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Thread: Profanity and its usage

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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Profanity and its usage

    The very concept of profanity is an interesting study. We pretty much take it for granted, but if you think about it, the whole idea is rather strange: you see, there are these certain words, and it is immoral, taboo, forbidden, or unethical to utter these words aloud. If you do then you are either evil, boorish, or merely poorly bred. Does reading or hearing these terms in some way harm us? Is it even more harmful to subject young people to these...these words?

    How this relatively short list of words came into being is something I've long wondered at. Who was it, for instance, that originally decided words naming genitalia, reproduction, or body excreta should be considered profane and why did everyone apparently buy into it? What was/is the underlying logic? Why not decree some other anatomical terms or functions as taboo - why, you're nothing but a shoulder extender! May you be exposed to five sweating humans! I secrete ear wax in your general direction!

    Okay, so we may never know the answers to those questions, but given that profanity appears to be a permanent fixture in our culture(s), how much attention or importance do you attach to its' usage? If we wish to fit in with society we must, after all, observe its' conventions.

    We've all heard the expression 'swears like a sailor' before. Having been in the service I can say without fear of contradiction that military culture embraces the heavy use of profanity and it typically runs in inverse proportion to the rank. So lowly enlisted folks use f-bombs practically as adjectives (e.g. let's go to the f'ing chow hall it's getting late and I'm f'ing hungry), whereas it is considered unbecoming of an officer to use such language (unless, perhaps, making some attempt to bond with the troops). This seems to be the case with society's class structure on the whole; the lower one's socio-economic class the more acceptable and common is the use of profanity.

    How about you, do you find yourself offended by other people's use of profanity? If so, in what situations? Do you swear like a sailor? Has your use of profanity increased, decreased or stayed about the same over the course of your adult life?

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    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Profanity + kids has been interesting. What's funny are the words they think are swears through context. My 8 year old thought the word "Aint" was a swear because, as she explained, it sounds "punky."

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    My use of profanity has decreased over the past year. I'm offended by profanity that is directed at someone.

    I work around a group of tradespeople that can be stereotyped as big and dirty but I find the opposite. (Yes, digger, you, and your ilk, are refined and eloquent.) Except for one guy. Those words are simply part of his vocabulary; he is intelligent, and in his own way, a gentleman. Just a little coarse, but well-intentioned. I have a good bit of respect for him despite the language. I can only imagine that he was exposed to swearing during his upbringing. I love listening to him, because I haven't heard that kind of talk in decades. I sometimes find myself bemused at his style of talking during conversation with him.

    The etymology of profanity is intriguing. I often wonder why those words, and the way they sound, are the ones considered profane.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    I am less offended by the actual words than I am the intention behind their use. Someone using a four-letter word to express excitement ("F*ck yeah!") doesn't really bother me at all, whereas using a four-letter word to insult or curse someone grates on my nerves and often makes me quite angry.

    I personally try not to swear around kids or people who I know might be offended (unless offending is the point). It's just not worth the extra discord or drama. I also sometimes swear adjectively to emphasize a point, as such words do draw forceful attention. However, such uses are only used in rare circumstances since liberal use of the tactic decreases its effectiveness.

    I swear more now than I did as a kid. But it's tapered off significantly post-college.

  5. #5
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Who was it, for instance, that originally decided words naming genitalia, reproduction, or body excreta should be considered profane and why did everyone apparently buy into it?
    Well, everybody speaking English anyway.

    In French, it is nothing to say "merde". Most profanity is centred around religious terminology (Tabernac, Seigneur, mauit). I guess in certain (English) company those words would still be considered profane but in French they are much stronger as swear words (i.e. don't let memère catch you saying that stuff).

    Oh, I bet the English would stop using "cul de sac" pretty quickly if they knew what it actually meant...

    I would agree with above posters re: intent v. actual use, though I worked with one engineer on a project who just couldn't stop using swear words in his everyday vocabulary. We didn't invite him to the public meetings.

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    Cyburbian Plus
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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I don't really care when people use it. I really don't think it adds much to conversations. I think it shows that you aren't creative in your understanding of the english language though. Unless you are in extreme pain, or enraged, I see no real reason to use it.

