Miss Manners and Profanity

by admin on October 19, 2011

Well, yesterday’s post produced an interesting array of comments.  There are many I declined to approve in order to assuage any embarrassment commentators should have had at their own words but failed to embrace.  Miss Jeanne has saved you from yourself and worldwide shame.

Let’s start off with some of the ideas expressed in the more notable comments to defend the right to use profanity.

1.  Profanity is ubiquitous in modern society.  Get over it.  Accept it. 

So, if public begging became common, we should all accept it?  Bank deposit slips in wedding invitations, if done by nearly everyone, are just fine and dandy?   If the whole world goes mad with greed, we’ll jump right off that greedy cliff with them?  Uh, no.  Just because “lots of people do it” is not a logical argument that it is a right thing to do.

Profanity lowers the “tone” of a discussion no matter how you spin it otherwise.  It is viewed as unprofessional, indiscreet, an excessive expression of personal feelings and opinions, and selfish.

“Honor in etiquette sometimes demands setting standards higher than those in practice and encouraging people to live up to them.”  Judith Martin

2.  It’s just words.  People attach meanings to words.  Words cannot hurt us.

If words never hurt us this site would cease to exist.   I am in awe of people who claim that the use of profanity shouldn’t really bother anyone because it’s just words.  Such people must be the most tolerant folks on the planet, never being offended by anything anyone ever says, either deliberately or as blather, because, well, it’s just words.    Embarrassing personal remarks, intrusions into privacy, rude assumptions, cruel comments about appearance, greedy solicitations, backhanded compliments don’t really exist to hurt and offend…they are just words.   Sorry, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid on this one.   Words can either be the most edifying tools in communicating or the most devastating, destructive way to bring someone down precisely because of the meaning collectively assigned by the culture to those words.

3.  Using profanity is “immensely satisfying”, “cathartic”, “confuses the heck out of people”.

The basic, fundamental rule of the etiquette of communication is that you speak to edify others, not yourself.   Miss Manners wrote that her advice often goes against a person’s declaration that they find it impossible not to convey their feelings regardless of the consequences to other people’s feelings and that many people seem to think that their opinions are required.  Profanity is the expression of personal feelings and opinions which many declare is “immensely satisfying” and “cathartic”.   We’d be silly to assume the speakers of such comments would actually mean that other people find it quite satisfying and cathartic to be the recipient of directed profanity or having simply overheard it.  To achieve catharsis and satisfaction implies retaliatory rudeness in response to someone else…verbal one upmanship to trump another with shock value.    It’s profanity for the sake of selfishness.   How rude.

4.  You can ask strangers to stop their vulgar utterances.  False.

Sorry, no one has the right to correct a stranger in public over the use of profanity.  However, Miss Manners does encourage using such people as examples to children of how not to behave in polite society.    Asking those with whom you have some kind of relationship to stop, be all means do so.  “I would prefer that you not use those words in conversations with me.  Thank you.”

5.  Substitutionary words are just as bad.

Which Miss Manners encourages:   “Compile a list of silly substitute words that sound somewhat like the offensive ones. “Oh, fudge,” for example. People have been doing this for years, not only to avoid offense, but to do the opposite: to slip in the offensive implication when the word was banned.   This is only a temporary measure. Miss Manners promises you that the ridiculousness of it will act to inhibit your impulse, and you will soon be saving the strong words for true emergencies.”


And now for the fun part since you’ve hung in and read this far….I have two copies of  Judith Martin’s (aka Miss Manners) book “Miss Manners’ Basic Training:  The Right Thing To Say” to give away to two lucky readers who respond to this post.  Winners chosen randomly by random.org.   This lovely little book is out of print which is a shame because it is one of the best books of her series (in my opinion) and one I often reread and refer back to.




