Culturally Objectionable Words

Mainly, I wanted to share an article a friend sent me awhile back about about the use of, let’s say, culturally objectionable words.  My disclaimer here is that I have not fully evaluated all the claims made by the authors of this site, so I want to clarify that my sharing here is in no way intended to be an wholesale endorsement or condemnation of the rest of the content of the site.  I simply found this article to be noteworthy:

On F Bombs and Christian Music

In my opinion, the meat of the article is this:

“Is sin bound to phonetics or intentions?”


“The truth of the matter is that swear words are cultural products that have come into existence in multiple contexts and in multiple languages. In fact, this is an evolutionary linguistic phenomenon as certain words become taboo over time (e.g. faggot). For our American readers, it is generally recognized that “crap” is a more sensitive word for refuse than “sh*t,” but in the UK many regard “crap” to be a cuss word. So words can contain cultural stigmas, but not inherent worth. The excessive use of swear words can indicate a certain heart attitude, such as a rebellious spirit, or indicate a dearth of active vocabulary. But these words per se are not sinful. Thus, there is no inherent moral value in swear words, or any other word for that matter. The Apostle Paul warns us to refrain from crude speech (Eph 4.29; 5.4; Col 3.8), which refers to being crass. Additionally the passages speak to belittling others. Berating a fellow brother — you idiot! — is far worse than saying, “I fell on my A$$.”  What truly matters is the heart.

And, one final word, context is everything. If one is in a context where swearing is not permitted and one does so, it is obviously sinful…”

That being quoted, here is where I’m at on swearing, which I believe would be better termed “culturally objectionable words”:

-I respect the convictions and conventions of those around me.

-The offensiveness of particular words is purely cultural.  Why push that point?  Because sometimes, for driving home truth, words like “shit” or “f*ck” might be the right tool for the job.

-About cultural subjectivity: I heard a story of a church leader who had a friend from the UK, another church leader, staying at his house.  Sometime during the visit, the church leader was fixing the plumbing under his sink, and uttered something like, “come on, you bugger”, while, I presume, trying to free a stubborn fitting.  Later that day, he perceived that something was bothering his friend from the UK, and so he asked what was wrong.  His friend replied, “you cursed”.

-I can gossip or slander without using a single culturally objectionable word.  Issues like gossip and just generally talking crap about people are what I get convicted about.  Am I cursing people with my words or blessing them?

-I view alcohol and culturally objectionable words in a similar way: both can be used responsibly and in moderation, and an excess of either one may indicate serious personal problems.

-Here’s an interesting thought that I stumbled upon;  Jordan B. Peterson on ‘curse words’

I’m not on board with some of the evolutionary assertions here, but the poignant thought here is that use of “curse words” is driven by a primal fear circuit, which in my opinion could be construed as 1.) an argument against using those words for risk of reinforcing the habit of operating in a highly emotionally reactive circuit, or 2.) an argument for using those words judiciously, precisely because they can cut deeper into the psyche than normal language, going beyond the limits normally imposed by the normal language.

In closing, what’s the primary thrust of me sharing something like this?  It’s a warning that cultural traditions can overshadow the potency and clarity of whatever message or presentation style that God has gifted you with in order to help others.

On a semi-related note, see,

Freedom vs Unintended Bullshit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s