"I thought I'd get your theories, mock them, then embrace my own. The usual." -House
Question #90842 posted on 01/28/2018 11:02 a.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

Do you see a difference between swearing and saying swear words? I try not to swear but I have no problem saying swear words when quoting someone or talking about swearing. Personally I feel there's something juvenile about saying "the a-word" when you're talking to other adults. What are your thoughts?

-potty mouth


Dear potty mouth,

It depends on my audience, and it depends on the word. I personally don't swear, mostly because I don't see any reason to do so, but not because anyone has ever convinced me that there's something morally wrong with doing so. After all, they're just words. However, there have been occasions in which I have been quoting someone or something and I have felt that it was appropriate to quote verbatim. I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with you to an extent.

Additionally, when I don't feel that it's appropriate to refrain from self-censoring, I will often just leave a noticeable silence in the place of the censored word, rather than saying something like "the a-word".

-The Entomophagist


Dear PM,

Journalistically speaking, you should quote the swear word when it adds something significant to the phrase you're quoting. If someone is using a profanity every other word, you likely won't include them, but if the quote wouldn't have the same connotation without the cursing, you should include it. 

I learned this principle at a newspaper conference held by the Salt Lake Tribune. Said conference was designed for for-profit newspapers, but we went as a high school newspaper because we thought we were pretty hot stuff. During the presentation on swearing, the presenter called on one of the Tribune's writers, a man who I swear was named Jim Fisher but cannot verify because my searches are turning up nothing. Anyway, Jim Fisher had the reputation for being rather crusty and cantankerous, and the exchange went like this:

Presenter: "You know, it's like that old joke. How does it go, Jim? What did the fish say when it ran into a brick wall?"

Jim: "[Shoot]!"

(Except it wasn't shoot.)

You'll notice that I seem to have broken my own rule; that's because the Board has stricter policies when it comes to profanity. But I think you get the picture.

-Frère Rubik thinks swearing is funny probably more than he should. Especially when it's because he was playing Hearts with his siblings and Père Rubik over Christmas break and Père let out an exasperated swear after a particularly bad hand.


Dear you,

All moral arguments aside, I personally am quite sensitive to swearing. I can't even make myself say substitute swear words, in any situation. Maybe that's a bit dogmatic, but I don't see that changing about me any time soon.

One of my family's favorite "swear words" is "O'Reilly." You see, we used to have an auto parts store called "Schucks." Later, the name got changed to "O'Reilly," which we felt would be a less explicit thing to say.



Dear what did you say?

I think that there's a slight difference between swear words and swearing, but not much of a difference. To me, each culture has a set of words that are designated as "swear words" that are typically considered offensive. Swearing according to the Cambridge dictionary is "rude or offensive language that someone uses, especially when they are angry". This means that basically anything that is rude or offensive said in anger could be swearing. I have a friend who swears by this definition. He has quite the foul mouth, but when he's around people that he knows take offense to traditional swear words he would use the word "strawberry" to swear at people. 

To help visualize this, I made a chart:

swearing chart.PNG

As you can see most of what falls under the "swear words" category also falls into the swearing category. To me the few exceptions depend on cultural context. For example, there are some words that are considered "swear words" in the Bible, that are generally accepted in biblical context. I would say that another exception is words that while considered swearing in one culture aren't in another. There are perfectly normal everyday words that people use in Mexico that are super offensive in Argentina, but are still just normal words. However, I think that whether swear words are offensive or not takes into account both speaker and the listener. If I know something is offensive to someone else, I shouldn't use it even if it's totally normal in my culture.

While I think that about 95-98% of swear words are swearing, I think that swearing covers a much broader range than just swear words. There are a lot of things that people say that while not technically a swear word are crass, or blasphemous, or just plain rude. According to the Cambridge definition of swearing, calling someone an idiot or yelling at them could be considered swearing. What people consider to be swearing or not depends, but I think that in most circumstances saying a swear word qualifies as swearing. I would also try and avoid any type of rude or offensive language. That's just my two cents though. It depends a lot on the culture.