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Great question & blasphemy too

Posted by Lotg on December 03, 2003

In Reply to: Origination of swear words posted by WKirven on December 03, 2003

: I'm doing some research for a language theory course and was wondering if anyone has any ideas of why it's alright to say the definition of a swear word but not okay to say the word itself. Who defines a swear word?

That is a great question, and I'd like to know too. However, in my Christian upbringing I was taught that it was sinful to blaspheme (ie. use the name of God in vain). Having said that 'the name of God' in my upbringing extended to other stuff associated with God. eg. Jesus, Hell (admittedly, supposedly on the opposite end of the scale) and variations of the word God, such as goddam or whatever. All of these blasphemous words I was taught, were swear words. But then there are all those other words that I was taught were profane too that seem to have no particular association with Christianity or the Bible, but no-one ever really taught me why.

Now that I'm no longer a Christian, those 'blashemous' words are meaningless to me. I have since taught my stepdaughter, that my definition of a swear word, is the meaning (or venom if applicable) behind the word, rather than the word itself. eg. I could use the word 'bloody' several times in a sentence and it could simply be a gap filler, poor grammar or even some sort of terms of endearment. However, if I used that word with some bitterness and as an adjective to describe something that was really cheesing me off, then it could become a swear word.

It's all in the telling (and the intention) methinks.

Furthermore, there are some words that historically weren't actually swear words, but have evolved to become so.

Now observe my feeble efforts to censor as I write... eg. the word 's&*t', used to be an acceptable term for defication, even words such as 'bug*(r' and 'f*&k' were once acceptable words. ...sorry, that's the best I can come with in terms of censorship.

So I can only assume that they evolved into becoming swear words because they are words that describe less than pleasant or socially unacceptable behaviour, so were used in association with insults and thus became insults themselves.

It begs the question will substitute insults, that are currently not considered swear words, evolve into the status of swear words. eg. In order to be politically correct, I might angrily refer to some intensely annoying woman as 'that stupid cow', rather than the politically unacceptable and apparently profane, 'that stupid bitch'. But does this mean that one day someone will cotton onto the fact that I am intending to be just as insulting to her by calling her a cow, and so the word 'cow' could also become a swear word?

So I suspect that it's evolution that decides what is, and isn't profanity. But that's just my wild guess.