Young People Ask . . .
What’s Wrong With Cursing Once in a While?
“Swearing. Everyone does it. . . . It may start out slowly, just a few words picked up from the ‘cool’ kids at school, but soon grows into an entire language, becoming increasingly difficult to control.”—Laura, age 14.
SWEARING. Cursing. Profanity. Youths are exposed to a virtual flood of it. U.S.News & World Report observed: “The eye as well as the ear is assaulted with profanity spread across bumper stickers, buttons and T-shirts.” Obscene words also blare at us from radios and are routinely inserted into magazine articles, TV shows, and movies. Curses are shamelessly bandied about by politicians and celebrities—even by some parents and peers.
Says writer Alfred Lubrano: “Swear words have become standard vocabulary for many people in the office, in restaurants, at the ball game.” In fact, profanity has become so commonplace that some feel it has lost its shock value. You may therefore wonder if there is any harm in occasionally unleashing a few “colorful” words, especially when a person is faced with a frustrating situation.
Why Youths Swear
Claims psychologist Chaytor Mason: “Profanity is the essence of the human being. Like scratching, it releases tension.” And interestingly, when reporters from the magazine Children’s Express asked a number of young people the question, “Why do kids swear?” they got such replies as: “I swear ’cause I’m mad.” “I only do it when I get in a huff.” “It makes me feel better, it’s a relief.”
Because we live in unusually tense times, that itch to release tension may come fairly often. Indeed, Harvard psychiatry lecturer Thomas Cottle sees the current “normalizing” of profanity as evidence of “a very major change in American culture.” Says Cottle: “People are finding their lives phony, unsatisfying, and they are angry. We are frightened about things that are real and are angry about things that are very, very real. Lurking behind this anger is aggressiveness.”
Really, though, the changes Mr. Cottle refers to have taken place the world over. The apostle Paul predicted that people in our day would be “not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) Little wonder, then, that in response to mounting pressures, many youths become aggressive verbally. They have “sharpened their tongue just like a sword” and have “aimed their arrow, bitter speech.”—Psalm 64:3.
An Effective Relief?
How effectively, though, does spouting profanity really release tension? Language scholar Reinhold Ahman says that the use of curse words helps “drain off anger.” He even claims that without the emotional release of swearing, people are subject to “stomach ulcers, headaches, hemorrhaging intestines.” His conclusion? “A swear word a day keeps the doctor away.”
Granted, in moments of high stress, blurting out a swear word may seem to help you to ‘let off some steam.’ Nevertheless, the Bible specifically condemns doing so. Ephesians 4:29 says: “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth.” The New English Bible renders this verse: “No bad language must pass your lips, but only what is good and helpful to the occasion.” There are sound reasons for this admonition.
For one thing, far from being “good and helpful to the occasion,” angry speech usually just makes you angrier. And as a proverb puts it: “He that is quick to anger will commit foolishness.” (Proverbs 14:17; 15:18) This makes a bad situation worse, as people seldom respond favorably to angry, hurtful words. Says Proverbs 15:1: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” And when one has made it a habit of muttering obscenities at the slightest provocation, bad words have a way of slipping out at the wrong moment—or to the wrong person, such as a teacher or a parent.
So rather than effectively relieve tension, foul language merely creates tensions of its own. Rather than solve your problems, it simply postpones your squarely facing them.
Colorful or Degrading?
Not all swearing is done in anger. Explains the book Exploring Language: “Dirty words are often used by teenagers in telling off-color stories . . . As their bodies grow and change, both boys and girls wonder and worry. To keep from being overwhelmed by these fears, they turn them into jokes or dirty-word stories.” Some youths even feel that profane words add color to their speech or make them appear grown-up.
So-called dirty words, however, tend to describe normal bodily functions and sexual activities in a degrading, humiliating way. Referring to some of the terms commonly used to describe sexual intercourse, Barbara Lawrence, an associate professor of humanities, says that “in their origins and imagery these words carry undeniably painful, if not sadistic, implications.”
How contrary this is to the lofty, dignified way the Bible discusses sexual matters! (Proverbs 5:15-23) Obscene words teach a corrupt, depraved view of sex and marriage. Filthy words are to the mouth what pornography is to the eye. Like pornography, talking about sex in a degrading way can arouse improper thoughts in the heart. Once the seed of wrong desires has been planted, all that is needed is the opportunity to carry those desires out.—James 1:14, 15.
Furthermore, far from making for colorful speech, profanities make speech shocking and offensive. One 13-year-old girl interviewed by the Children’s Express said: “I’ve built up an allergy to foul language. . . . There are some things that you don’t get used to.” The wise man Solomon ‘sought to find delightful words’ in expressing his thoughts. (Ecclesiastes 12:10) You too can get your points across simply by using good word choice. You don’t need to resort to shocking words.
Finally, some obscene terms even bring reproach upon God himself! Surely this could only bring his displeasure. (Exodus 20:7) In view of all of this, the Bible urges: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming.”—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
Yet another reason why some youths indulge in filthy language is peer pressure. As one Christian youth puts it: “Most young people don’t want to be viewed as a wimp or a nerd. They want to be with the in crowd. So if cursing is one of the things you are supposed to do, you do it.”
Peer pressure can be particularly pronounced in activities such as school sports. There, profanity is sometimes deliberately promoted by team coaches. A youth named Kinney thus explains that profanity is prevalent in the locker room before a basketball game because “it pumps a person up, charges him up to explode.”
But what often results when emotions are raised to a fever pitch in this way? Then the sport is no longer a game but an exercise in hostility and fierce competition. Fights and injuries are common. And admits a youth named Tyrone: “When everyone is caught up in the game and someone who is fouled gets mad and curses out his opponent or the referee, that can rub off on you.”
Obviously, though, using profane speech is a bad habit to have “rub off on you.” Says the Bible: “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.” (Proverbs 29:11) How, though, can you ‘set a muzzle as a guard to your mouth’ when under pressure to curse? (Psalm 39:1) A future article will discuss this.
[Picture on page 23]
One in the habit of uttering obscenities may find himself using them in public