Profanity is the Spice of Language

posted December 19, 2004 by Jer


Lately I've been thinking about cursing. I love to curse, and I have no objection when other people curse. However, as little as I care about the use of strong language, I always remember to tone it down when I'm in a public place around little kids. Being one to overanalyze everything, I had to think about why.

I have come to the conclusion that profanity is like spicy food for vocabulary. For instance, damn fuck crap ass cock pussy dog shit taco. When you read the previous sequence of words, it evoked a strong feeling. Now, depending on your personal preference you either enjoyed, barely noticed or were irritated by or even offended by that feeling. Regardless there was a reaction.

Many people enjoy spicy food while many others abhor it. The experience of tasting spice begins with a strong discomfort that is quickly replaced by endorphins. I believe the reaction to cursing is similar, if not chemically exact. At points in communication, we feel the need to add a particular edge to our concepts, and strong language provides us that edge. This is synonymous to a chef adding habaneros to his latest enchilada.

However, profanity and spice are not the only methods for adding an edge and just as a chef who relies only on the hottest of the hot peppers while forgoing the actual flavor of the meal is a terrible chef, a communicator who leans to heavily on profanity without including some interesting concepts will come across as less intelligent and often irritating.

Consider the movie The Usual Suspects. There is a great deal of cursing in this movie and pretty much every character has a mouth. However if you pay attention, the stronger a character is, the less he curses. [If you've never seen The Usual Suspects, go rent it before reading this paragraph, this point requires spoiling]. At the low end, we have the cops. They are the weakest and are portrayed so by spout uncreative curses such as Fucko and Cocksucker. Next up we have McManus, Fenster and Hockney. All three are strong, but weaker in comparison to Keaton and Verbal. These three curse a great deal, but more creatively then the cops, and their sharp vocabulary is accentuated by clever and creative quips. Keaton is very strong. He curses signifigantly less then the rest but the cleanest mouths in the movie are Verbal and Kobayoshi, who are clearly the strongest in the story.

So profanity serves a very important part of our language, but used uncreativly it makes you sound weak. I wish I had some witty way to wrap this rant up, but I don't. Leave me the fuck alone.