{ 155 comments… read them below or add one }

bunnyface October 19, 2011 at 2:22 pm

A member of our family was friends with a priest through some volunteer activities, and every time I was around him I was surprised to hear him curse: f- word, s- word, lots of other words. He said it was fine to use those words because curse words were only those that use God or Jesus. I had never thought about it that way before.


Hemi Halliwell October 19, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I agree with Admin on points #1,2,3 & 5.
Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean I am going to do it.
Words *can* and *do* hurt.
Using profanity is not satisfying to me, nor do I care to shock people by using it.
Substitute words are silly and most people know what they are being used fo.
However, I must disagree on point #4. If I am in public, and someone is using profanity/curse words in casual conversation, I will ask them to please refrain from it. Just because they do it all the time should not mean I have to listen to it. This situation occured in a restaurant awhile back. I should not have to listen to someone use those words nor should I have to leave half-way through my meal because John Doe feels like cursing up a storm. When called on his words and asked to stop using those words in a restaurant full of families with children, he did. He did not seem ashamed or embarrassed that had used them, but when he found out that someone was not just going to sit by while he cursed his way through his meal and conversation, he stopped.


Margo October 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I agree absolutely with what Monica says about the impact of words, which is why I don’t make the “it’s only words” argument.
However, profanity is not (always) the same as abusive or bullying language. Sometimes it is used more as punctuation or emphasis. And not everyone is offended by the same things or to the same extent. I don’t swear much, but I don’t, in most circumstances, find it hugely offensive.

And language is fluid, so setting a specific standard (whether you consider it ‘higher’ or not) is far from straightforward, and you can’t always guess what what others will find offensive. I also feel that context makes huge difference.
From an etiquette perspective, we try not to offend others, but how far does that go? Is it OK to talk about a contentious subject (say, creationism) which might offend one group of people, but not to express oneself using profanity because a different group might be offended? I don’t have an answer and I’m not convinced there is a *right* answer.


ellesee October 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm

This is a topic that I will respectfully agree to disagree. However, I do agree that just because a lot of people say it, doesn’t mean that one should get over it and accept it. It also goes the other way– just because a person does not like it, doesn’t mean it should be banned.
Personally, cussing is not a big deal to me. If a person comes up to me and asks nicely to refrain from using swears, I will nicely do so. However, if a person comes riding on their high horse, I treat them like any person who toss their nose in the air….I ignore them and leave.

“Addendum…Miss Manners was presented with a dilemma by a reader. Apparently this person witnessed a customer go verbally ballistic with a flurry of profanities on an airline agent at the ticket counter. To which MM replied, “Which customer would you prefer to have aboard? The one who quietly goes to another airline when yours doesn’t respond satisfactorily, or the one who turns vicious when encountering a delay?” Hmmm….words have consequences.”

It is the ACTIONS and TONE and DIRECTION of that customer that wil have consequences, not words alone. This is a misleading judgment and comparison. If you really want to compare on words alone, then it should be said in the same calm tone as any other word. Have one person calmly say “fudge,” another say “f***” in the same tone, another scream out without profanities, another scream with curses, another mute and calm, and the last person seething but quiet. This experiment can be expanded too. Word alone do not hurt us, but the context given to those words sure does!

Don’t use profanities in professional or sophisticated settings (no brainer). As long as profanities are used in a non-threatening matter, targeted at no one, and used in general statements, then no problem :) There is a difference between “F***! I just stubbed my toe!” vs “I’m going f*** you up!”


Bibianne October 19, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Oh Miss Jane… I think I am going to use “Sweet Monkey Fritters of Love!” from now on… ROTFLOL


Xtina October 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I personally really like “crud monkeys”. I’ve also heard “aw, horse punky” on a few occasions and it’s pretty funny, too. I *somewhat* disagree on the point of substitute words–while I get what Ms. Jeanne is saying about how another word substituted (for something that everyone knows what you really mean) is not doing any good or making it any better than saying the actual word, a person does need a way to diffuse a situation and let off steam, so thus I see no real problem with random made-up silly words in their place. It also refocuses one’s energy and anger to help take off the pressure of the moment. At the very least, it serves to let people know you’re still in control of your mouth and brain at a crucial moment, and you might even get a laugh out of it.

