October 1, 2004

More Thoughts on Profanity

A few weeks ago, I gave a philosophical argument against profanity. I wrote that a word is profane if it (1) trivializes that which is sacred (e.g., saying “goddammit”), (2) denigrates that which is good (e.g., using locker room terms to describe female body parts), or (3) encourages its speaker and/or hearer to have impure thoughts. Today, I’d like to revise some of my comments about point 3. Here’s what I wrote regarding point 3 in my original essay:

Language is profane when it encourages its speaker and/or hearer to have impure thoughts. A good example of this is the f-word. Although it has many different meanings, its primary meaning, both denotatively and connotatively, is that of impure sexual intercourse. Now there are times when it’s appropriate to think and talk about sexual immorality—e.g., for purposes of education and moral instruction. However, it’s wrong to think and talk about it more than necessary. And when we use the f-word, this is exactly what we’re doing.

I now believe that that was a really foolish thing to write. I don’t really believe this and I don’t think that many other people do either. Hearing the f-word doesn’t cause me to have impure thoughts any more than smelling a fart reminds me of roses.

So why, then, is it wrong to use the f-word? I think one would be wrong if he used it to offend another. (And this is why I don’t use it around others—because many are offended by it.) And one would be wrong if he used it to describe the act of intercourse. For in doing this, he would be denigrating that which is good. But is it wrong to use the f-word as a term of emphasis? If it is, I don’t see why.

If someone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Some of you may be wondering why I’m so fascinated by profanity. I really have no answer, but if you’d like to psychoanalyze me, please do. And by the way, if you think that my fascination with profanity is a reaction against the strict religious upbringing I had as a child, you’d be wrong. I had no strict religious upbringing as a child. In fact, my upbringing was only very mildly religious—and what I had was of the progressive sort.

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