"Prediction is difficult, especially about the future." -- Yogi Berra
Question #93443 posted on 01/14/2021 8:14 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What are your thoughts on swearing? Growing up I was taught that it was bad, to the point that for a very long time I felt very uncomfortable if I heard swear words. And of course there are all the stories in The Friend magazine about some kid asking his friends not to use bad language around him, or the stories in The Liahona about a teen who got into a habit of swearing but managed to break it, all of which reinforced the idea that swearing is a Bad Thing.

In the past few years though, I've become less and less bothered and concerned by swear words. I still rarely use the words myself, but I'm 0% bothered when one of my friends swears or there's language in a good song, and much of the time I don't mind singing along to it. In some situations, I think a swear word conveys a sentiment better than anything else could. I feel like words are just words, and it's kind of weird that we somewhat arbitrarily decide that some words are not okay.

To clarify a bit: I do think that our language should NOT be vulgar or crude or offensive. Racial slurs are terrible. And we should not use demeaning or derogatory language about people, with or without "swear words." Language is powerful and it's important that we use it responsibly and with kindness, and I'm all for teaching children to use clean language and choose their words carefully. That being said, I also think it's important to not teach people to be "afraid" or "offended" by certain words. The fact is that most people in the world will use them from time to time, and if you have a visceral reaction to hearing certain words it will taint your perception of people and your interactions with them.

Anyway, I was just thinking about how my perception and opinion on this subject has changed over the last several years, but I also don't assume that I have the perfect or "right" perspective now. I'm curious about what you guys think, if you agree or disagree and why!

Thanks and happy holidays :)

-The Raven

A:

Dear Raven,

I must admit I have developed a bit of a potty mouth. I think it might be a reactive thing... My family was one of those where "stupid" and "shut up" were equivalent to swear words and saying "pissed" was enough to get you grounded. Of course, I was obedient so I didn't say them. Then I moved out and I decided I could do whatever I wanted. I guess I never had a rebellious middle school phase, so I'm going through it now by pulling all-nighters, eating ice cream for dinner, watching R-rated movies (Okay but Parasite was really good), and saying bad words. There are some words I don't say because they just feel too rude and very intentionally offensive (I don't say the F-word or the C-word and hardly EVER the B-word.) Bible swears are fair game, and I throw in a sh** sometimes when I'm really feeling it. Most of the time I'm only saying them when I'm at home with Pebble because he doesn't care. I definitely don't mind singing them if they're in a song. I would say them around my friends, knowing they don't care either... if I was hanging out with friends right now. However, I do end up having to self-monitor when I'm at my parents or in-laws house. 

The more it becomes normal to me, the harder it is to remember to self-censor when I'm around people who I know would prefer I didn't swear. I catch myself last second a lot. I also am beginning to realize that even though I don't mind when adults swear, I'd prefer not to be the parent that says swear words so often they become a part of my kids' vocabularies when they're little (despite the fact that little toddlers dropping an F-bomb is one of the most hilarious things to me.)

Having recognized that I don't feel in control of my own words, I've cut back and now feel that my rebellious not-so-middle-school baddie phase is coming to a close. I still don't mind saying them every once in a while, and I don't ever make myself feel guilty for thinking or saying a swear. I mean, if something is bullsh** then that's what it deserves to be called. 

I do agree with you that sometimes, a swear is exactly what is needed to convey an emotion. An illustrative example - Coldplay has had perfectly clean lyrics (except the nappies song, but that's very esoteric) for 20 years. This is because Will Champion, the drummer, doesn't like swears and thinks they're generally unnecessary. But last year, they released their first album with explicit tracks - I think 3 of the songs have F-bombs in them. How did they pass the Will Filter? because, he deemed the swear words as powerful and relevant in the lyrics for these politically charged songs. Sometimes, a strong word makes sense, and I would never judge someone for using it in that way. I also appreciate a good humorous use of swear words.

Cheers, 

Guesthouse

A:

Dear Raven,

I never swore when I was young, but since graduating from BYU, it's bothered me less and less. I don't like it when people can't get through a conversation without cursing, but sometimes an occasional "f***" is exactly what the situation calls for.

I'm careful not to swear in front of children or anyone who might be offended by it, but other than that I don't have any qualms about the occasional strong language. Like you said, I don't think my language is crude and I would never direct a curse at someone, therefore I don't think my occasional swearing is a bad thing.

Love,

Luciana

A:

Dear you,

I agree that people shouldn't have visceral reactions to hearing certain words, but I still believe that most situations are better served by other words than swearing. Absolutely, sometimes swearing is the best way to convey a certain feeling or meaning, but I also think those times are infrequent. I've read that Alex Trebek thought he was too straight laced because he didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs and he thought he needed a "vice" in order to fit in, so he started swearing. He later realized it was a bad move because it made him look like a jerk. That didn't mean he never swore, he just toned it down.

Anyways, I think it depends on the motivation for swearing. Is the motivation to fit in or look/sound cool? I think that's dumb. Is the motivation because it is the best way to get a point across? Okay, use them on occasion. If, however, you can't speak a single sentence without swearing one or more times, then yes, it will taint my perception of you as a person. I won't walk away saying you're a bad person or immoral or anything like that, I'll just walk away thinking you don't have a great vocabulary and I'll probably view you as a poor judge of word choice. 

As Albus Dumbledore once said, "Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it." And I would add that the words we choose to use (written or spoken) reveal a lot about who we are and what we value.

-Sunday Night #*$@%!

A:

Dear you,

I've only sworn once in my life, and it was to describe the most despicable human that my family has had the misfortune of interacting with. But I generally don't have qualms at hearing other people swear. If I do feel uncomfortable, it's generally because I find situations with people I don't know well where they're emotionally overwrought enough to start swearing as a means of expressing their anger distressing. Swearing can often communicate a raw sharpness that doesn't always sit well with me. But of course, discomfort is sometimes called for.

All that said, if I hear someone casually swearing, I don't really care. To me, the personal significance of swearing matters more than the actual swearing. What I mean by that, is a lot of people swear and don't think anything of it. Words don't have the same level of crassness/vulgarity associated with them for everyone who uses them. If someone is intentionally using swear words to make their message disturbing, crude, etc. then I'll be bothered by it, but not if it's simply a natural part of the person's vocabulary and method of self-expression.

Additionally, as I've gotten older, I've thought more and more about how language is another instrument to enforce social order/class. If people's language doesn't fit the traditional, cultured white standard, then it's easy to dismiss as uneducated or vulgar. Overall, I'd prefer to err on the side of accepting swears than playing into yet another weapon for white supremacy.

~Anathema

A:

Dear Raven,

It seems like we have pretty similar perspectives. I generally try to avoid swearing, just because I don't often feel like the situation calls for it, and I think there is some value in clean language. However, I feel like "clean language" has a lot more to do with respect and sensitivity than it does arbitrary word choice. I think it's much more inappropriate to direct a swear word at a person, or to use swear words in a demeaning way, than it is to just casually curse. I am not really bothered by others' casual swearing.

I do think that sometimes swear words can add a certain intensity to your language that can be difficult to achieve using alternative words or phrasing. For that reason, I'll occasionally curse, if I feel like a swear word is going to be the most effective at conveying my message and emotions. Depending on the situation, sometimes I feel guilty about it afterward, and sometimes I think it's justified. But, because swearing is not a habit for me, it usually just ends up being easier and clearer for me to use alternative phrasing.

Best,

Josefina