Profanity — Colorful Speech or Needless Distraction

IFLS-logoRecently there was a Facebook discussion on whether it would be better if the excellent website, “I Fucking Love Science”, with 14.5 million likes, should drop the F-word from the title in order to avoid offending some, or many. I said I freely share content from the site, but a bit of self-censorship is a valid tactic if it enhances your ability to communicate with a particular audience.

Personally I seldom use profanity when speaking or writing. That is not because I find it offensive, unless it is mean-spirited, but rather because there is usually more precise language to make a point. I also noted that words considered profane are usually not used to denote their original profane meaning. They usually mean something completely benign, as in the science website’s title. All bets are off when I hit my thumb with a hammer. And non-profane speech and convey offensive meaning, as when a college friend received a note from his son’s elementary school teacher asking him to please instruct his son not to say, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” A favorite phrase of this good Christian father.

Dogma by Kevin Smith.

Dogma by Kevin Smith.

For fun I again watched a favorite movie — Dogma. A 1999 installment in Jay and Silent Bob portfolio from writer/director Kevin Smith, the film includes many Smith regulars as well as more famous actors: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Bud Cort, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, Jason Lee, George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo, Alanis Morissette, and Jason Mewes. Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson, the stars of Smith’s debut film Clerks, have cameo roles, as do Smith regulars Scott Mosier, Dwight Ewell, Walt Flanagan, and Bryan Johnson.

The film is also a non-stop profanity-filled spoof of the Catholic Church’s one time belief in plenary indulgence. And Jesus was black, God was supposed to be written as a women, the 13th Apostle was left out of the Bible because he was black, and the last living relative of Jesus works for Planned Parenthood. And two angels banished from heaven for getting drunk after destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, rejecting murder in the name of God, and giving God the “finger”, are given a fate worse than being sent to Hell. They are banished to Wisconsin for all eternity. If you’re willing to overlook what I view as comic license, the flick doesn’t do a bad job of describing the Christian faith.

Cardinal Glick's (George Carlin) Buddy Christ.

Cardinal Glick’s (George Carlin) Buddy Christ.

But more to the point of profanity, it is non-stop. I counted 76 uses of some form of “fuck”. Only eight refer to sex. Sixty-seven have other meanings. Counting these (while I was cooking) was all I could do, so I did not count the use of shit, bullshit, asshole, pissed off, my God, for Christ’s sake, and God damn.

Interesting the lengths English culture will go to avoid swear words and other offensive terms. Thus there is “F-word” and “N-word”, even though we all know the reader or listeners’ mind supplies the original. People can say “friggen” and “flipping”. There is “gosh darn it”. And kids can say “shoot”. Everyone one knows what is meant.

Swearing has become a frequent topic in Sweden’s English language paper, The Local. A report indicated that Swedes tend to swear in English. An op-ed by an American argued that was offensive to English speakers.

Visualizing 13 billion years of creation.

Visualizing 13 billion years of creation.

And an American English teacher discussed whether it was worth it to chastise her son for saying “skit” (shit) when his Swedish friends use the term.

To paraphrase a poster I saw on Facebook, some people are offended by “I Fucking Love Science”, but not offended by poverty, hunger, discrimination, etc. Perhaps there are better place to focus our moral sensibilities.

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