Monday, March 21, 2011

Defining Swearing

Before we can examine the uses of swearing, we first must decide what we mean exactly by swearing.

By basic definition, swearing is to solemnly take an oath. However, these days the word has taken on a much more negative connotation, more the equivalent of cursing. It is this latter connotation I have in view for this discussion.

As such, swearing has two basic parts in view, profanities and obscenities.

Profanity desecrates the sacred and takes the name of God in vain, often as a meaningless exclamation. This would include everything from “Good Lord” and “Oh my God!” (or the texting equivalent, OMG) to “Christ” and “Geez” (an abbreviated, misspelled form of Jesus). Blasphemy would be one step beyond this, with the direct cursing/mockery of God and all things connected to Him.

An obscenity by strict definition is crude and lewd language, often referring to bodily functions (e.g. “shit”). However, for the ease of working through this section on language, I’m expanding obscenities to also include three related areas: obscene gestures, epithets (a strong insult demeaning someone with reference to their perceived identity—birth, race, religion. E.g. “son of a bitch”), and general cursing (calling for God’s condemnation on someone or something—e.g. “damn”).

In short, we will define swearing as crude and offensive language (and/or action) which insults God and/or the recipient thereof.

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