According to the built-in dictionary on Apple computers:
Profanity | prəˈfanədē | noun (plural profanities) is
- blasphemous or obscene language: an outburst of profanity.
- a swear word; an oath.
- irreligious or irreverent behavior.
The word originated in the mid-16th century, but curses have likely been part of human speech since the beginning of human speech. Whomever first stubbed their toe on a rock likely muttered or screamed out something while in pain.
But who decided which words were profane and which weren’t? I don’t know. I know there are words that can’t be said on television or the radio.
WARNING: the rest of this post contains f**king profanity.
George Carlin said it best with his list of seven dirty words: cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, and tits. This was back in 1972. There’s some other words that are considered curses: bitch, damn, hell to name a few, though those seem to be more acceptable for primetime television. Now it seems that only a handful of words are prohibited from primetime: asshole, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, and shit (and other derivatives).
With satellite radio, streaming services, and cable/satellite TV, it seems that anything goes. Movies and TV shows have ratings, as do music albums labeled with the E symbol for explicit material to help parents monitor their children. Most movie theaters state they won’t let someone 17 or under purchase tickets to an R-rated movie without a parent present, but how closely is that rule followed? And is it really protecting teens from viewing things that they may not already be doing anyway? Who knows?
I recall buying E-rated (explicit) music albums as a young teen with no problems though. And books such as Stephen King’s It to which no one batted an eye when I purchased it on my own at Walmart. I watched more than a few R-rated movies with my parents as an older teen. I watched several R-rated horror movies when I was much younger than that. I don’t think that experiencing those things made me less moral than anyone else.
I grew up without internet in my home, which left me less exposed to the complexities of the world than children are today. My exposure was real-life, books, movies, and music. I feel fortunate that my parents didn’t censor my reading once I was a teen because it allowed me to learn many things and develop a love for reading that will never escape me. Some of those books contained profanity, but I never cursed in front of my parents. Not at all until I was over 18.
It’s funny, thinking back. My word of choice as a teen was “freak” or “freaking.” My mother hated that word. Her argument was that it was a substitute for “fuck.” My argument, when I was feeling rebellious, was that anything you say whether it’s “fiddle-dee-dee” or “shoot” or “darn” or “crap” is a substitute for some curse word. That’s “cuss word” to my fellow southerners. It’s not like I grew up in a house with no cursing. My mother was a “shit” and “damn” user, and my late stepfather was a huge fan of the expressions “son of a bitch” and “Goddamnit.”
Pretty much all of the words have to do with genitals (cock, dick, cunt, pussy), things done with genitals (piss, fuck, shit), insults to one’s gender/person (asshole, cocksucker, bitch, motherfucker) or something to do with hell or damnation. It’s just the way it is. Of course, when someone (perhaps me, for example) is really pissed off, the combination curse or string of curses might happen. Think, son of a shitfucker, or son of a fucking bitch.
I don’t make a habit of cursing a lot in front of my children, but it happens. I’m human. I get on to them and ask them to watch their mouths with the excuse that I am an adult and can say what I please. I know I’m a hypocrite, but there’s something unsavory about a child dropping f-bombs or anyone overusing four-letter words.
There are so many words in the English language, so I know that there are many expressions to be used that are not considered profanity by most of society. What’s interesting is how things have evolved over time. I’m not shocked when I hear someone cursing. Lots of people use “fucking” as their favorite adjective. It is what it is.
But broadcasters will find a way to express what they want and stay away from FCC fines. Rules evolve, and words are invented. Ever heard “frack” or “frick” used in frustration? You can thank television for that. My son’s word of choice is “frick,” and the irony in the whole situation is how much it grates on my “fricking” nerves when he says it.
So, Mom, if you’re reading this. I’m really freaking sorry for my teenage mouth.
-Brandi Easterling Collins
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