“I don’t cuss!” The word ‘cuss’, of course, is a synonym for curse; you know, when someone communicates, either by speech or writing, using profane language. Although profanity was once considered offensive, today most people accept it is normal. But, if no longer offensive, there sure are many descriptive words and terms which mean the same thing as ‘cuss’ — such as: curse word, dirty word, expletive, four-letter word, obscenity, swear, vulgarity, profanity, and others.
The use of cuss words is increasing. Some people think this increase in using vulgar language is related to one’s education. A psychological study suggests that people who swear display a more intelligent use of language.1 That suggests an increase in the population’s I.Q.2 may lead to more people swearing. Than again, another report says that there has been a ‘dumbing down’ of American students in public education, so they are learning less.3 That suggests that cursing has increased from a lowering of the population’s I.Q. So, which is correct?
In my opinion, it is neither; education may influence I.Q., but has no direct link to why people cuss. My own observations indicate this vulgar language increase is worldwide and people of all walks of life insert nasty words into their everyday communication. Men, women, rich, poor, high society or low class, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Cursing in peoples’ vocabulary is definitely on the rise across all sectors of the global population.
Although I don’t curse, it is not because I think I’m someone that is the epitome of goodness, or some example of moral excellence, for God knows that is untrue. And many people throughout my life would readily tell you I’m not special, for sure. No, there has been only one perfect person in all of humanity and I am definitely not in the group anywhere close to him. My reason for not ‘cussing’ is a bit more earthy, than heavenly.
Occasionally I use words like Hell or damn, when using them in an inoffensive way, such as how they are used in the Bible or in biblical literature. Hell is sometimes referred to as the underground, or a grave, or a deep hole in the earth. In Judeo-Christian religions, Hell is the place prepared for demons and some fallen angels.
As an interesting side note, ‘hell’ was not a word used in the original biblical manuscripts, but is an old English word, which has lost its original meaning over time. According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary it says that the word ‘hell’ conveyed no thought of heat or torment, but simply described a covered or concealed place. In the old English dialect, the expression “helling potatoes” meant, not to roast them, but to simply place them in the ground or in a cellar.4 If true, it is easy to understand why this word was used to describe the original language words of ‘Hades’ and ‘Sheol’, for it suggested burying or putting the dead body into a grave, not burning them with fire.
Furthermore, the words damn, damned, and damnation are used biblically to explain condemnation and judgement, therefore it is a proper use to indicate inflicted loss or a confirmed act that is evil in God’s eyes. The word Goddamned, however, is often thought much more offensive, but it was first used only to mean ‘damned by God’, however it probably didn’t take long for the term to become an offensive interjection for anger. Of course using it that way is considered not only as impolite, but also as a personal offense against our Creator.
The first published use I could find for that phrase was a 1431 quote by Joan of Arc, printed in an early 1800s French book, Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne,5 when she said, “But, even if they [the English] are one hundred thousand Goddamn more than they are now, they will not have this kingdom.”
All children curse at some time in their young life.
As a youngster I cussed a lot, mostly in my early teens. Nearly all kids cuss, at least a little, at that age. It was more of an action to ‘fit in’ with my peers, than anything else. My parents didn’t cuss much, although I did hear a word or two when my father got really ‘hot under the collar’, and I heard my mother say ‘damn it’ a couple of times. They didn’t think it proper to use such language in front of children. But, looking back, I think kids cuss most because they think it is the grown-up thing to do. Isn’t it funny how kids want to always appear older, whereas older folk would rather appear younger? I guess we are never really satisfied.
Anyway, as a youngster the thought would occasionally cross my mind, “Why do people always revert to using profanity?” Whether using a word to be rude or just as an intensifier, it does add strong feelings to whatever is said, but why need it be an offensive or crude word? Also, I could understand anger would sometimes trigger such an outburst, but other times it made no sense.
For instance, why will one particular profane slang verb be used in anger and disgust during a confrontation, when it, supposedly, also implies a very loving act of unity between a man and a woman in the privacy of their bedroom?
And what about describing a weak or meek or unaggressive man by the name of a female body part? Likewise, why does a man tell a weak or meek or unassertive woman she doesn’t have the certain sexual parts of a man? With these last two criticisms, doing so either way, makes the offender a sexist. Notice that I just got my point across with imagination, but without expressing even one vulgar term.
By the time I was seventeen I had decided that cussing, although a common (and seemingly acceptable) social activity, was basically a lack of vocabulary to explain emotions. Therefore, when someone reverted to using curse words, that person had a lack of ability to express themselves. That was my deduction, anyway. I thought that if someone knew how to describe the world with an expanded use of words, then maybe vulgarities would decrease. So, at the age of seventeen, I decided to stop cursing.
