The profundity of profanity

Profanity is defined by Merriam-Webster a“offensive words or language”.

It is also called bad language, strong language, coarse language, foul language, bad words, vulgar language, lewd language, swearing, cursing, cussing, or using expletives, what is generally considered to be very impolite, rude or offensive.

It can show a debasement of someone or something, or show intense emotion.

Profanity in this sense takes the form of words or verbal expressions.

As both an English teacher and a wordsmith, I find myself constantly thinking about words, their meaning, their use, their origins and their significance.

Yesterday, I was witness to a workplace scenario between two workers where the attitudes towards profanity were diametrically opposites.

Worker 1 was swearing like a sailor whose ship has sailed without him, but not because the worker was experiencing strong Emotion, but rather because the expression of English expletives so prevalent in pop culture these days was “cool”.

The shock value of the swear words showed a fearlessness of censure and a youthful recklessness regarding “appropriate” (old person) behaviour.

Worker 2 was visibly unimpressed with Worker 1 and compared the cussing colleague´s language to a nether region´s disposal facility.

In many countries, swearing in the workplace can be an act of gross misconduct under certain circumstances.

In particular, this is the case when swearing accompanies insubordination against a superior or humiliation of a subordinate employee.

However, in other cases it may not be grounds for instant dismissal.

The fact that swearing is a part of everyday life means that we need to navigate a way through a day at work without offending anyone, while still appreciating that people do and will swear.

Of course, there are different types of swearing and, without spelling it out, one really ought to avoid the ‘worst words’ regardless of who you’re talking to.

With respect to swearing between colleagues, although it may sound strange, the appropriateness of swearing is influenced largely by the industry you are in and the individuals you work with, but even in a workplace in which swearing is the norm, there is no need to participate in it.

I think the danger of swearing to the cussing individual is not so much a debasement of what or who is being cussed at/about, but rather a lowering of respect towards the offensive language user.

The choice of words reflects upon the class, education and character of a person, whether the language is a true indication of the real person or not.

We are judged by what we say and do, whether or not these statements or actions are true to the persons we perceive ourselves to be.

Our language is the difference between a temple and a brothel.

We need to decide how we wish to be viewed and act accordingly.




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