I also really like the idea of the Shakespearean insults–I’m gonna have to look some of those up. Now THAT is a creative and interesting way to foil a verbal assault.


Xtina October 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Also, it baffles me as to why in the world people, even in jest with friends, would want to call each other derogatory names such as “beyotch” and “n****” and things of that sort. Supposedly, between friends, that’s supposed to be OK? I thought friends were supposed to be supportive. Those words aren’t terribly funny if you ask me.


Tru October 19, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Perhaps, a book would help my house-hold. Our language is a constant battle. But it is one where no one is sure where the lines are. We tend to argue over what is and is not profane. Coming from different American cultures, there appears to be a large difference.


desiree's granny October 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm

My ex-husband cannot say one sentence without using profanity. When we are speaking, I tell him if he doesn’t stop cussing, I’m hanging up. We don’t talk much.


Chocobo October 19, 2011 at 3:02 pm

–E, you might have a point if the meanings of the words we are discussing actually have changed. I would agree with you if their primary definition was not still derogatory, like your example of “nice”, whose primary definition is no longer “ignorant”, or even “fastidious,” but “pleasant.” But the primary definitions and understanding of the words we’re talking about haven’t changed at all. And they will remain offensive words until they do, which is something that takes a very long time.

The definition of “sh*t” still means animal dung in the common understanding. The definition of “f**k” still means to have sex in the common understanding, even to locals who use it every other word. Ask even a New Yorker to define what “sh*t” literally means, and they’ll tell you exactly what it is. They’ll also admit that they are using bad language if you ask them about all the peppered in curses. You might have had a point if using “f**k” was a colloquialism where no-one knew that they were using impolite terms (like saying “ride” in Ireland — I am told this is not a polite verb there, while it is perfectly acceptable to “ride a bicycle” here without offending anyone or causing a fit of the giggles). But even the people who use these terms constantly KNOW that they are using offensive terms. They might sheepishly cop to it, or even be proud of it, but they know that their language is vulgar.

I’m afraid that until the primary definition changes, they still refer to things that are impolite to talk about in society — sex, bodily functions, private body parts — and are hence impolite to say at all. And yes, I believe that talking about “poo” is just as bad as talking about “sh*t”, but the widely perceived added verbal aggression of saying “sh*t” makes it worse.


KWhite October 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I never really realized how much my friends and I sweared, until about five years ago when her two year old said ‘Mother F***er!” in context. It was at that point that I really started making a effort to watch my own mouth. I think I have done a pretty good job, My own son is four and has yet to say anything more profaine than “crap”


Heather October 19, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I once heard that cussing was a sign of a small vocabulary.


LovleAnjel October 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I guess my objection to any cursing, silly words or not, is that it’s a form of verbal aggression. It’s stomping your foot instead of punching someone (yes, stomping would be better than punching, but how about not hitting something in anger at all?) The more someone allows themselves to be aggressive, the easier it becomes over time. When you prevent those words from flying out your mouth, the harder it becomes to let loose in the future. It’s a form of self-restraint to not verbally express aggression/frustration/anger.

There was a women who was trying to discourage her children from giving the finger, by teaching them to give “the turkey” instead (a hitchhiker’s hand against an open palm). Guess what? Her kids were still making gestures at other people out of anger, all the while shouting things like “Santa vaca!” or “Shut the front door!”. That’s not being polite, that’s being a douche.


Aje October 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm

As always, admin makes great sense. :) Thanks.


sirhcton October 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Really, profanity should be reserved for only the most special of circumstances. As others have said, save it for when it is needed and use a bit of imagination for lesser situations. Use it too often and you might be up Excrement Estuary without a propulsive device.


livvy17 October 19, 2011 at 4:19 pm

#5 is great. My own personal go-to when I’m really miffed, and would like to spew curses like a sailor is to curse like Yosemite Sam. “Rassen-frassen-no-good-rooten’-tooten’-dag-nab….”


boxy October 19, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Thank you admin for this update. I was surprised that there were people who wrote that “profanity was just words.” Words hurt! Just ask anyone who’s ever been bullied.

