I never heard my mom or dad use profanity. Mom used to emphatically say “shoot” in a way that sounded a lot like another word. Dad used to talk about some “blamed” thing or another. I never hear anyone use that expletive anymore. That was about as colorful as their speech got.
But by the time I was a teen, I was using profanity like a sailor on a stormy day. Not around my parents, or other adults, of course.
I believe profanity has an necessary niche in our language. Anytime I’m irritated, frustrated or angry, profanity is just the best way to express those feelings. Those words provide a way to vent, to relieve some of the pressure. I could never work on my car without these words in my vocabulary.
Profanity has apparently gained wide acceptance. A USA Today survey found 64 percent of Americans use the word fuck, probably the curse word with the most cachet. It’s a word you used to never hear in public, though even back then it was scrawled on the walls of public bathrooms. Now, you might hear it just about anywhere.
Profanity has always been with us, right from the start. Just look at the history of profane expressions in English. Virtually all of our curse words come from the Anglo-Saxon core of our language. Anglo-Saxon words were usually one syllable, short and guttural. Now, think about those dirty four-letter words still in common use. They’re one syllable, short and guttural. They’ve been around as long as any words in the language, and they’ve never gone out of style. There must be a need for them.
Over the past few decades, the shock value of these words has diminished and their usage has shifted. I remember going to a Christmas party around 1980 or so, and a man called another man’s wife a bitch, and there was a fight. If that happened now, I doubt it would lead to fisticuffs, and some women might even consider it a compliment.
More evidence of the widespread use of cuss words are the acronyms that have shorthanded their way into use. MF, OMG, WTF, RTFM, FUBAR and AYFKM are examples of acronyms in common use. Somehow, by just reducing these obscenities to initials, they have come to be more accepted and less offensive. There is a local commercial that airs for a car dealership named Matthews Ford. Their logo is MF. I doubt they attract many literary types with that acronym.
Still, it seems some stigma remains. I’m a language person, so I like to play word games. At Pogo, the game I play the most is Word Whomp. I’ve played it so much, I’ve come to know which words the game will accept and which it won’t. Word Whomp is fine with ass, but rejects tit. It will accept damn, but not fuck. You can use pee, but not shit. And even though it’s not profane, Word Whomp rejects the word rape.
I think this is incredibly naive. By ostracizing the word rape, do the word police at Word Whomp think they are lessening the chance it will happen? If this is their thinking, why do they accept murder, kill, rob, stab, and other words denoting violent acts? And if this technique works, why don’t they ban words like cancer, heart attack, AIDS, and diabetes?
I mean, after all, WTF.