I soon found out that deciding to do something was a lot easier than actually doing it. I discovered that habits are like addictions; they are hard to break. It was really hard work. It was so much of a struggle that when I cursed out loud, I felt ashamed and I would actually get mad at myself. My simple idea turned into a large project, but I kept at it anyway. I can’t remember exactly how many years, but it was well into my later twenties, before I felt confident that I would not slip up.
My wife will vouch for me; I never curse. Well, maybe not ‘never’; there was one time, she says I did, but I can’t remember it. According to her, it was in my early forties, immediately after a medical procedure. It seems that while still somewhat groggy from general anesthesia after surgery, she heard me say, “Damn that hurt!” She never lies, so I know it is true, but although I remember going into the operating room, and then waking up later, I neither remember the operation, nor the statement I made.
Although I never curse (at least while I’m conscious), I don’t mind repeating what someone else says, if I am asked. As an example, if a person doesn’t understand what a movie actor said in a picture, I won’t hesitate to repeat the full statement made, profanity included. I figure that it was their communicated thought; it was their lack of ability to explain without profanity, not mine.
But it appears to me that this general profanity is increasing at a rapid rate. In the movies, on television, in songs, and in normal everyday chatter within our population, you hear people cussing. And the swearing is not in a whisper; it is usually at normal volume or shouted out. I remember in my youth, no cursing could be found on television or in songs; even in motion pictures, it was rarely used. Today this shameless trend is indicative of decreasing respect and a general lack of love for other human beings. I’m afraid that at a time we should be building bridges of brotherly and sisterly love, our society is being divided into hateful factions.
.I know that in the normal world, people cuss a lot. I accept that fact and understand the strange times we live in. Being a Christian minister, many times people will curse during a conversation, then immediately apologize to me. For me, that isn’t really necessary, but I figure it is a habit of which they are embarrassed, if done outside their group of friends or workmates. If indeed they are embarrassed, at least then I know they recognize it isn’t a word necessary to the conversation.
Why do we cuss? — How do we stop?
Generally, we revert to cussing or swearing at someone or something because we are angry, hurt, or frustrated. Our reply is usually returned with the same tone, or worse, than when the offense was received, but we do not have to retort in the same emotional state as we acquired it. As Christians we should modulate our replies, rather than shout more offensive verbiage.
I once had an aunt who would tell someone speaking foul language, “Please curb your tongue!” And she was right, for your tongue is you in a unique way, as it will tattletale on one’s heart to disclose the real person. Bible commentator, John MacArthur, wrote that the misuse of the tongue is the easiest way to sin. “In Scripture,” he said, “the tongue is variously described as wicked, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, complaining, cursing, contentious, sensual, and vile. And that list is not exhaustive. No wonder God put the tongue in a cage behind the teeth, walled in by the mouth!”6
So, the wise person will be very careful of what they say, as well as how it is said. Jesus himself said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37, NRSV).7 If it is necessary to reprove someone, we must be sure to do it in a Christian way.
As one example, let’s examine a statement Paul made in his letter to the Galatians. The apostle had previously visited the area and preached the Good News, but since then he heard of false teachers introducing wrong doctrine about redemption, thus destroying confidence in Paul’s teaching. His letter was to restore genuine truths about Christ and his message about salvation.8
Paul was polite and warm and inclusive, but got to the important point, just the same. He wrote: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” And redundantly he continued, “As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8-9).
Upon casual observation, what Paul is saying is straight forward, concerning the fact that there is no other Gospel, but that of Jesus Christ. But let’s pay particular attention to the word ‘accursed’. In Greek it is anathema and is translated from the Hebrew cherem meaning “a thing devoted to God.” In New Testament times, it acquired the more general meaning of “the disfavor of Jehovah.” So this word ‘accursed’ means ‘cursed’ by God.9
Here are a few examples of other Bible versions that translate this word ‘accursed’ a little more direct. The New Living Translation says, “let that person be cursed.” The New International Version says, “let them be under God’s curse!” The Complete Jewish Bible says, “let him be under a curse forever!” And, the New English Translation (in a more confrontational interpretation) says, “let him be condemned to hell!”
In our present modern day, someone using vulgar language in the above situation might say, “Don’t listen to those Goddamned people proclaiming a different Gospel,” or maybe, ‘They will all go to hell for doing that.” But the point is, even in frustration or anger, anyone can articulate the meaning of thoughts without being vulgar that way.
