Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Blue language

Swearing has become ubiquitous in contemporary society. Both men and women do it publicly. In this post I'm not going to comment on this ethics of swearing. Instead, I'm going to focus on something else.

Roughly speaking, swear words involving body functions fall into two sets: those involving the digestive system and byproducts thereof, and those involving sex and sexual anatomy. 

It's understandable why some swear words are based on digestion. After all, that concerns "waste products," so if you want to say something or someone is worthless, there's a certain logic to that metaphorical comparison. 

Mind you, even that's shortsighted. We should be thankful for an efficient digestive system. Consider people who suffer from chronic constipation, incontinence, colon cancer, or have had colectomies. Too many people take their digestive system for granted. Trying living without it. 

Likewise, although it doesn't get much respect, even excrement is far from useless. Ask any good farmer or gardener. In God's wisdom, even waste doesn't go to waste. Everything is useful in the cycle of nature. 

However, swear words based on sex and sexual anatomy are more puzzling. After all, many of the folks who routinely use these words live for sex. They center their lives on sex. That's their favorite activity.

So it's counterintuitive that that would become the source of angry, demeaning rhetoric. I mean, imagine using "chocolate ice cream" as an explicative. Since many people enjoy chocolate ice cream, we wouldn't expect them to turn that into an expletive. 

Ultimately, I think this reflects the fact that sinners degrade even the things they love and value the most. 


  1. Ultimately, I think this reflects the fact that sinners degrade even the things they love and value the most.

    S.D. Gordon (not to be confused with A.J. Gordon) wrote something similar.

    "Christ enriches everything He touches. The Devil vulgarizes everything he can lay his hands on. Christ makes the commonest thing hallowed. The Devil makes the purest, the hallowed things, vulgarly common and cheap." - from Quiet Talks About the Healing Christ.

    1. R.J. Rushdoony wrote:

      Primitive swearing as well as modern invokes sexual and excremental words and subjects. This is a significant fact. In order to appreciate its significance, let us review a few of the central facts. Godly oath-taking is a solemn and important religious act. Man aligns himself under God and in conformity to His righteousness to abide by his word even as God abides by His word. Godly swearing is a form of vow-taking. But ungodly swearing is a deliberate profanation of the purpose of the oath or vow; it is light use of it, a contemptuous use of it, to express contempt for God. But ungodly swearing cannot remain merely negative or hostile: it denies God as the ultimate, but it must posit another ultimate in God's place. Godly oaths seek their confirmation and strength from above; ungodly swearing looks below for its power. Its concept of the "below" is Manichaean to the core: it is material. Hence, ungodly swearing finds its power, its "below," in sex and in excrement. The association is significant. Even while protesting the "Puritanism" of Biblical morality, the ungodly reveal that to them sex and excrement are linked together as powers of the "underworld" of the unconscious, the primitive, and the vital. - Institutes of Biblical Law [around page 108, bold mine]

    2. R.C. Sproul Jr. recently wrote something on minced oaths. Not being convinced of the permissibility of minced oaths, I prefer not to use them because:

      1. I like to know the meaning of the words I use since we'll be judged for every idle or careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36).

      2. We're creatures of habit and careless words in one area can lead to careless words and actions in other areas. Though, I understand I'm probably committing the Slippery Slope Fallacy.

      3. Growing up I heard phrases which I didn't know until I was a teenager were minced oaths. Presumably other people growing up didn't either. For example, the phrase "By Jove!" was originally an oath to the Roman god Jupiter. Though, in centuries past it wasn't uncommon in poetry for even Christians to sometimes refer to pagan supreme deities as analogous to the true God of Christianity. As Michael Ward explains HERE. So either way, it may constitute an oath to a pagan deity, or a careless oath to one's own [true Christian] God in violation of the 3rd Commandment.

      4. Like #3, there are other common phrases which many people don't realize the origins of. For example, the phrase "little bugger" originally referred to "buggery", meaning sodomy/homosexuality. Of course when most people use the phrase, they aren't intentionally calling someone, like a child, a sodomite.

      Admittedly, languages and words evolve, so I think there comes a point when some words and phrases no longer have their original connotation in most people's understanding; and so may no longer be considered profane or obscene. "Little bugger" seems to fit that category. Another example is the phrase "Great Scott." Linguists just aren't sure of the origins of the phrase. But one theory is that it's a minced oath as a wikipedia article points out.

      Not being sure of their permissibility, I don't judge other Christians who use them. I leave that up to God and their own consciences.

  2. Some swearing is barely more than grunting.

    1. I hope this comment doesn't incense lurkers fluent in Klingon or Orkish to swear! ;-)

    2. Just sayin'. We've been watching the "Dexter" series on Netflix, and there is a lot of cussing, and most of the time, it's not more than grunting.

  3. Although it's become somewhat ubiquitous, the use of verbal pornography as metaphor trades on shock value for emphasis. Those who are used to hearing such parlance, while largely numb to its effect, will likely be moved less by more congenial language. Understanding that, those prone to employ vulgarities typically feel obliged to continue.

  4. However, swear words based on sex and sexual anatomy are more puzzling. After all, many of the folks who routinely use these words live for sex. They center their lives on sex. That's their favorite activity.

    Incorporation of these words in popular culture seems to be an attempt to declare power - much like controlling a fertility god through some rite. Whether it is rap music or dominant declarations in violent movies, this type of swearing seems to provide emotional support for those who are missing a presuppositional foundation for their beliefs. It is self-referential to the things they love and value the most...themselves.

    ...They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...