I love the article. Thanks again.


Kirsten October 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I dispute the idea that swearing is a sign of a small vocabulary. I think it’s the sign of a larger vocabulary – all the other words, and the swear words too.


livvy17 October 19, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I will add, though, that I have a lot of feelings for the other side of the argument – the commonizing of words does dilute their power, which is why “fart” is no longer considered a word worthy of censorship anymore than “toilet.” There was an era where we euphemistically spoke of powdering our noses, instead of using the restroom, etc. Personally, it’s generally INTENT that bothers me, however, I will say that I tend to make unfavorable assumptions about those who substitute every adjective, adverb, noun and verb with a curse word. In such cases, if the intent is to insult, they’ve failed, simply because, as previously stated, the words have become too commonplace, and more importantly, by exposing themselves as unable to form a clear, concise thought. Perhaps that is why the best insults are considered “cutting” or “sharp”.


mike hammer October 19, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I disagree with the idea that general swearing, rather than swearing AT someone is harmless.

My husband has picked up the habit of yelling long strings of swearwords at the slightest sign of frustration (someone you disagree with on TV, website won’t load etc.)

I hate this because it’s very upsetting to me and destroys the peace and quiet that I would like to have in general. It doesn’t matter that he’s not angry at me, it makes me angry and I start thinking angry and destructive thoughts at him (“Grow up and shut up, you annoying @#$%!”)

Not a pleasant, restful atmosphere at all.


Kat October 19, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Thanks Kirsten. I’m with you.

There are people who don’t seem to be able to find anything to say that’s not profane. THEY have small vocabularies.

To lump the rest of us in with them, just because there’s an overlap in the words we use, is not right.

Apparently people who would never utter a swear word have no problem with calling someone stupid. Words can hurt, and that is not limited to arbitrarily blacklisted ones.


Enna October 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

@ Ferretrick, I see where you are coming from, a racial slur is nasty but if someone drops something heavy on their foot and say “F%$!” out of pain and shock that is different. However the opinion that swear words “are just words” doesn’t hold water when it comes to racist words or insults that are directed at people. For example if a man said to me in the street “I want to F&*% you” that is rude and offensive.

As for telling strangers off it depends on the sitatuion, for example if a man is being sexually obsence to me I would tell him politely that he is being silly and pathetic. I can also see why some parents would tell strangers not to swear in front of children.


Gracie C. October 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Another Laura – I have NEVER heard that definition or implied definition to the f-bomb. Not once in my life. It’s always just been sex, so not sure where that belief stems from. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has that interpretation of the word.

@Chocobo, but I’d argue that you are wrong in the meanings of the words not having changed. They have certainly shifted. I’m not arguing for or against profanity, but someone that says, “This f’n day stinks” is not saying, “This ‘having sex’ day stinks.” Someone saying, “I wish the f**k the sun would come out” is not saying anything about sex either. And someone who says, “S**t, I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning” is not talking about defecation. So, I’m not sure how you could say that the meanings remain the same. Sure, the words CAN be used to imply their original, literal meaning, but I’d say the majority of the time, and by the majority of people, they aren’t being used that way.


Hemi Halliwell October 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm

To Xtina: In regards to friends who use derogatory names for each other even in jest- I totally agree.

I have a friend who, when she got a little too tipsy, would often use “beyotch” in conversation. Such as when she would win a game, “take that beyotchs” or “see ya later beyotchs” as she was leaving. She was also quite fond of the phrase “shut up!” when someone said something shocking or surprising. Once night I decided to videotape her when she began that behavior. Then next day, I went over to her apartment and showed her the video. She was mortified. She did not realize how awful is made her sound & look. It took some time but she quit using those words and began to limit how much alcohol she had at parties to help prevent the behavior.