Of course it is easier to be polite in a letter than in person, but the idea is to make a reply after calming down and after giving thought to your answer. The Bible says a lot about how we should refrain from spouting off with our mouth, before putting our brain into gear.
The Letter of James (probably written by Jesus’ brother) is sometimes called the Proverbs of the New Testament.10 This author gives examples of Christian self-control, such as we should be much more ready to listen than to speak, and to be slow in getting angry.11 Here are my favorite quotations from him.
“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26).
“And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:6-8).
“From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:10).
James tells us that the world of evil finds its expression through the tongue — boastful pride, cutting bitterness, destructive anger — the tongue communicates them all.12 He may have been thinking about what his brother, our Lord Jesus, said, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45).
It is not my intention to make others feel uncomfortable by my beliefs or this story. Cussing is now the norm in society and therefore I am the odd person, not others. Most people don’t even know about my abstinence from swearing, much less care. It is only when my lack of cussing is pointed out to people, that they realize it.
Besides, I do speak and write about vulgar things or actions, but lead into such topics as many biblical characters and family-friendly comedians do. They use innuendo and analogy in much of what they say to illustrate what they mean. An advantage of doing so is that smaller children usually don’t comprehend the full thought inferred.
Please understand, I’m not against a good joke or describing the facts of life, I just personally wish not to use certain words that I think carry disgusting implications or imply rude thoughts or suggestions. Saying a word describing lovemaking is not appropriate (in my opinion) by attaching it to one’s mother and then using it to describe something or someone completely different. An author once said, “Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.”13 I don’t think vulgarity fits into any of these attributes.
A Christian comedian, Tim Hawkins, has a list of alternative cuss words that are “field tested and mother approved.” Some are a bit more poignant than others, but it is a pretty neat idea and would be useful while someone is practicing to stop cussing. I have been known to spout a few of them, once in a while. And let’s face it, if we shout “darn it” when we err, there is no mistake of what we mean — it is just a change in our habit. But we must always be aware that it is what is in our heart that controls what comes out of our mouth.
Author and poet, Jon Jorgenson, often speaks at church events discussing difficult and challenging social customs. He speaks about the modern world’s prevalent habit of swearing in his video titled “Is Cussing a Sin?” His YouTube video about this subject is listed below in References & Notes.14
Copyright © 2021, Dr. Ray Hermann
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References & Notes
- Stephens, Richard, “Swearing Is Actually a Sign of More Intelligence – Not Less – Say Scientists”, (Science Alert, 2 February 2017), https://www.sciencealert.com/swearing-is-a-sign-of-more-intelligence-not-less-say-scientists
- I.Q. (Intelligence Quotient): a type of standard score that indicates how far above, or how far below, his/her peer group an individual stands in mental ability.
“What is IQ”, (Mensa International, retrieved 8 December 2021), https://www.mensa.org/iq/what-iq
- Ingraham, Keri D., “Dumbing Down K-12 Education”, (The American Thinker, 9 September 2021), https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2021/09/dumbing_down_k12_education.html
- “Christian Gnostic Views on Hell”, (Philosophical Oracle, 26 August 2018), https://www.gnosticdoctrine.com/2018/08/hell-sheol-and-hades.html
- Quote by Joan of Arc, (year 1431): “Mais, fussent-ils [les anglais] cent mille Goddem [Goddamn] de plus qu’a present, ils n’auront pas ce royaume.”
de Barante, M., Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne: de la maison de Valois, 1364-1477, (Paris: Ladvocat, 1824).
- MacArthur, John F., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: James, (Chicago: Moody, 1998), p. 144.
- Unless otherwise stated, all scripture quotes are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, Division of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, 1989. Used with permission.
- MacDonald, William, in Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, (Ed.) Arthur Farstad, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), p. 1874.
- Vine, W. E., et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), vol.2, p. 141.
- The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway, (a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001), James: “Introduction”.
- Knowles, Andrew, The Bible Guide, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publising, 2001), p. 672.
- Swindoll, Charles R., James: Practical and Authentic Living, (Frisco, TX: Insight for Living, 1988), p. 104.
- Bennett, Roy T., The Light in the Heart, (USA [no city]: RBennett, 2016).
- “Is Cussing a Sin?” Artist/Speaker: Jon Jorgenson, (copyright not listed, retrieved on YouTube, uploaded 22 May 2017), used under ‘fair use’ copyright for teaching under Section 107 of Copyright Act of 1976 – Video: https://youtu.be/eaL-RWQddPY