Friday, September 17, 2010

Swear Words

I have been a part of the discussion many times over whether it is perfectly okay to swear. One point that comes up is that a word only has the meaning that we attribute to it, therefore saying a swear word is subjective based on the context. Another view is that sometimes a point can only be made by using swear words. I recently listened to a podcast from Grammar Girl on the subject of swearing that gave voice to something that I have assumed, and that is that swear words are connected to emotions. Here is a part of that episode:

...a swear word is NOT just “a word like any other.” People who suffer a loss of speech because of damage to the language-processing parts of their brain often retain the ability to curse...
~ Grammar Girl's Quick & Dirty Tips
If you follow the link to Grammar Girl's website, the text from the episode is there and worth a read. It's short so I'll wait for you to go do that...

If you didn't click the link, it goes on from there to say that swear words are processed in the limbic system, the area of the brain responsible for emotions. Swearing triggers an emotional response. With that said, this means that the use of cursing in normal speech should, at best, be limited to situations where a certain emotional response is desired. Given that, Ephesians 4:29
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
includes but is not limited to the use of swear words in our speech and our writing.

I come from the point of view that swearing should be avoided, especially when it comes to Christians, considering that a fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Constant or consistent swearing shows a lack of self-control. Especially for those who are articulate enough, I see using swear words as a means of getting across a point of severity or intensity as lazy, as more carefully formulated words should serve the purpose. As noted, cursing in this case only serves the purpose to shock people into paying attention to you and not really coming out of wisdom.

This isn't to say that all swearing is necessarily unjustified, useful, or even necessarily bad in certain situations, but overused words lose their intensity, and over time they lose their meaning completely. For those who believe in shocking people into listening to you, a quote often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is fitting:
Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.