“Oh, fuck. What the fuck are you doing here, you fucker,” said George Clooney to a dead man in BURN AFTER READING.
Who among us do not know someone who over uses cuss words? A well-sprinkled obscenity now and then adds a little spice to the mush of everyday conversation.
Most of us make good use of them.
Clooney’s line above is a first class example of a sentence than means nothing because of too many cuss words.
According to Stephen Pinker there are five social uses for swearing:
- Abusive swearing
- Cathartic swearing
- Dysphemistic swearing: the substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one; also: an expression so substituted.
- Emphatic swearing
[See Idiomatic swearing The Stuff of Thought: Language As a Window Into Human Nature, Steven Pinker 2007]
Cuss words are about the syllables.
Who says: “Fornicate you” these days? Good cuss words only have one syllable. No writer when looking at a bad review says that this is a piece of ‘defecation’.
Without a doubt, profanity has its place. It is truly useful when you smack your thumb with a hammer or stub your bare toe on the foot of the bed.
Keele University researchers Stephens, Atkins, and Kingston found that swearing relieves the effects of physical pain. Stephens said, “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear”.
However, the overuse of swear words tends to diminish this effect. The team earned themselves the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for the research.
Profane language is not a recent thing. The Bible is full of references and mentions men who “eat their own dung” and “drink their own piss.” [2 Kings 18:27.] William Shakespeare’s works are full of profanity, but most of those words are no longer in use.
A team of neurologists and psychologists at the UCLA Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research suggested that swearing may help differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from frontotemporal dementia.
The overuse of cuss words take away their power. That’s why I do not use them much. Any overused expression detracts from the thought it takes to create an original response, which is remembered for much longer.
There are a few sex words I do not like–pussy and cock–for example. I use the proper names when possible. I do find it strange that the one thing we ought to celebrate–sex–is the source of the most overused and offensive retorts. What bothers me about this is that procreation and the urge to mate is the primary driving force in most of our emotional lives. To treat it like an evil secret is so profane in itself.
But that is just me. Others feel differently about spicing their vocabulary with low-level English. People often flip the middle finger as a sign of ‘up yours’. Personally, I have a habit of gesturing with the middle finger which sometimes upsets those around me, until they realize I do not have a clue that I am doing it.
Only once did I get my mouth washed with soap when I was a child. Unfortunately, I liked the taste. It was Lifebouy, no longer available in the United States. I am not certain what I said any longer and neither of my parents are alive to remind me of this discretion, but it had to be something I learned from a sailor.
The term “profane” originates from classical Latin “profanus”, meaning “before (outside) the temple”. It carried the meaning of either “desecrating what is holy” or “with a secular purpose” as early as the 1450s CE.
- Oxford English Dictionary Online, “profane”, retrieved 2012-02-14
Crusaders against verbal profanity go to the extremes of delaying broadcasts slightly so that censors can review and cut the profanity before it reaches the ears of the most sensitive souls who just watched forty gunfights, two executions, and three horrific and bloody battles in the two movies that ran just before the news was broadcast.
Yes, beauty and obscenity is surely in the eye of the beholder.