To Swear, or not to Swear

June 9, 2007 at 2:15 pm (Church, Ministry, Theology and the Bible)

An interesting read over at TallSkinnyKiwi on using offensive language.

Pay close attention to the 3 categories of historically offensive language: Premodern, modern, and postmodern.

Calvin is always bugging me about swearing, because I’m a prude who can remember using the “sh” word and the “f” word (as we used to call them in elementary school) once each in my entire life. I guess by TSK’s categories these would fall under modern offensive language, “harsher” forms of bodily or sexual functions. What can I say, my parents trained me well and I see no reason to start saying words I’ve never said before now just because I can.

On the other hand, I’m come to realize as an adult that words are just words and mean different things in different cultures. However, we should also give thought to the idea that offensive language changes with the times, and certain words just don’t hold the same offensive weight that they used to, while other words have moved into that category. What is it, after all, that makes a word a “swear word”? It’s offensive to people. There are certain words that TSK brought up that I would never consider using that my grandma may have without a second thought when she was little. I’m caught in somewhat of an intergenerational taboo because I was raised by a) Christian parents who are b) very modern and yet c) I also grew up in an increasingly postmodern world where other words were ingrained in me by the school system and the media to be wrong, as well to some extent by my parents who were smart enough to accept the changing society around them as they aged.

What this means is growing up, all three categories were off-limits, though the third less than others. The third became more off limits as I aged and became increasingly more a part of society myself, and the first two less off limits as I realized that they really weren’t offensive to quite as many people.

Still, while I may let loose the occasional idiom of “a snowball’s chance in hell,” just because I think it’s aptly descriptive of a situation, I felt the blog post was thoughtful in that as Christians, the most important thing to remember when it comes to words: is their offensive and hurtful power. The old saying may go, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” but we all know that it’s entirely false. We could use no “swear” words whatsoever, and yet deeply hurt someone, or we could drop a now benign word that our peer wouldn’t think twice about, but still offend a grey hair we’re in a conversation with. We say all things in love, never speak any word out of malice, spite, or hatred, sensitive to showing the love of Christ to all, ready to adapt to the situation at hand, giving up our verbage preferences temporarily if necessary.

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