Are They “Just Words?”

I won’t pretend to be one of those people (if they exist) who have never let a curse word spill from their lips. Yes, I do occasionally say a “foul word,” usually when I am extremely frustrated with myself. But I generally try to avoid using the harsher profanities, at least when I am in the presence of other people. It is, of course, essentially impossible to completely avoid curse words–they are everywhere, whether you read them in a book or newspaper, hear them in a song, encounter them coming from other people, or listen to them being spouted from the mouths of characters in TV shows or movies. They are part of our culture, and they are most certainly not permanent or unchanging. After all, a few centuries ago, there were different words used to insult people or express powerful emotions–words that, if you uttered them, would probably just cause people to stare blankly at you. The question is, should we discourage people from using such words? Or should we just accept them as normal, saying “they’re just words” and not being insulted or shocked when other people use them? Literally speaking, of course, all those “four letter words” ARE “just words.” They are simply a combination of different letters put together in a unique way to create an obscene word. But it is their meaning that gives them their insulting or scandalous nature. But quite often, people throw these words around casually, not even paying attention to their technical denotation. For example, people often use the F word in such a way as to indicate that they are not using it in a literal manner–they are simply expressing anger or frustration. Or they might even be joking around with friends who find the use of such words to be simply amusing (albeit not very creative). Curse words are not always used in a negative manner; they are often used to express a sense of comradeship among a group of people, or as a sort of “macho” way to compliment someone. Still, I have watched several movies where the F word is used so frequently that it becomes quite tedious and repetitive. How many times must they say the same word over and over again?? It also seems odd to me that certain radio stations will bleep out the cuss words, even if the rest of the song has a painfully obvious obscene, sexual, or otherwise inappropriate message. The same with certain TV shows (though not all, of course)–apparently, it is OK to show bloody violence or discuss drugs, alcohol, or sex, as long as you remember to block out the F word. It seems like a strange double-standard to me. Extremely “foul” language is usually prohibited in classrooms, theme parks, and other such places, yet that certainly doesn’t prevent sexual abuse, drug use, or violence. I am certainly not encouraging the use of obscenities as a healthy way to vent your emotions–screaming out curse words may feel good at first, but it usually does nothing to truly ease your anger or frustration–at least not in the long term. And sometimes I encounter people who use so many curse words that it makes me want to shove a thesaurus into their hands and shout “Find some other word to say, OK?? Doesn’t it get boring using that same word all the time??” Not that I’ve ever done that, of course. It is just a dream of mine:)

Most parents teach their children that it is impolite to use curse words, and I completely understand their sentiments. Even though we may know that they are technically “just words,” many of us don’t feel entirely comfortable using them with abandon wherever we go. You certainly wouldn’t march into a job interview and start spewing out curse words to express just how much you want a new job, or just how much you hate your old one. In some situations, you may accidentally insult someone with a curse word, even if you meant to use it in a casual manner. Of course, it gets tricky when people argue that the “freedom of speech” clause in the Constitution means that we have every right to curse whenever we feel like it.  And in many places, we do. No one is stopping you from cursing in the freedom of your own home or on Facebook. But you’d probably be kicked out of a library for “disturbing the peace” if you did the same thing there. Yes, I do think that sometimes people make an unnecessary fuss about the use of certain obscenities, and I don’t think they should be demonized to the extent that they almost take on a life of their own. But at the same time, I don’t think cursing serves any practical purpose–except perhaps to provide a person with a way to vent. Still, as I said earlier, shouting out the F word isn’t going to do anything to solve your problems or make you feel 100% better. If you want something truly cathartic, try exercise–it is usually much healthier and (generally) won’t offend anyone. Or if you must curse, try making up some nonsense words to use instead. I’ve heard there are some great ones in Shakespeare’s writings. In 100 years, there will probably be new curse words that will be the new trend, and the ones we use now will be obsolete or not offensive anymore. The English language is extraordinarily flexible and ever-changing, and there will always be new words that have to be bleeped out on radio stations or censored in certain TV shows. Though maybe one day they won’t be blocked out, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. There are far worse things to see or hear on TV or the radio than a few four-letter words. Trust me on that one. I am definitely not a proponent of hard-core cussing, but treating certain words as taboo will not do anything to cure the underlying issues that are often grouped with foul language–drug use, alcoholism, violence, or sexual promiscuity. Feel free to share your thoughts on the topic–and if you choose to use curse words, I certainly won’t censor them out:)


7 thoughts on “Are They “Just Words?”

  1. I’m seriously loving all of your deep posts lately.

    I personally don’t cuss. I’m not sure the last time I used a swear word. I’ve repeated them when reading off a funny story or relaying a conversation I had, but it’s been years since I’ve probably even uttered one. I don’t mind if someone curses occasionally. In some situations it’s even a little funny (like those e-cards on Pinterest? Gosh- such a bad habit!).

