Word Shrapnel

Posted by David

I was substitute teaching yesterday and my second class of students came in a furor, some were late, some were cussing, and some were just dealing internally. It’s my policy not to allow students to use profanity. When I hear cussing, I instantly make that clear. As usually happens, one kid was trying to trick me, by saying “ass” and then saying that he just meant a jackass or donkey. He got a referral and I didn’t see him again back in class. Then the students were outraged (also typical), “He didn’t cuss,” “I can’t believe he got a referral for that,” etc.

This prompted me to think, “What is wrong with cussing?” You find lots of adults that speak profanely. You hear adults tossing out non-profane words in profane ways, “god,” “shoot,” etc. I’ve spent my periods of time cussing also. It’s addictive in many ways. And it doesn’t even have to be a standard four-letter word. It can be some other sort of outburst, a quick, direct and painful statement, a mean jab, a belittling joke, etc.

The reason it is ‘wrong’ to cuss to others or even to oneself is because it is a jab, a poke, a barb. It is an outburst of pain and anger, usually directed at someone. If it’s not directed at someone, then it’s just an explosive, ejaculation of barbs that hits all those who are near. If no one is near, then the barbs land back on the source. It’s all about hurting others or oneself. We all have anger and pain, but it’s important that we not release it onto others.

Profanity is a weapon and it causes pain. Profanity is an explosion of anger that is no different than a bomb. The damage it does is to spread anger and to manipulate through the fear of pain, although this is usually done subconsciously.

Now, why don’t I allow it in a classroom or when others are in my care? To answer this we have to look at the idea of domains and the realms provided to authorities. In some ways everyone has an authoritative position over another person, everyone except the smallest of children. We all have people that go in and out of our domains. It might be students in a classroom. It might be our family members. If I was a teenager, then it might be my little sister or my friends if I have the unspoken ‘leadership’ role in a group.

People in our domains are given to us for protection. It is our role to provide safety and comfort for those who come in and out of our domains. As a substitute teacher, it’s my role to provide that protection to students. It’s my role to provide that protection to people in my house or even to people who are walking down the road with me.

The damage done by the malice of profanity in many ways cuts deeper than shrapnel from a grenade and can have longer lasting damage. Warfare is most effective when you don’t know where the enemy is hiding. Words provide a hideous hideout for our enemy. The enemy must be exposed.



Filed under profanity

2 responses to “Word Shrapnel

  1. elesjaydpawa

    David, your views on profanity in context of school children are no doubt the best course, but otherwise, your tender and sacred view is a most limited understanding of what profanity is about, and altogether does not take in the connection between the sacred and the profane and how they are intertwined. Not to go to far into the depths, not all cussing is a matter of using a bludgeon. Sometimes it is used as emphasis.

    Start here, maybe:
    Geoffrey Hughes. Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English. Basil Blackwell. 1993. 292pp.

    Geoffrey Hughes. An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World. M. E. Sharpe. 2006. 573pp.

    Timothy Jay. Cursing in America: A Psycholinguistic Study of Dirty Language in the Courts, in the Movies, in the Schoolyards, and on the Streets. John Benjamins Publishing Company. 1992. 273pp.

    Burges Johnson; Henry Louis Mencken. The Lost Art of Profanity. Bobbs-Merrill. 1948. 223pp.

    Tony McEnery. Swearing in English: Bad Language, Purity and Power from 1586 to the Present. Routledge. 2006. 276pp.

    Ashley Montagu. The Anatomy of Swearing. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2001. 370pp.

    Julian Sharman. A Cursory History of Swearing. London: J. C. Nimmo and Bain. 1884. 199pp.

    Thomas H. Slone. Rasta Is Cuss: A Dictionary of Rastafarian Cursing. Masalai Press. 2003. 112pp.

    Paul E. Willis. Profane Culture. Taylor & Francis. 1978. 212pp.


    and here,

    John Chandos (editor). “To Deprave and Corrupt”: Original Studies in the Nature and Definition of Obscenity. Souvenir Press. 1962. 207pp.

    Alec Craig. Suppressed Books: A History of the Conception of Literary Obscenity:. World Publishing Co.. 1966. 285pp.

    Joan E. DeJean. The Reinvention of Obscenity: Sex, Lies, and Tabloids in Early Modern France. University of Chicago Press. 2002. 204pp.

    Morris L. Ernst; Alexander Lindey. The Censor Marches on: Recent Milestones in the Administration of the Obscenity Law in the United States. Da Capo Press. 1971. 346pp.

    Andrea Friedman. Prurient Interests: Gender, Democracy and Obscenity in New York City, 1909-1945. Columbia University Press. 2000. 290pp.

