I won’t lie! I have several vices. But my favorite (based on frequency of occurrence) is swearing.
My swearing is not gratuitous, as a matter of fact I only use profanity when I am angry, scared, frustrated or hurting; when I think it is funny or instructive (e.g. helping other drivers understand their stupidity); or when I am awake and breathing. Yeah, I swear a lot and I am not proud of it.
This post is about the habit of swearing and what I can do to stop. I am hoping you will help me.
Some of you are more proficient at swearing than I or associate with someone who is, but for those of you who do not swear or otherwise have little exposure to the art, I offer the following Primer. This is important because not all swear words are created equal and you might be surprised by what some people do and don’t consider swear words.
Before I attempt to categorize the types of profanity, I need to say something about types of people and how swearing is perceived by and affects them. It would be interesting to graph people’s perceptions and use of foul language. I think we would come up with a bell curve (normal distribution). +At the front end we would find a small percentage of people who never swear and can’t tolerate it. At the back end we would find a similar percentage who profane frequently (sometime using the most vulgar words as filler language) and actually prefer to associate with like-mouthed people.
In between, we would most likely find everyone else — most of them decent people. Some swear more and are more likely to overlook bad language, but most of these folks can associate with each other without offence or conflict. Their bad language is often situational. They swear more when they are angry, surprised or frightened. Sometimes it just slips out. Other times it depends on who they are associating with, perhaps swearing more around those that swear – like picking up an accent.
It is an interesting phenomenon that people with dementia, who have seldom or never used bad language in their lives, will sometimes swear up a storm. The filters in their brain that control language are failing and so it just comes tumbling out – especially when they can’t find the right words to express themselves.
You should ask yourself where do you fit on the curve? Are you one of the pious, one of vulgar or an occasional to frequent swearer? And how does your culture and associations affect your language?
So on to my categories. This is important because not all swear words are of equal value. These are my opinions, based on my experience and associations, but I think they are pretty accurate. I will not even try to list every piece of bad language, so if I miss your favorites you’ll just have to decide where they fit in.
Profanity can be broken down into four tiers – obscenely vulgar, personal attacks, common and baby.
Obscenely vulgar profanity is the really bad stuff by which every decent person is offended. It includes any use or variation of the F-bomb, references to the human anatomy or gratuitous use of the names of deity. Except for truly crude people, these words usually only slip out in moments of extreme anger or shock and the user is almost always embarrassed and remorseful.
Personal Attack (PA) profanity comes in many forms and is often borrowed from other categories. The point of PA swearing is to punish a person, animal or thing (even inanimate objects that really don’t care what you call them). King among this form are phrases that cast aspersion on parentage (i.e. SOB, B-word); compare the subject to stupid animals or mock gender.
Common swear words are those that are only bad because of the context in which they are used and most people have heard and may use them frequently. They are often Biblical. Examples include variations of the H-word (residence of the devil) and the D-word (stop in progression). The S-word (excrement) is kind of a rover, being vulgar, used as a personal attack and as a common swear word depending on person or situation.
Baby swearing is for kids, and adults, that are just learning to swear or who want the satisfaction of swearing while being socially acceptable. Examples include crap, heck, gosh darn, flip, fetch, dang, sucker, Judas priest, and son of a cow (my personal invention).
Not swear words? Really? They are used for the exact same reasons that we use “real” profanity. Laziness in our language; small vocabulary; anger, surprise or fear. While it is hypocritical for us to use these words and consider our language clean, it is certainly more socially acceptable.
Is It My Fault?
If I am to solicit your help in kicking the swearing habit, I have to get past my justification. As with all other vices, people usually have excuses for why they practice them and my swearing vice is no exception. I blame learning to swear on my father.
English was my father’s second language. Profanity was his first. And he was fluent. He knew and used swear words that are not in the Primer and that I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else use. I don’t ever remember him using the F-word, but he made up for it in other ways.
Now you may be asking what this has to do with me. Certainly, I had the choice to swear or not regardless of how my father spoke, right? Well, it’s not as simple as that. Let me tell you my story.
I really tried not to swear when I was a kid. One day (when I was about 12) I jumped our neighbor’s fence to retrieve a ball I’d kicked into their yard. Their German Shepherd came at me and I got back over the fence just in time. I ran into the house and said to my Mom, “that D-word dog almost got me!”
She cried. It was the first time she’d ever heard me swear (it may have been the first time I had) and it broke her heart. I felt so bad that I had disappointed my mom. I mean it just slipped out. I tried really hard after that to not swear.
One day when I was 14, I was working with my dad on a car. He was underneath and I was handing him tools. He asked me for a 5/8 inch wrench and I handed it to him. It was not the size he wanted and he got mad. He threw the wrench out from under the car, hitting the metal garbage can. He looked up past the engine and said, “you dumb SOB (not using the abbreviation) hand me the right wrench!”
