If you pass by a lady who is standing on a busy sidewalk and staring upwards, it probably doesn’t mean much. She might be stretching her neck or watching a butterfly. If you pass by a crowd of twenty people all avidly gazing upwards, it probably means that something is happening up there.
If one person invests in a crypto-currency it’s hardly worth noting, but if ten thousand do it’s a trend that should be understood. If three or four companies depart a high-tax state for one in which taxes are low, politicians might ignore it. But if hundreds move each year, it would be sheer folly for state leaders to ignore the trend.
If every individual picked his own profanity, swear word, or obscenity, there’d be little to discuss. But if millions of speakers over many centuries confine their verbal vulgarities to mostly three categories, discovering why could be valuable. It turns out that almost all dirty dialect and putrid patter revolve around the bathroom function of defecation, the sexual function of copulation, and God. I discuss a number of reasons for this in my audio CD on the topic, but I’d like to look at an additional explanation.
Looking first at excremental eloquence, why this particular form of human waste? Why don’t people say, “He needs the ear-wax beaten out of him”? Or, how about, “That air turbulence scared the saliva out of the pilot”? Or why not, “That politician is talking such nasal mucus”? I have never heard any driver say, “Oh urine! I took a wrong turn!” Of all human body waste, why does only excrement enjoy such common usage in ordinary conversation today?
Similarly, of all the many activities in which humans regularly engage, why is a succinct synonym for sexual intercourse so widely used as an expletive? This is so common that it is the rare Hollywood film that doesn’t bombard the ear with a fusillade of f-words.
Lastly, why does God feature so prominently in curses and insults? The fastidious Frasier Crane of the eponymous NBC sitcom, Frasier, would, in his frustration, frequently exclaim, “For the love of God!”. Why not, “For the love of rice” or “For the love of Jupiter”? Even those who insist He doesn’t exist can’t seem to stop themselves from using His name.
Civilization is nurtured by maintaining a distinction between public and private. That distinction helps sustain human dignity. For the most part, animals do not distinguish between public and private; only humans do. Society can survive a certain amount of wrong-doing in private but as soon as the reprehensible and destructive conduct becomes widely practiced in public, all is lost. Private homosexual behavior has always existed and was often tolerated but moving it into the public arena and clamoring for its public acceptance during the last years of the twentieth century changed everything. What people do in private impacts only themselves. But doing it in public encourages others and gradually obliterates standards.
While people prefer privacy for urination, or for that matter, cleaning their ears or picking their noses, when it comes to defecation they tend to insist upon it. Similarly, even passionate kissing in public usually evokes unease in bystanders; certainly, more intense sexual interplay calls for privacy. When I speak to God and ask His help in overcoming my failings it is a private interaction. When God speaks to me He indicates what He expects of me. If I were to tell others that God told me what they should do or not do, they would rightly feel some discomfort. Though we worship in congregations, we each cherish our own personal relationship with God and like any intimate relationship, its most important aspects are private.
Using these three private areas of human life as squalid conversational expletives helps to erase the distinction between public and private and makes the speaker feel bold and brave. He deludes himself that he is a heroic revolutionary tearing down artificial barriers to open and honest communication. The reality is that he is merely coarsening the culture and eroding the underpinnings of civilization.
Perils of Profanity: You Are What You Speak is one of our best-selling audio CDs. I am gratified that so many have found it incredibly useful in their own lives as well as raising awareness of the role of profanity in destroying our society. We are highlighting the download at half-price and the physical version at 30% off this week.