    Kerstin Mey. Art and Obscenity. I. B. Tauris. 2007. 182pp.

    Christopher Jon Nowlin. Judging Obscenity: A Critical History of Expert Evidence. McGill-Queen’s University Press. 2003. 285pp.

    Allison Pease. Modernism, Mass Culture, and the Aesthetics of Obscenity. Cambridge University Press. 2000. 244pp.

    Frederick F. Schauer. The Law of Obscenity. Bureau of National Affairs. 1976. 459pp.

    A. B. Shah (editor). The Roots of Obscenity: Obscenity, Literature and the Law. Lalvani Publishing House. 1968. 148pp. For the International Association for Cultural Freedom.

    Alan Travis. Bound and Gagged: A Secret History of Obscenity in Britain. London: Profile Books. 2000. 344pp.

    Jan M. Ziolkowski (editor). Obscenity: Social Control and Artistic Creation in the European Middle Ages. E. J. Brill. 1998. 359pp.


    Jerome Neu. Sticks and Stones: The Philosophy of Insults. Oxford University Press. 2008. 292pp.

    Hugh Rawson. Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms from Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present. Crown Publishers. 1989. 435pp.

    Robert Schnakenberg. Distory: A Treasury of Historical Insults. Macmillan. 2004. 192pp.

    Where is that story? Is it in Robert Graves? It’s about two Arab men who have a grievance against one another. They gather resolve whose honor shall be upheld honor by means of an insult contest. A crowd gathers w/expectation of a great moment and high entertainment. Which man will destroy the other, who will find the killing insult? I can’t recall how it all builds up, but the winner in the one who accuses the other’s great, great, great, great mother of being a tortoise. And is so acclaimed winner by the crowd.

    Then there is this book and web site, “Bawdy Language,”–
    Welcome to Bawdy Language, a sexual reference book like no other. Featuring a wide-ranging survey of rude, profane, dirty, naughty and taboo language, dirty sex talk and toilet humor to help you express the inexpressible. Learn to talk dirty, yet command respect!

    More than just a catalogue of dirty words and phrases, more than just a comprehensive dictionary of sexual slang, it’s several books in one – a history of sex, the origins of curse words, sexual satire and parody, a personal body manual, a collection of dirty poems and quotes, a social commentary, and a tasteful but biting editorial statement against the forces of restraint and convention.

    In summary, a delightful mix of Eric Partridge, Lenny Bruce and Monty Python for scholars and lay people alike.


    There are also several Wikipedia articles:

    Profanity – Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaA profanity is a word, expression, gesture, or other social behavior which is socially … View history

    Statistics · Profanity as blasphemy · Severity · International …

    A Brief History of RaunchQuaint Clitter: Chaucer’s Qualified Use of Profanity in The Canterbury Tales . Ira Wells © 2005 . Profanity Historicized . Many undergraduates are shocked to discover that some of …

    http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/6361wells.htm · Cached pageProfanity Synonyms | Synonyms of Profanity and Antonyms of Profanity …History of profanity … naughty words, no-no, oath, objuration, obloquy, obscenity, profanation, profanity …

    thesaurus.com/browse/profanity · Cached pageHistory Of SwearingThe History of Swearing: Last Century’s Great Moments in Swearing: 1900. Shot by an anarchist while standing on a Brussels railway station, The Prince of Wales utters the immortal …

    http://www.laughingpoliceman.com/swear.htm · Cached pageProfanityHistory. Terms of profanity have historically been taboo words. Some words originally considered profane have become much less offensive with the increasing secularity of society …

    http://www.fact-index.com/p/pr/profanity.html · Cached pageAmazon.com: Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and …This is the history of the lexical underworld of the English language. It details the story of impropriety in language and of the lower registers of the foul and obscene. From …

    User rating: 4/5 · 5 reviews
    http://www.amazon.com/Swearing-History-Language-Profanity-English/dp/0631165932 · Cached pageProfanity.de – HistoryPROFANITYs music can be described as brutal technical deathmetal with melodic and progressive elements. The band was formed in 1993. After two demos the first album SHADOWS TO FALL …

    http://www.profanity.de/history.html · Cached pageRelated Searches
    History of Curse Words
    Definition of Profanity
    Japanese Profanity
    Italian Profanity
    German Profanity
    Profanity List
    Word Puns
    English Curse Words

    Profanity has been around as long as humans have had speech–maybe even prior. And profane words, curse words, insulting words, pornographic words have the full human experience of uses and purposes and meanings. It’s only when they are used absent-mindedly without any meaning or purpose that they truly are offensive.


  2. This is a primary point of difference between you and I and how we understand language. I believe language is mostly and emerged mostly in order to deceive. See: When Song Breaks Forth

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