Iraqi Elections


I was thinking about writing on this topic, but had decided not to. Then I read Tim's blog today. It is the teacher in me.

In the September 25, 2000 issue of Newsweek (I'd link, but you have to pay to view it), Anna Quindlen wrote a good column on the nature of cussing. She reminds us of some things related to the nature and history of language and clarifies what are currently the words that are considered inappropriate.

A Brief History
Originally it begins as cursing. These are the words and phrases that you say in order to curse someone. This is sort of a supernatural/magical belief. I assume that none of us believe that saying "Go to hell" to someone will actually curse them (no matter how angrily it is said).

Since the Norman Conquest there has been this battle in the English language between the Anglo-Saxon words and the Romance words (that come from Latin, especially through French influence on the English language). The elites often despised the old Anglo-Saxon words that the common (or vulgar) folk used. The Victorians take this to its furthest point by deciding that these old words for sex and bodily functions are inappropriate. Instead they used the new medical terms or those that came into English from the Romance languages. There is nothing inherently wrong with the word itself, just a cultural construct.

In the late-twentieth century there was another shift. The words that became inappropriate were racial slurs and other euphemisms that truly insult someone because of some group of folk they are a part of. Unlike the old cuss words, these words do cause injury -- it is not just that they sound vulgar (or common).

What Type of Issue is This?
I think the use or non-use of these older curse/cuss words is an issue of prudence, of pragmatics. It is neither a moral nor a religious issue.

Here is how it is a prudential issue. It is not prudent to use words that you and your friends don't find offensive in front of folk that do. Older adults still have issues with certain words that younger folks don't find offensive, but it isn't prudent to use those words in settings where folk might find them offensive or inappropriate. If you saw The Apprentice last week, the losing guy used the F-word in the boardroom. That's just not a prudent place to use that word, even though he probably wasn't intending anything offensive.

But it isn't really a moral issue. A person offended by a certain word needs to provide an ethical argument for why it is morally wrong. It seems that the reason most folk are offended by certain words is simply that they've been conditioned that way. They were taught that the words were "bad words" and so they believe them to be bad words. There's nothing either good or bad about this; it simpy is the acculturation process. But there is nothing inherently "bad" about using the Anglo-Saxon word for sex. Like other words (even "good" words) it can be used in abusive ways or in an abusive tone of voice, but as a word it is nothing special.

It does become a moral issue for minors who have parents who have said that using such words are wrong. The minors are supposed to obey their parents. If there parents don't want them to use certain words, then they should respect their parents wishes.

Nor is this a religious issue. The scripture seems to want us to guard our tongue from gossiping or speaking abusively to one another, but there's nothing about what we call "cussing" in the Bible. Rather, Jesus and Paul both use language considered offensive in the first century. Jesus has choice things to say to the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, "brood of vipers," etc. And Paul uses the word "skubalon" which is often translated "rubbish" but means "human excrement." Actually, it means "shit." That's what the highly esteemed "greatest-Baptist-preacher-in-Oklahoma" Dr. Mack Roark taught us in Greek class would be the proper translation, though he advised not to translate it that way from the pulpit. He said skubalon didn't simpy mean "human excrement" but was in fact a word that was considered offensive to Paul's audience.

I don't think that this issue falls under my purview of youth-minister-qua-youth-minister. All adults who are in the lives of teenagers need to help them learn to navigate the complex waters of adulthood. All adults need to educate teens on learning things like what language is appropriate in what settings. It isn't a ministerial, religious, or moral thing, it is just good pedagogy of the rising generation in the pragmatics of adult life.

Recently I realized that I do not cuss. Sure I use words that my mother considered cuss words (she didn't even like "shoot" or "darn"). But I don't use the words that my generation considers inappropriate -- racial slurs, other negative euphemisms based on demeaning a group of people, etc. When I use those words my Mom didn't like, it isn't because I'm "cussing" it is because I think that those words most effectively carry the weight of meaning that I'm trying to communicate in the moment -- just like every other word I choose to use.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Great historical view...and you're right...but not many folks are willing to consider the nature of their language, whether it be cursing or hateful language (which is the worse of the two, I think). It will always be a matter of the heart. Do we love?


The origin of two words (from what I remember):

SHIT (or S.H.I.T.) - it was printed on the sides of boxes of manure (presumably fertilizer) so that it wouldn't be transported in/near/around water. Meaning: Store High In Transit. If this is even true, how in the world can it be considered crude?

FUCK (or F.U.C.K.) - Fornication Under the Consent of the King. Right of English soldiers during Medieval empirialistic conquest which was invoked to be able to rape women. This one sounds pretty good, too. Dunno if it's true but I like.

I never understood people who don't like certain movies because they contain "too much cussing." A prime example is Good Will Hunting. Clearly, cussing is written into the dialogue as an extension of reality of "Southie" Bostonites. I suppose some could argue that Quentin T. uses gratuitous cussing in his movies but I quite enjoy it. There's almost a rhythem that make them flow.

Brittany Wooten

I definitely don't think the Villiage was the best movie of the year or anything..but I though it was really entertaining and just because I didn't figure it out like mr.smary jones did, that doesn't mean I'm stupid or anything...ok?? :)


i think i know why you bloged on that particular subject! :)


It has always been a mystery to that peoples moods can be altered simply by the interpretation of sound waves moving through the air. Curse words don't anger me, but there is something about the sound of someone chewing their food that really upsets me. Maybe its the same thing with some curse words and people. They just don't like the way it sounds.

Steel Magnolia

Nothing about "cussing" in the Bible? Say what? What about James 3:8-12? When you say that something is not in the Bible, you better read the whole book!


One of the commenters referenced James 3:8-12. Does that refer to cussing or to cursing someone? I think that it's referring to cursing someone. There is a big difference between the two, and that's what he said in his blog post. You have to be careful to not put meaning into God's Word, but to read it with a clear mind asking God to reveal what he was really saying.


Colossians 3:8
talks about cussing.
the majority of cuss word may not be considered wrong in todays society but if a Christian using them, It will be considered hypocritical.
These worlds are still against the moral standard of today. Which is what obscene means in Colossians 3:8

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)