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In Defence of Profanity

Common and widespread, profanity remains something of a taboo. We are encouraged as children and adults not to use words like fuck or shit, and are taught to become offended or indignant when they are directed toward our own selves. This fear and reproach toward profanity is absurd. We must defend profanity, not whitewash it into oblivion.

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Date Posted: June 29, 2011
Print Edition: June 24, 2011

By Jack Brown (The Cascade) – Email

Common and widespread, profanity remains something of a taboo. We are encouraged as children and adults not to use words like fuck or shit, and are taught to become offended or indignant when they are directed toward our own selves. This fear and reproach toward profanity is absurd. We must defend profanity, not whitewash it into oblivion.

There are two arguments that are often employed to defend the use of profanity, and both remain as hopeless as the opposition to vulgar language itself. The first and most tired of these is the freedom of speech argument. It argues that limits on speech, even the most distressing, hateful, or profane are inherently dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. One need not endorse or even listen to cursing, only defend its use.

The second defence focuses on profanity as an example of authenticity in language use. Since authenticity is preferred to falsehoods, profanity should be at least tolerated.

The trouble with these arguments is that neither addresses the core of the matter: profanity itself. Those cantankerous and bland many who would limit and regulate vulgarity in language remain free to advance their cause in the absence of a robust defence of the most base and offensive curse. And they do, too.

In print and broadcast media, federal and provincial legislation stand atop a mound of codes-of-conduct and editorial pledges which all, in some way or another, conspire to chase colourful language from the public discourse. Stations and newscasters are fined for daring to utter deserved insults or scatological exclamations, while the quotations of ordinary persons are censored ruthlessly.

The justification for all of this commonly turns to the ‘innocence shield.’ We must protect those with delicate sensibilities from hearing such filth! Children (and in previous centuries, women) are not fit to hear anything that might impugn upon their natural chastity. When considered critically, the ‘innocence shield’ quickly unravels into dogmatic chanting of arbitrary social convention. Innocence is not being defended, but ignorance, and that is the crux of everything when it comes to profanity.

Ignoring injustice does not make injustice go away or somehow turn the world into a more just place. Ignoring profanity is as effective. There exist profane things and profane words, but ignoring them or refusing to name them cannot change this. The only comfort any person receives from saying frak instead of fuck is the warm blanket of ignorance.

For some, that is not only adequate but preferred. But for those who are dedicated to truth, actively choosing ignorance is anathema.

I am not so blind as to think that every person prefers truth, although they ought to. Nevertheless, it is time that those brave enough to curse take up the most deserving cause of all. It is time that the profane be called profane, and that everywhere ignorance reigns, it is challenged and exposed as the bullshit it is.

Let this tyranny of etiquette end.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Paul

    July 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Ah, I believe I disagree. Also, I believe this is a straw man argument if I’ve ever heard one. :-)

  2. David

    July 3, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Paul says:”Ah, I believe I disagree.”

    How articulate of you.

    Who the fuck cares?

  3. Mike

    July 7, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    “There exist profane things and profane words…” this statement is only true if you first define the term, I think. I believe “profane” is as subjective as “obscene” and personally disagree with the idea that either one exists– objectively speaking.

  4. Paul

    July 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    It seems like I’m not the only one who wants definitions, Jack. :-)

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