    But when I’m with my family and I hear them swear sometimes I will speak up. My brother got into the habit of saying curse words a lot and I’ve kind of prodded at him to at least minimize the language when I’m around. It just doesn’t make me feel comfortable to hear those words in excess.

    I agree that just stopping people from cussing won’t solve the underlying problems, but when people don’t cuss and user kinder words I think behavior has a way of changing, at least a little, for the better too. People just seem to be overall more respectful when they don’t use profanity.

    My pastor always said that people who cuss a lot just don’t have a good vocabulary and they can’t think of any better words 😉

    Random tidbit- Did you know that cursing has actually been proven to relieve pain? Haha.

    • I am glad you’ve been enjoying my posts; I certainly enjoy writing them when I have the time to organize my thoughts! I think it’s great that you don’t cuss; I usually only do it when no one else is around. But yes, I do agree that in some situations it can be (for me) amusing–not very good of me to say, maybe, but it’s true. I completely understand why you wouldn’t feel comfortable hearing those words spoken constantly–I truly don’t like it when people spew out cuss words with almost every sentence. I think you made a great point by saying that people seem to be more respectful when they don’t use profanity, even if such obscenities are “just words.” I have definitely found that some of the most polite and kind people I know don’t EVER (or at least rarely) use curse words. Haha, I love what your pastor said–that can be so true!! That is an interesting tidbit, but I suppose it makes sense. After all, pain is all in the brain, and if you are distracted by something (e.g. cursing), then the pain would decrease! Thank you for sharing your thoughts; they were wonderful and enlightening as always.

  2. Words have an incredible power: They can be very soothing,delicate and comforting,yet they can also be brutal,hurtful and mean.
    People underestimate these powers and/ or simply do not think enough about them.
    As for the cussing,however,I think it’s okay up to a certain limit. When it gets too frequent,though,cussing really disturbs and upsets me.
    I generally am a person who often tends to literally weigh other’s words,so this happens quite a lot.

    • I completely agree that words can be extremely powerful–whether in a good or bad way. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is SO false in many ways!! I don’t always take peoples’ words literally, but I understand that others might, which is why we should be careful when using profanity so as not to unintentionally hurt them. Thank you for your thoughts on the matter; I appreciate you sharing them!

  3. I don’t curse very often, and when I do, it’s usually only in front of my friends, but I would argue that these words DO serve at least one practical purpose: they are strong, and powerful. As long as you’re not dropping the F-bomb every other word and are otherwise a pretty polite person, people take you seriously when you swear. To use a minor example: “Look, what you did pissed me off” sounds more serious than “That made me really mad”, which people could probably just laugh off if they were the type to do that. My math teacher gave a little speech at a camp the end of last school year which concluded something like “If anyone tries to change you or tells you they don’t like who you are…tell them to ‘fudge’ off.” Except he didn’t say fudge. 🙂 And it was so surprising, because he was the math teacher, but also really powerful–everyone remembers that speech even while the other teachers’ speeches fade to the recesses of our memories, and he clearly conveyed that it’s REALLY important to stand up for your true identity. I doubt the same could be accomplished by saying “Tell them to leave you alone”. Anyway, that’s just my 2-cents on the matter.
    Also, as Eating 4 Balance pointed out, swearing releases natural opiates in your brain that help to lessen physical or emotional pain. So as long as you’re not around anyone who could be offended by it, I say if you crash your bike or drop something heavy on your foot, go for it!

    • I agree that curse words can be quite powerful if used in certain situations, but like you said, it depends on the person. I have been around people who cuss so frequently that the profanity sort of loses its power and seriousness, and just becomes tedious to listen to. I suppose it is true that occasionally using the F word when you normally NEVER swear could be used as a way to convey the importance of what you are trying to say. But if people are used to hearing such words on a daily basis, it might not affect them very much. I think it’s too bad that we have to sometimes use curse words in order to make others listen to us, but I know that is often the case…I have definitely heard that swearing releases opiates and helps briefly release stress, so I completely understand why people might let loose some cuss words in those situations. I was just trying to emphasize that in more serious situations, cursing won’t entirely solve your problems–and it could even make you (or other people) MORE angry. Thank you for your thoughtful response; I always appreciate the feedback!

      • Yes, I believe that, like all words, they lose their power if overused. Some people just swear…and swear…and swear, without putting any meaning into it at all–“f-ing” becomes their standard adjective, and then, like you said, you just want to thrust a thesaurus at them!! 🙂 So I definitely agree that if you want them to retain that power that the taboo placed on them gives them, curse words should only be used in appropriate situations and when there’s an actual PURPOSE behind using them, not just because you think it will make you sound tough or because you need an adjective but don’t really know any other suitable words. Broaden your vocabulary, people! 🙂

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