I looked down at my father, caught his eye and said, “you dumb SOB (no abbreviation), why don’t you come up here and get it yourself!”
Even though my father swore at me all the time, this was the first time I’d ever sworn at him. I was sure I was a dead man, that he would come out from under that car and whip me (at least verbally), but it didn’t happen. What did happen was that my father looked up at me with a new admiration and said calmly, “I’m sorry son, would you hand me the 7/16?”
I distinctly remember saying to myself, “that’s how you talk to him” and it was. It was the language he understood and responded to. After that I swore regularly at my father and we got along a lot better.
Yes, It’s My Fault
It was downhill from there. Soon I was swearing at and with my friends, the dog and inanimate objects. Yes, I swore when I was angry, but it wasn’t just that. It became a way to express frustration, get people’s attention and be funny. I really got good at it, mastering the PA and common categories. I never got really good at the vulgar words, because that was not me.
By the time I was an adult it was a pretty ingrained habit. At times it served me well, but many times it was counter-productive and embarrassing. Most of the time the words just rolled off my tongue and if I didn’t make a conscious effort to avoid it, my mind followed the path of least resistance.
For many years I had a pretty good handle on it. Unless I was extremely angry or frightened, I was able to compartmentalize my language. I spoke one way when around my family, another when around my wife’s family. My language adapted to my roles. The bishop and seminary teacher didn’t swear, but the father and husband unfortunately did. But even then, there were slip ups.
One day, on a road trip with my mother-in-law in the car, I was filling up at a gas station when the automatic shut off failed on the pump handle. Gas flowed out of the tank, down the car, onto the ground and then all over my hands as I pulled the handle out and shut it off. I gave that pump handle a verbal lashing which included words from almost all the categories. I can still remember the look on my mother-in-law’s face and was sure she was asking, “and this guy is married to my daughter?” I was sorry and embarrassed and we rode along in awkward silence for a long time.
Another day in my seminary class I was playing a time-filling game with my students (there are five minutes left before the bell and you don’t want to release them early). We were playing Name That TV Show Theme Song. Having been raised on TV, I had quite a few obscure songs that I would use and could always stump them. One day they were particularly sharp, so I started whistling the theme song to Petty Coat Junction. I knew I had them and was counting down the time, 4, 3, 2, when a student called out “Petty Coat Junction.” I was shocked, but instead of saying, “Gee, Johnny, you are really sharp,” I just blurted out the S-word. The room fell silent for about three seconds and then erupted with laughter as I hung my head in embarrassment. I was saved by the bell and we never played that game again.
I Quit and You Can Help
I don’t want you to think I have an X, or even R-rated mouth. However, as I have become a grumpier and older man, it gets easier (and more expected of me) to swear. I also think that the pains of arthritis bring it out more. Whatever the cause, I find myself more foul-mouthed than I would like.
One day, when my father was very sick (and not long before he died), I asked him if he was afraid of death. “I’m not afraid of dying,” he said, “but I am not going to the Celestial kingdom.”
His response shocked me. Here was a guy that had totally changed his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He had walked away from a two-and-a-half pack a day smoking habit, drinking and coffee, cold turkey all on the same day. He’d been a faithful member of the Church, attending services and giving service for over thirty years and he didn’t think he was going to the Celestial kingdom.
When I asked him why, he said it was because of his mouth. He had tried and tried, but just couldn’t stop swearing. He didn’t think he would be comfortable standing in the presence of the Savior, His prophets and the other faithful Saints with his filthy mouth.
We had a good talk about Grace that day, and I think he felt better.
But back to me, I do not think I have tried hard enough to stop swearing. I can do better and have decided to do so. Beginning today I will stop swearing! Actually, it’s 2:15 PM and I haven’t sworn once today.
By the way, I believe that the first step to overcoming this vice is to realize that it is a serious offence to my fellow men and to God. They may tolerate it but, it still offends them and makes me less of a man in their eyes.
To be clear I am talking about stopping the obscenely vulgar, personal attack and common profanity swear words. When I master those categories, I will move on to the baby swear words.
I am offering all the members of my family, including my grandchildren a $1 if the they catch me swearing. (I reserve the right to refuse to pay anyone who purposely goads me into swearing so they can make a buck. You may not know my children and grandchildren like I know them.)
I extend that offer to all my friends, acquaintances and readers, catch me swearing, make a buck. I will post my progress on each blog post so you can hold me accountable.
But most of all, I ask for your prayers. Please ask the Lord to help me be a better man and to be more comfortable in His service and in His presence when he takes me home.