Monday, May 16, 2011

Pure and Profane Speech

Notice how humans, mostly, seem given to extremes, especially when it comes to speech. I grew up in the corner of one extreme, a religious community in the Midwest. I couldn’t refer to my rear as a “butt,” had to say “my seat.” I was instructed not to say “golly” or “heck”—those are “minced oaths.”

Sounds a bit like in the late 19th century when a woman’s pregnancy couldn’t be mentioned in mixed company. Supposedly, people in polite conversation didn't even speak of the "legs" of a table.

The advantage to my fundamentalist upbringing is that it taught me the importance of words. I learned to take great care to moderate my speech as Scripture says, though I did find myself saying “Shoot” a lot when frustrated. I wonder what minced oath that refers to;-) And I became a literature and writing teacher—dealing endlessly with words both spoken and written.

And I suppose I don’t need to inform anyone who has been out in public, gone to work, watched a movie, surfed the Internet, listened to radio, especially paying radio, or seen and heard TV or served in the military, etc. that the other extreme from minced oath prohibition is to be overtly vulgar, obscene, and profane in one’s speech, especially when one is mad or in great spirits.

I used to drive a truck for a chrome company after college (before becoming an English teacher) and at that job I learned plenty of words that our Sunday School teacher never taught us.

The most popular word today heard almost incessantly is the one whose etymology is “to strike” or “to plough.” Notice how in so many situations people use this “ploughing” word for nearly everything from bad drivers to great food or nosy neighbors or non-functioning equipment. Sometimes it is even used to refer to its central meaning…

What’s the point? Why skewer daily conversation with vulgarities? I mean I can understand Mark Twain’s caustic comment that cuss words are important for certain situations. But what is the purpose of running every conversation through the sewer?

And don’t forget profanity. For uncertain reasons, many people speak of Jesus Christ much of the time, in any and all situations, sometimes even give him a middle initial, and say his name louder than the other words of their speech.

I wonder if these same individuals would be happy if people around them constantly, anytime they were angry, or when they were shocked, or when they had nothing else to say, kept using the personal first names of these same individuals’ sweethearts/wives as throwaway curse words?

But Jesus Christ is the love-heart of humankind, the one who chose loving sacrifice instead of violent rebellion against the ruthless invaders of his country.

Why do so many flip off his name, as if he were dung?

I must admit, I am baffled by this lust-affair that so many humans and the media have with vulgarity and profanity. Maybe my confusion comes because of my background at the other extreme.

Could we not agree, however, obscenity and profanity don’t fit in the pursuit of the good, the true, the beautiful, and the loving.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Obscene, flippant, or vulgar talk is totally inappropriate. Instead, let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox


Solitary Pagan said...

I have a similar background in language and a rather "proper" upbringing. However, I am open to the possibility that Lennon may have been right when he stated that "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." At least Scientific American has given us cause to think twice about why people utter more than minced oaths; perhaps they scream out in anger or excitement using the names of Christ, Kali and Jupiter. Perhaps the volatility of emotion is demonstrative of their pain, and their brains associate relief with the utterance of these holy names. I do have a tendency to believe that what is profane is sacred. :-)

Daniel Wilcox said...

Hello Solitary Pagan,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your viewpoint.
Interesting that you should quote Lennon, as I just finished reading a history of the Beatles. I was amazed and depressed reading of all the pain Lennon experienced and created for others in his life.

And thanks for giving me the Scientific American link.

Of course, I strongly disagree with your last statement

Thanks for the dialog.


Solitary Pagan said...

I often read your views, I enjoy your blog and chances are that we agree more often than not. Blessed be, Daniel.