Profane or obscene? That depends

Do too many of us cuss? Probably. Many don't give a damn

“Why do you curse so much?” The question came from a reader who said she had restricted the internet her children use at home on sites like this one because of the “offensive” language.

The remark is surprising since my wife claims I cuss a lot less than I did in the early days of our marriage, which began more than 42 years ago.

When I answered the reader’s email and asked for examples, she pointed to a post over the weekend about the arrival of Spring and pointed to words like “damn” and “hell,” words we see in most television shows and used in nearly all newspapers and magazines.

Yes, I have used the infamous “f-word” in conversations at home or with friends. It normally applies as a description of sexual activity or as an insult to someone. It also appears on this site when it is used by a politician, especially a recent one-term president who used such language to showcase his offensive behavior. Donald Trump often used the Lord’s name in vain by combining the words “god” and “damn,” been at prayer breakfasts where religious leaders winced but few seldom said anything.

When West Virginia state senator Paul Hardesty told Politico he wrote to Trump about his use of the term that most Christians considered the worse obscenity of all and urged him to “never utter these words again.”

Trump’s response? He told a North Carolina rally that the Islamic State “will be hit so god-damned hard” and said he tells those who question his tactics: “If you don’t support me, you’re going to be so goddamn poor.”

Such language doesn’t surprise retired psychology professor Timothy Jay, considered to be an expert on so-called “swear words.”

“I’ve done surveys where I ask people: What’s the most offensive word?” Jay told The Washington Post in an interview. “Some [religious] women would say the word ‘f—,’ but they wouldn’t say ‘Jesus Christ.’ Some of my interviewees have said, ‘We could say ‘f—’ and ‘s—’ at home, but we weren’t allowed to use profane language.”

Jay separates what he considers “profanity” from “obscenity.” Obscenity, he says, is a “crude term for a bodily function.” Profanity demand “something from the sacred realm” like misusing “hell” or “damn.” Some religious leaders consider the use of either word should be limited to a judgment from God.

Combining the words “god” and “damn” into an insult is considered “blasphemy” to them.

Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior says what is or is not considered “obscene” or “profane” changes with the times. “Martin Luther had quite a mouth,” she adds,

The Post reports:

Jeffress agreed that profanity is more problematic than other crass language. Asked to compare Trump’s use of “goddamn” to his infamous reference to certain nations as “shithole countries” — a statement which several evangelical pastors did condemn — Jeffress said the worse offense was the profanity.

“I would never condone taking the Lord’s name in vain,” he said. “When it comes to other types of foul language, that’s a concern, but it’s certainly not the major concern when we’re in a virtual battle for the soul of the nation.”

Jeffers adds:

Trump enjoys a tremendous amount of support from people of faith not because of his language, but in spite of his language, Most Americans did not oppose the salty language of General Patton. All they cared about was that he led us to victory. Many Christians believe we are in a war … for the culture, a war for the soul of America.

The “war for the soul of America” continues. It is one hell of a mess.

© 2004-2021 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse