Inspection- Another Article on Cursing? Oh, %$#@!

In the past two weeks we have been taking a break, sort of, from politics. This week our topic is misconceptions regarding cursing: especially those driven by the net.

I discovered recently… on my way to Googling something else… that there’s a lot on the net about the history of cursing. Most of it wrong, in my opinion. Gee, “on the net” and “wrong.” Never thought you’d hear those two in the same sentence, huh? Chuckle.

Some Googled sources simply try to trace profanity only from current usage. I guess you would call that circular research: assuming that usage has always been exactly as it is now. And exactly as it is… now.

Of course, between the few moments it took to type those two similar sentences overall common usage has probably changed… if just a tiny bit. Someone has come up with a way to use some phrase, or word, that will become popular the rage and, eventually, become part of a dictionary. But by that time that usage will have become dated.

But even if we considered English the only language ever to exist, considering anything just from current common usage would still be wrong. Our syntax has roots and sources: and they do affect current and future usage. Ignoring that, historically, would be like tossing Chaucer, Shakespeare and even Edgar Allan Poe into the trash and claiming all lit started with Plath.

And…Plath’s… just not right.

Putting my head in an oven for a moment to punish myself for that bad pun, then returning to a subject I like to vent verbal gas over… and, yes, the oven reference was a rather sick Sylvia joke…

Syntax is a moving object. Aim at where it is right now and offer the slightest hesitation… you’ll miss: sometimes by more than a mile.

One interesting… more comedic… resource for the history of cursing might be Christopher Moore’s book Fool, which provides the reader with a “healthy,” and fun, dose of Shakespearean profanity. Fool is the humorous story of King Lear from the Fool’s perspective. How much is of the profanity he provides is legit, how much not, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that Christopher painstakingly researches his books, so I suspect much of it is legit.

Back to more… legitimate??? …research. Yeah, I provided more than the standard quantity of question marks because “legitimate” and “the web” often can be, like the extreme northern and southern points on the globe, polar opposites.

One link regarding profanity brought me to a statement, as a former English major, I knew was inaccurate. Yes, Shakespeare did used cursing and vulgarity: but “beard” was only superficially a reference to facial hair as suggested by that source. It was really a reference to the hair that makes up what some have referred to “American Pie,” from the movie of that name. In other words: the exterior hair on the most southward, frontal, sex organ on a woman.

Now why we curse should be an easy target… even for the web. For the most part it’s simply venting anger or angst… or accentuating a situation or phrase, and not much more. For some cursing becomes a means for communication so important English almost becomes a second language. That’s usually not a good thing.

I suspect ever since humanity learned to utter words there has been some form of cursing, and probably obscene gestures as well. It goes back to eagerness to express oneself in exciting, frustrating, hurtful, annoying and painful situations… and the eagerness of others to control what we say. As obnoxious as a steady supply of some of the most “offensive” obscenities can be… if I use “fu__,” for example, exactly whom have I hurt? I suppose children, if you think they should be kept ignorant of the various meanings to that obscenity… at least until they find out as they will: one way or another. Oh, and also hurt anyone I might have used as a target when I decide to use it in a slingshot built out of a brief sentence, like “____ you.” But what exactly makes that “more” offensive than calling someone a brainless, idiot, twit?

Nothing, really. We’ve just decided to treat, sometimes rather off, sex-related insults as especially offensive.

Yes, usage is crucial here… or should be. I have noticed those who object the most to profanity often seem unable to make the distinction. If I call you a “fu__,” then there is hurt, there is damage done. But it’s not really the word itself, it goes to usage. If I called you a… “mindless drone who is a cannibal who eats his neighbors and their little children,” that’s far more damaging and involves slander. But there’s not a curse word to be found in that phrase. Those who say “f___ off” is worse because cursing has power to make things come true view words in magical terms, as if words have a power of their own… not how we put them together. I can no more make you “f… off” than I can make you into an eater of children. But if they really feel this way, you’d think since the second phrase could… according to their magical way of thinking… not only destroy someone’s reputation, or cause someone to be arrested due to false accusation, but also become a child eating cannibal… wouldn’t that far worse than simply telling someone to “f___ off?”

The whole thing makes no sense.

Slander has become acceptable form of communication. Listen to talk radio and you’ll hear something far closer to the cannibal remark than the “f___ you” comment on a daily basis. We have even created agencies to prevent what we consider the worst of the worst words from being aired. But destroying reputations with vile lies? Hell, seems slander laws have become so lax that calling someone a feminazisocialistcommiefascistpoopeater is considered nothing more than good “clean” fun. “Just a joke!”




Maybe “a joke” for those who know nothing about humor, or the bare essentials of formulating a real punch line… or cowards who prefer to hide their vile nature behind the claim, “It was just a joke!”

But what makes that “more acceptable” than “FU?”

Damned if I know.

Cursing has changed over the years due to shifting of syntax. Like “fusty luggs,” a reference to a woman who bedded many men, or “plug tail,” the one organ unique to a man? I’ll bet a middle school student could use either and most teacher’s would miss it or just be puzzled. Wiki has an interesting entry on cursing that includes the differences between British and American cursing.

Our current crop of curse words… ignoring minor changes… go back to about the 11th century according to some sourcses. But I do feel that’s wrong. Maybe what they refer to but the actual words are always changing.

But, to be honest, I’m sure curse words have always been some variation on religious themes, sex, body functions and body parts. And of course we can’t forget combining those themes with some curse-oriented version of “your mother wears army boots.” Adding close relatives into the mix has probably always been a popular form of cursing since some cursing is simply insult based: part of the power play between people that’s been going on since we first added sentience to our natural competitive nature.

I’m guessing that Mel Brooks probably had it right in History of the World, Part I. Back in the cave days they probably had their own forms of cursing and it may well have involved urinating on Ugahs questionable cave art, or maybe on him as he slept.

Though usage has changed more than a bit, hence the phrase, “Piss off?”

It would be interesting to find out if Jesus cursed. If we are to believe standard theological skews then it’s doubtful he “took the name of…” himself? “…in vain. Of course we do curse ourselves sometimes; when we think we do something that doesn’t make sense or seems stupid, so maybe it’s not that absurd a proposition?

The sad thing here is there were so many things far more important that Jesus ranted about and railed against, but I’ll bet the mere mention that he may have cursed may infuriate some readers… perhaps more than we seem to ignore or miss his message? Isn’t a little odd that this cursing ban might seem to be far more important to to many who claim to follow Jesus?

But I’m not surprised at all. When common faith includes as much, if not more, cross worship and book worship… When many other forms of magical thinking: like believing some chant or cup has incredible powers, hold so much sway… what do you expect?

No one claims Jesus said, “Find my cup and it will cure all.” I doubt you can find a quote like this: “Remember me thusly: put my method of execution up on a wall and dangle it around your necks.” But I suspect he would have wanted us to metaphorically hang around our necks what he preached.

But, going on with my Google, the web often screws the pooch royally when it comes to… where did that rather graphic phrase come from? …(when it comes to) why people curse. Many sources confuse cursing with casting a curse. Casting a curse and cursing are not the same, and generally never have been. That kind of “cursing” requires incantations and often requires what most non-magical thinkers would consider props: dolls to poke, relics, holy water, satanic symbols, dead bodies to defile. Watch out squirrel! You may become part of vengeance soup.

Indeed the even stranger magical thinking in this case would be the religiously insane who think cursing might be a mere sign of demon possession. A true demon, I suspect, would have darker designs than to just to tell someone to “fu… off,” especially these days. Maybe start a war against a country that hasn’t attacked us through the use of lies? …then openly declaring those inconvenient to be terrorist related and then treated in less than humane ways, as if they were less than human, less than even canine or feline?

Now all that really was “obscene.”

After all, cursing can be ignored and usually loses much of its supposed “power” if you do. Again: cursing only has “power” if we endow it with such “power.” If cursing actually has power then “bloody” would affect us here just like it does in England where it is considered a curse word.

But invading a country and tossing inconvenient people into bottomless legal pits? That’s the epitome of having, and abusing, power.

What curse words would Jesus have used, if he had, or people during his time? Well I’m guessing that curse words almost always have involved many different body parts, body functions, religion and animals. Certainly not roses, corn or peas. Kind of loses its power if you tell someone, “Why don’t you go suck off a plant,” though Ms. Cloro; your teacher, might ask you to stop because she has had�her “Chlorophyll” of it.

Yeah, I went there. What are you going to do about it?

Notice how I used a word that, not so long ago, was considered a curse word: “suck.” “Screw,” in it’s milder forms seems to be dropping off the profanity-o-meter radar. As of late the profanity-o-meter needle hardly seems to move into “Oh, stop that” territory when either word is used. Yet not that long ago they were both very offensive. Now they’re both becoming common, almost totally unoffensive, usage.

We know, or think we know, that Jesus would have never, ever have approved cursing. At least that’s what we are told despite the fact that, if we are to believe the words used in the Bible really were his, he still spoke a lot more about many other things. The words of Jesus were mostly about how we treat each other and intended to confront orthodoxy: the status quo: while also submitting to it at times. Most of the time a kind of a passive resistance, disregarding the tipping of the tables incident.

But if he were here, right now, maybe Jesus would confront us about the curse words of our era.

Or maybe he mostly wouldn’t give a…?


Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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