Barbara October 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Okay, I’m in for a chance to win a book!

I am going to try for a curse free day. If I could only get my hubby on board with that…


Javin October 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm

While people have lightly touched on it, I think the most important facet of swearing is “context” and “company.” As prior Army, I tend to have a rather vulgar tongue when talking with my buddies, and dare I say enjoy the new combinations that some of my buddies manage to come up with. It’s something of a game sometimes. My generation has used the words so much as to remove much of the “context” of the vulgarity behind them.

Around my mother and her friends, it’s a completely different story. The context of the words holds a completely different meaning for them than it does for me. My buddies and I do not swear around them. It’s also not difficult to determine who is “comfortable” with certain phrases. Within just a few minutes of conversation with a complete stranger, you can tell by their own language where their comfort level is with swear words. My rule is “you first.”

Teaching a child to say “oh crackers!” as an explicative does keep the child from saying the dirty words in mixed company, but shouldn’t the goal here be to teach the child that in the context of every minor inconvenience, an explicative isn’t necessary? I find the use of the “f word” as an adjective (“saw f’ing bigfoot!”) or an adverb (“I f’ing saw bigfoot!”) to be much less “offensive” than a child that “swears a blue streak” while using cutesy baby words if he drops a toy. Context context context.

Knowing that different generations, and even different individuals put different weight on the words, I avoid using such language unless I know that person is fully comfortable with it. This is where etiquette comes into play. It is not “bad etiquette” to simply use a “curse word” if the company and context is neither intended to be vulgar or offensive and it’s not FOUND to be vulgar or offensive by those whose company you’re in. This is where the “it’s just words” argument actually holds some water. However, at the point that you ARE offending your company, then etiquette has been breached.

This said, in a public arena, within earshot of strangers, as you don’t know the company, then the context in which YOU use it is a moot point. The etiquette is breached when you know the words have the ability to offend, but don’t “care” if it does. I would even argue that when around children whose parents are perfectly okay with having them children drop the “f-bomb”, it’s still a breach of etiquette as cursing around those children only enforces the idea that it’s “okay” to talk this way in front of others without knowing how they may feel about it.

I just don’t think it’s as easy as saying, “if you use this word it’s a breach of etiquette” and then paint all situations with that same brush.


Wink-n-Smile October 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm

For those who claim that it’s OK to swear, because the meanings of the words change, and what was once considered profane and blasphemous is now socially acceptable, I would like to say this:

Meanings of words do change over time, however your words are offensive NOW. You know very well that they are offensive, right now, and your claim that someday they may not be offensive does not alter the fact that they are currently offensive, at the moment they come out of your mouth, and you know it, I know it, anyone above the age of six knows it, and you cannot disassociate yourself from the offense by claiming that someday, in the far future, the word may no longer be considered offensive. Are you a time traveler? No? Then comport yourself as appropriate for the here and now.


Dark Magdalena October 19, 2011 at 5:50 pm

*big blinking eyes at Another Laura*
Since when has the f word ever implied the most brutal form of rape? I have never, ever heard that and am curious as to its origin.

I also disagree that swearing means one has a small vocabulary. I have quite a large vocabulary, and I swear. As far as it being verbal aggression and what LovleAnjel said…I think it’s more unhealthy to bottle up things; expressing yourself in one way or another is a way to relieve the anger rather than letting it fester.


Yvaine October 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm

@Another Laura, I’m with Gracie–I’ve never heard that connotation of the F word anywhere either.


Jeanne October 19, 2011 at 6:09 pm

That is so well written. I personally use swear words more than I should but you have just encouraged me to reform.


Serenity S October 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I agree. Especially with number 2. Words can hurt for far longer than sticks and stones…
I really would love to win the book!


