A Defense of Profanity

Whenever someone tells me, “Wow, you curse a lot,” my initial reaction is always shock.  I’ve heard it for a few years now, and each time I’m just kind of surprised that people really think I curse a lot.  Admittedly, I have a fondness for curse words and likely use them more than most, but I used to think that I was just a little bit more than an above-average curser.  No, apparently the average person’s curse level is between 35-50, profane people go up to about 75, and I’m around 90.  When a guy in my department announced at the beginning of the night that he’s pretty sure that he’s the top curser in the department and by the middle of the night concedes that I curse more than him (and no, I wasn’t purposely trying to out-curse him), that says something about how much I cuss/curse/swear/use profanity/etc.

And now, I’m defending my actions.

I have once been called a “creative curser.”  I wear that description as a badge of honor in some ways, and am quietly ashamed of it in other ways.  I know using profanity is unbecoming, particularly the amount of times I apparently do it, and so being known as a great (both in creativity and in quantity) curser can be a double edged sword.  Nevertheless, I firmly believe that certain profane utterances just communicate a message that cannot be communicated with the same energy, the same fire, or the same intensity when people try to use a less-“offensive” term.

Here’s an example – you manage to stub your toe on a desk or chair.  It’s not a terrible stub, but kind of shocking, and so you utter, “Crap!”  Alright, that makes some sense.  But what about when you accidentally bump your head on something hard?  I know that many of us would utter “Dammit!”  We’d silently curse the foreign object that has caused this head pain.  Perhaps some of us would just say “Ouch” and call it a day.  So perhaps another example is in order.

Example 2 – someone you don’t like has said something nasty to your face about a loved one.  Many would be inclined to respond with some verbal violence, and it wouldn’t be surprising to hear you respond, “Hey, you son of a bitch!  You can’t say that kind of shit….”  Play the same scenario out in your head, and instead of the response I just gave, imagine it with the person responding, “Hey, you jerk!  You can’t say that stuff about my….”  Doesn’t that seem like what a kid says in that situation?  There’s nothing bad about that, but A) we restrict profanity from kids in a poor attempt to keep them “innocent,” and B) it’s as intense as you can go without saying bad words, but “jerk” and “son of a bitch” convey two different, albeit similar, types of people.  In my mind, a jerk is like a low level son of a bitch.  A jerk can become a bastard, which is like the middle level, and a son of a bitch is like the top level.  Each word is conveying similar messages, but each level the message is a bit more intense.  And that extra level of intensity seems to be properly conveyed with profanity.

When you want to make an insult sting a little harder, there’s probably going to be a profane utterance in there.  Non-profanity just doesn’t add the same punch.  Darn just doesn’t get the message across like damn.  Shit has more “oomph” than stuff.  I could call somebody a bad person, but if I call them a motherfucker then you really know what kind of person I’m talking about.  Seeing as I’ve couched this in terms of intensity, it dawned on me that I might be an intense speaker with how I use my language.  Speaking of, if one is about to do harm to someone, would he or she say, “I’m going to kick your butt!” or “I’m going to kick your ass!” – and the person isn’t a kid.  You’re much more likely to hear two teenagers say they’ll kick each others asses because saying you’ll kick someone’s butt isn’t enough.  It doesn’t convey the strength of the message.  Ultimately, profanity is stronger than the normal words, so to speak, in terms of the kind of power one’s words can have.

Profanity is considered offensive language precisely because of how strong a message it generally communicates.  Perhaps the problem is with unfettered use of such strong language, it can either dilute the strength by using it so much or we’re desensitized to the strong message and it becomes normal (which we want to avoid for some reason).  I may curse a lot, but I wouldn’t say I’m oblivious to social morays and norms about profanity – I choose when to follow and when to disobey at my own peril and at my discretion.  While I don’t like offending people, I do prefer to express myself openly and many times, the strength of what I want to communicate is lost if I drop down a level, so to speak.  I could say that I’m perturbed, or I could tell you I’m mad as hell.  They both mean roughly the same thing, but there’s a level of strength in the phrase “mad as hell” that isn’t there with the word “perturbed.”  That’s generally how I use my profanity.

It just so happens that I feel strongly about a lot.