    I have cut my swearing tremendously since I had my son. I do hate it when people swear around him though. You know what, maybe it isn't a big deal, but I don't want my kid going around cursing. I find it an ugly habit, like picking your nose. There isn't really any harm in it, but it just isn't good to do in company.
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    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    I know it's old-fashioned but I really don't like to hear women swearing or anyone swearing in mixed company. Not that I haven't myself, it's hard to overcome the 60's and 70's, team sports, Army, & graduate school. Now it's pretty much reserved for anger management (driving, self-inflicted injuries, etc.) and the occasional instance where special emphasis is needed to make a point.

    To Maister's original query, I don't really care why particular body functions became swear words. If it offended folks then, it's good enough enough for me now.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop View post
    Profanity + kids has been interesting. What's funny are the words they think are swears through context. My 8 year old thought the word "Aint" was a swear because, as she explained, it sounds "punky."
    I can easily see how kids could get improper english and swearing confused. They are corrected for using both. Though if I had kids the corrections would be very different!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    My swearing has been about the same throughout my adult life. I don't take offense to most swearing and sometimes it's necessary (ok it makes me feel better) at specific times. As others have mentioned the intent behind the swearing if it's directed at a person is more offensive than the words themselves.

    I find that swearing/cursing in other languages is a very creative and artistic endeavor as oppose to our rather vulgar and brief way here.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Planit's avatar
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    Know when its okay and when its not appropriate at all. That's the key.

    Work example:
    The staff uses in the conversations in the office (we are separated so the public doesn't randomly walk in), but never in public or with citizens.

    Another example:
    I used to think Fred Couples was a respectable guy. At a recent golf tournament, he hit his chip on the green, but not close to the hole at all. There were familes and kids around the green following his play. When he walked up to the green and saw where his ball was he said "F^@king beautiful" in a prety loud tone - changed my opinion. Tiger is the same way blurting out profanity on a bad shot. During a game with your buddies thats okay (golf will do that to you), but not at a tournament with a bunch of kids around.
    "Whatever beer I'm drinking, is better than the one I'm not." DMLW
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    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    One thought that I heard a while back is that the more that the really 'juicy' words are used (and misused), the more that they lose their impact - and for that reason, we admonish kids for using them, not because those words are, per say, 'bad', but rather we are actually protecting the integrity of those juicy words for when their use is really called for and proper.



    Mike

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    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I have a number of different thoughts on this subject.

    I always wondered how salior swearing was different than how I swore? Are there different words cause I think I know all of them and have used them?

    I have always told my children that if they are going to use those words they need to use them in the appropriate context. Most of the time they do. They have always found it kind of funny to "quote" someone swearing. That is really about the only time they do.

    With small children it is not that the word is worse than elbow but it is embarrassing and a mark on your parenting skills if they use the words in public.

    What about pregnant? That used to be a bad word.

    I used to swear like a sailor. I don't much anymore. My husband is the funny one. He swears less than I but when he does it is like every other word. Only with some people. Kind of funny.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

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    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    What about pregnant? That used to be a bad word.
    $%#@# that. It's a technical term.
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    Cyburbian Plus Whose Yur Planner's avatar
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    I'm not easily offended, I grew up as a cop's kid. Plus I've been called every foul and obscene word at least once in my 20+ year career.

    I don't swear often and normally only when I'm upset and only around people I know won't be offended. It's been proven that profanity is a stress reliever and has some benefits. I don't swear near as much as I did in college. I also tend to swear in both English and German, thanks to my family.
    Last edited by Whose Yur Planner; 15 Nov 2010 at 3:05 PM.
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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    My son's cussing has gotten out of hand. He is only nine and he uses language I didn't even know about until I was in middle school.

    At work when we moved into new offices, we began sharing space with the school superintendant, a kind matronly lady. In roder to not to offend her, our boss instituted a cussing jar (25 cents an offense) to help curb out salty language. Some people just hand over a $5 and said "tell me, when I use this up." I am proud to say I did not have to contribute a single quarter.

    My weakness is when I am home. It is funny that the one person I try to set a good example for (my son) is the very person whose behavior prompts me to cuss like a sailor.