Jall October 19, 2011 at 6:55 pm

My sisters and I were not discouraged from swearing while growing up; we were simply taught that certain situations required certain behaviors. My mom would say, “Put on your church manners.” That meant no swearing, no running around and being loud like we did in private, being seen and not heard, and generally acting like miniature adults instead of four rough-and-tumble, farm-grown tomboys. She may have called it “church manners,” but it didn’t just apply to church; it applied to school, visiting trips to relatives, any situation that required good behavior.

That little phrase worked quite well, and we girls quickly earned a reputation for being perfect little ladies. Little did these people know what a bunch of monkeys we could be when off the leash …. 😉 Mind you, we weren’t terrible children for our parents. But home was the place where we could be loud and crude and wild, and if we got too rambunctious, we had a big farm to go out and burn off energy and mischief.

When we grew up, my sisters and I raised our own children on the same model (and on the same farm), and our children also have a reputation for being notably well-mannered.

As for swearing in public, I just don’t. Period. I still stick to the “church manners” model. My elder sister has adopted the silly replacement model. Indeed, she seeks out the silliest words she can find. For years, she used “Fahrfignuegen” (from an old VW commercial) for the F-Bomb, and it invariably caused laughter, and often diffused otherwise volatile situations out of sheer surprise.


Amber October 19, 2011 at 7:07 pm

This recent post is where we’ll have to agree to disagree, admin. Swearing is just one of those touchy issues where some simply don’t really care (each generation caring less than the last), and some really, really are offended. It’s like OSes or eating meat or declawing cats I suppose.

If it makes you feel any better, while I AM a frequent swearer, I make sure to swear in the right context. That is, around my friends and family, all of whom swear like sailors, and the lesser words at work, where everyone seems to say “damn” and “hell” and “BS” (the full version) and a$$hole. I avoid swearing around strangers, children or those whom I don’t know very well (or have never uttered swear words around me). That way, if we ever meet, I won’t have to defend my swearing and you won’t have to be offended by it. :)


Missa October 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm

I love swearing. I don’t think I have a terrible vocabulary, or that I’m not creative, or all the other things people often say, just because I like to swear.
My default setting is not to swear. I only swear when I’m in company that I know is not offended by it. It doesn’t hurt me in any way to keep from saying a handful of words the majority of the time. I don’t personally find the words offensive, but my policy is that if I know that something has the potential to offend someone, then it doesn’t cost me very much to avoid saying it. That goes for all kinds of words, not just swears, of course.
But when I’m around my best friends, all bets are off!


MellowedOne October 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm

@Wink-n-Smile – very much agree!!!

@bunnyface – I’d be seriously considering the sanity of anyone, especially someone purporting to be religiously inclined, to justify swearing like a sailor with an excuse like that.

Profanity is a disease of the vocabulary. It does not make speech colorful, it seeks to shocks or offend. And for those who say they only use it around those who they know aren’t offended, how do you know that just because they don’t say anything they aren’t personally wishing you would clean up the potty mouth?


Emily J October 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I completely agree. Not only was I raised a proper Southern girl, I also belong to a conservative religion which encourages clean and modest behavior and dress. I absolutely notice a difference in the countenance and behavior of those who routinely and publicly swear, and those who make an effort to be polite. When I was a teen and young adult, I tried out swearing for myself, and I can say I really don’t miss it!


Miss Marie October 19, 2011 at 8:24 pm

I completely agree that swearing lowers the tone of a conversation, offends others and can be very hurtful. I also am guilty of using the occasional swear when provoked (think the guy who cut me off, nearly smashing me into oncoming traffic, then had the audacity to flip me the bird…). If someone feels the need to swear over all the little things that happen to them every day, what are they going to use when something actually bad happens to them? I am pledging here and now to find a better way to express dismay and anger!


