - at least, he shouldn't be and if he feels that he is,
that's his problem and not yours. God
gives us free will; who am I to try to take it?
Then there's that bit in scripture about taking the Lord's
Name in vain. That's one of the top ten (somewhere
in Exodus 20 if memory serves). It's one
of the Thou Shalt Nots. A lot of
believers take that to mean, 'no cussin'; not a terrible boundary to have in
one's life, though we may not quite appreciate the intended meaning.
Consider King David who wrote many of the psalms - beautiful
poetry if ever there was, of which I hear only a fair echo because my Hebrew is
a bit rusty. King David was eloquent and
he understood the power of words. Yet,
there are a couple of passages where he opens the great dictionary of his brain
and, for example, throws out a pisseth (homework: get yourself a KJV concordance and look it
up). Point being, David knew his
audience and when he spoke with soldiers he wasn't above talking as, sometimes,
Then there's the Apostle Paul who said, and here I
paraphrase, that he considered everything he'd given up to answer his call as
dung. This is an example of the
translators being polite for the studio audience. Paul's original word-choice is a bit more
abrasive and much less softened for the genteel ear (Philippians 3:8).
There are other examples, but please note, two of the big
names were not averse to throwing around what could be called profanity. And since it's in the Bible, hmmm… maybe a
list of Bible-profanity is in order.
Then again, the world could probably survive without such.
Following along then, vanity (adjective or noun, take your
pick) is something either meaningless or selfish, a literal reflection and
gazing upon of our own surface, nothing more, nothing less. Narcissus, lest we forget, fell in love with
his own reflection and wasted his life -- poignant lesson on vanity if ever
there was. So that, taking the Lord's
name in vain would mean using His name for personal gain (ala televangelists /
politicians / and some abusive spouses), as a meaningless word (one of those
verbal fillers that turns into the spoken Tourette-syndrome-habit), or only in
the most selfish, albeit possibly sincere, of contexts (God what can you do for
me because them other people don't matter so much).
But very little of this answers the question of when does a
word enter into the vernacular as a profanity.
Legally, it has to do when a word crosses the boundary into the
offensive or hateful (your state statutes may vary). And, if that's the case, a better discussion
for the philosophy club might be to consider what words aren't offensive, and
why. Such legal definitions are, like
many legal definitions, ambiguous at best and enforced only upon the discretion
of the special interest group currently bellyaching the loudest.
My own opinion when a word becomes a 'bad' word? Please refer to the title of this post and good luck finding a job with that philosophy degree.