    I instituted a cussing jar at home. I am not proud to admit that up until now I am the major contributor to the jar. My son redeemed me on Saturday by letting go with a string of the f-words that wiped out his allowance for the week and part of next week's. My wife does not cuss. I guess she never got into the habit when learning English. I suspect maybe she cusses in Spanish but I don't know the difference.

    One of the funniest moments of my childhood was sitting in the back seat of my mom's car when she got stuck in the mud. She said "oh s**t" The first time and the only time I heard my mom say anything harsher than "son of a sea cook." My little brother and I couldn't stop giggling, even after Mom threatened to smack us.
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    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tranplanner View post
    Well, everybody speaking English anyway.

    In French, it is nothing to say "merde". Most profanity is centred around religious terminology (Tabernac, Seigneur, mauit). I guess in certain (English) company those words would still be considered profane but in French they are much stronger as swear words (i.e. don't let memère catch you saying that stuff).
    I'm guessing that's the case in most traditionally Catholic countries. In Spain it's commonplace to hear people from all walks of life casually use joder, which literally means "to f**k" but is generally the English equivalent of just saying "F**k!". Another common phrase, especially among younger folks, is to describe something really great as de puta madre (literally "of the whore mother"). It's not unheard of to hear even a pre-pubescent kid say such phrases with impunity.

    Similar to France, all of the most offensive epithets in Spain are religious. Me cago en Dios (literal translation: "I shit on God") is much less acceptable in polite company but a lot more common than anyone would think. Anything involving Maria is probably grounds for corporal punishment.

    As for me, I probably curse more than I should in casual situations. It was my first means of rebelling as a kid and it's been a hard habit to break. Thankfully I have no trouble turning it off in professional situations or when elderly relatives or children are around.
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    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    One of the funniest moments of my childhood was sitting in the back seat of my mom's car when she got stuck in the mud. She said "oh s**t" The first time and the only time I heard my mom say anything harsher than "son of a sea cook." My little brother and I couldn't stop giggling, even after Mom threatened to smack us.
    When my youngest was 3 (he's now 31), I was driving through a suburban mall parking lot and got cut off by another car and let fly an expletive. From the back seat, my wife and I almost immediately heard a tiny voice call out "You A$$hole!". I've tried to be more careful since then, sometimes successfully.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

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    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Oh and I forgot one.

    Face with certain demise, such as an impending accident I can see coming, loosing grip of a pan full of food that I know is going to hit the floor or anything else where a split second seemes it take minutes. I say
    Oh $hit, Oh $hit, Oh $hit,! I have told my husband if I am killed in an accident he can be sure those were my last words. Somehow it just flows from my lips.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  20. #20
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    For me there is little element of morality involved when it comes to profanity, apart from a general notion that we should avoid unnecessarily hurting other people's feelings (and to that end profanity often violates that premise). I don't swear often in front of Junior because I want him to properly acculturate and learn that gratuitous use of profanity is not becoming of polite company. It's really more an issue of manners than anything else.

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    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    I don't swear often in front of Junior because I want him to properly acculturate and learn that gratuitous use of profanity is not becoming of polite company. It's really more an issue of manners than anything else.
    Don't you really mean that his profanity at a young age is a reflection on you and your failure as a parent? Not to mention that it exposes the coarseness lying beneath thin veneer of culture and sophistication that you try to present to those who don't know you? Just asking.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

  22. #22
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    F@ck you all!
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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ofos View post
    Don't you really mean that his profanity at a young age is a reflection on you and your failure as a parent? Not to mention that it exposes the coarseness lying beneath thin veneer of culture and sophistication that you try to present to those who don't know you? Just asking.
    Of course it would take some sad arsed, c**k s***ing, m****r f***ing, s.o.b. like you to come to a conclusion like that.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    I pretty much limit my swearing to sports teams and bad drivers now, but I think I did it a lot more when I was enlisted in the Army in my late teens/early 20's. It is certainly much more prevalent there.

    I do enjoy some comedians who swear (or swore, as the case may be) profusely (George Carlin being an obvious example).
    "When life gives you lemons, just say 'No thanks'." - Henry Rollins

  25. #25
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Of course it would take some sad arsed, c**k s***ing, m****r f***ing, s.o.b. like you to come to a conclusion like that.
    F* you and the horse you rode in on! My arse is quite happy, thank you very much! So just bugger off, you bloody wanker!
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

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