C.W. October 19, 2011 at 8:54 pm

I suppose I have to disagree. I’m on the side of many other commenters that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. I could easily be offensive while not using profanity. To me, it’s like talking to a pet. If I say, “You bad, bad dog!” with a sweet voice, my pup’s tail wags and she wants a pat on the head. If I yell, “You’re such a good girl!” as if she’s being punished, she tucks her tail between her legs and walks away. Not saying it’s a perfect metaphor but if I yell at a person harshly they’ll hear my tone and anger before they know exactly what words I’ve used.


fallishere October 19, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Have you ever noticed how a lot of foul language is used illogically? When you really stop to analyze the conversation and how the swear words were used it just doesn’t make any sense? That is the biggest reason for me that I don’t use them or care for others to use them.

Words used illogically, out of context, or without merit are meaningless.


ErinAnn October 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm

I’ve had a similar discussion with a very educated and verbose friend of mine. He says that he chooses (consciously) to swear because he prefers it as a way to express his emotion. It’s still pretty low-brow to me.


Gracie C. October 19, 2011 at 10:19 pm

@Wink-n-smile – but clearly the comments here indicate that it is not universally offensive, even in the here and now. For some people the shift HAS happened. Some people consider the words as benign as heck or darn or fiddlesticks, or any other manner of old fashioned cursing. So, no, one does not need to be a time-traveler to justify how they wish to speak.

@MellowedOne – not all swears “seek” to shock and offend. It may have the consequence but to imply that people who cuss are intentionally meaning to shock and offend (which is how I interpret “seek”) is disingenuous. Many people use them extremely casually, there is no intent for anything at all.


Alexis October 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm

‘Douche’ and ‘douchebag are two of the rudest crudest words I can think of. A lot of casual misogyny has crept into our ordinary conversation to the point where people think nothing of calling a person a word like that even in the context of a discussion on offensive language. What is also strange to me is that the word ‘vagina’ is pretty much taboo in polite conversation, even among fairly foul-mouthed people and even on otherwise exceedingly vulgar TV shows that drop curse words left and right. These days even grown women refer to their own reproductive organs by childish nicknames (‘vajayjay’ anyone?! ICK!!!) instead of simple medical terminology. No such corresponding taboo exists for any simple medical term for male genitals., and the slang words for male body parts are neither greviously insulting nor exceptionally offensive. This thoughtless verbal devaluing of women and women’s bodies and bodily functions is as offensive as cursing to me, and not very many years ago, it was still considered cursing. I don’t think anyone should underestimate how many other people will simply stop listening to or respecting other people who use words like that and who constantly curse and swear. Continual swearing makes the speaker sound ignorant and inarticulate, as well as boorishly unconcerned about making other people uncomfortable. Go ahead and say whatever you want when you want to, but realize that you are making a concious choice to disregard other people’s feelings, causing many those people to become offended and to think poorly of you. And complaining about the results of your own insistance upon using language you KNOW to be offensive to many people is just as ignorant as constant thoughtless swearing.


Chris October 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm

I find it truly amazing how “acceptable” the use of profanity has become in the last 20 years or so. It’s almost like many people have forgotten how to have a conversation or get their point across without a “colourful” turn of phrase. I’m also convinced they’re being used to replace the ums and ers, the verbal pauses while you think of what you’re going to say next.


splatman October 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm

What I’ve always wondered, is why are all the same swearwords are used all the time? The same 4-letter words that start with f, s, d, a, and b. The last 2 are 3- and 6 -letter words respectively, I know. Fashions and styles come and go, but swearwords remain the same. Is it because many people consider them offensive? What keeps new swearwords from eventually replacing them?
And what puts the pro in profanity? Confanity sounds more like it.
I’ve managed to not say any swearwords since being told they’re not nice (or are wrong) to say, since childhood. If I smack my toe on a corner (Why do toes have to be so painfully sensitive!?) I’ll sometimes utter a few non-words, made up on the spot. Thankfully any decent pair of sneakers provides protection, so this is a rare occurrence.
Concerning whether words can be hurtful, the song That’s Not Nice To Say by the (now disbanded) band 2nd Chapter Of Acts comes to mind. And that song does not even mention profanity.


Britt October 19, 2011 at 11:06 pm

It’s nice to see that I’m not the only person in the world who thinks swearing should be kept to a minimum.

Though I will not deny swearing up an absolute storm in private when I die in a video game or I can’t get my research (grad student) to go properly. But I emphasize the private.

I have been told though if one is being attacked one of the best things to do is to start swearing – LOUDLY. Particularly from a “clean-cut” looking girl, a well-timed torrent of obscenities might shock your attacker for a few seconds long enough to get away. So let’s not use them in every other word and save them for true emergencies – to be used as the weapons they are.


mb October 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm

My attitude towards profanity is that if I wouldn’t say it in front of my grandmother or child, I wouldn’t say it in front of anybody. Besides, I’ve spent so much time on my education that I should be able to express myself without turning to such vulgar words. Communication is much more effective when you remain calm and polite, and refrain from swearing.


KTB October 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

@Another Laura
I’m with the others- where did you hear that definition? I’ve never heard anything like it.

As for me, I’ve tried both ways. When I’m around people who swear like sailors, I get a potty mouth and don’t act like I should. Cleaning up my speech cleaned up my actions, too, and I like it much better, even though life is a little less …spicy. 😉


Jelaza October 20, 2011 at 12:02 am

Along the lines of MellowedOne’s last comment, I have been involved in discussions that support the idea that a lot of people use swearing with the intent to shock. The issue with that is that people end up needing to push further and further to get that shock: used to be that “damn” was pretty damn shocking in itself, and now even the F-word doesn’t always get an eyeblink, so what comes next?

On the other hand, if cut out the excessive every-other-word swearing, it’s much easier to achieve the shock. I had at one point almost completely eliminated swear words from my vocabulary, and shocked someone who overheard me call someone a jerk. After you get accustomed to it, you can get the same internal feelings of “aggressive language” when you feel it’s necessary and appropriate, without sounding like a pottymouth or casually offending people.


DocCAC October 20, 2011 at 12:12 am

I agree with the admin on this one. Not that I am pure of mouth, but if I use the f-bomb, people know I am extremely upset/angry. “Lesser” cursing, not so much. I try to bit my tongue often, and not let every curse word I think cross my lips. I did once ask a patient who had used the f-bomb not to use that language in the office, and he looked surprised and quit using it during our visit. His surprise made me wonder if he was one of those people who said it so often, he didn’t think it was anything more than just another word. Interesting the number of people who are defending the use of this language when just a bit ago, many were castigating an angry shopper who was screaming the f-bomb every third word or so at the manager of a store, along with a few other choice words, and saying she was lucky security wasn’t called. If it is just another word, why the fuss? I tend to tune out people who use it like most people use a, an or the. And I quit reading authors who use it the same way in their writing. The occasional use, okay, maybe. Frequent use will just convince me the person using it is somehow lacking in imagination, if nothing else.

Oddly enough, though, swearing (not at someone, just swearing) was shown in experiments to improve tolerance of the pain of being extremely cold for a short period at least, and once in my case , the pain of being burned by grabbing something hot.


Anechka October 20, 2011 at 12:32 am

The sadness of this entire thread is that cursing in English is so…boring after a lifetime of cursing in Russian – a language where profanity truly is an art form. I am really confused why people care so much whether others curse. If you do not like cursing, do not spend time with those that do, don’t do it yourself and teach your children not to do it. If you are in a public place and a stranger is cursing, then it is likely that same person is also raising their tone or you would never hear what exactly they were saying. And if they were raising their tone and telling someone off using non-profane but aggressive language, it would still be bothersome to others in their vicinity. Ergo – the problem is not the cursing.

As for me – I find it more fun to find non-profane ways of expressing my frustration; not because I have any problem with profanity but because using profanity is boring.


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