Thinking Out Loud


I’ve been asked to write a piece on cursing and find it difficult. Cursing occurs for many reasons, and certain words can be used in different contexts and so have different meanings or impact.

Cursing is often used as humor to lighten a difficult situation . . . and is often used for insult. Cursing is seen as hip by some . . . and as “low class” by others—in both cases, depending on the circumstances.

In a particular family, specific curse words can have their own connotations and be part of the culture of that clan. In other families, one simply doesn’t curse because “it’s not what we do.”

There are categories of curse words, too. Some with a low impact are used on news programs and in “polite society.” These are the words that your grandmother wouldn’t flinch at—although there are grandmothers who curse a blue streak. Moving up the impact scale, other more edgy words are considered acceptable among friends; though you might not use them with people you don’t really know very well. Finally, the heavy duty curse words are used by the most brash, often with force—gusto or anger or bravado. These are the words most people wouldn’t say except in more extreme circumstances, yet some do use them in everyday speech in most any circumstance.

It’s hard to take a moral stand against cursing because it borders on censorship, and in some way or manner likely most of us do curse. Yet truly overt cursing is offensive and inappropriate in certain circumstances where it clearly demonstrates a lack of respect. But what are these situations? Some are obvious but many simply are not and often there is a fine line.

What all this boils down to is the importance of keeping aware of the impact of your words on others, especially if you expect to have meaningful communication. To speak without mindfulness is irresponsible and disrespectful. We must care how others are affected by us even when we still choose to act in whatever way we deem fit. But if I am offended by your choice of words and therefore find it hard to listen to you, then we are not likely to understand one another. This may not matter to you as much as what you feel is your right to speak in whatever manner suits you. Your choice.

Both your right to freely express yourself and the words you use do matter. In the development of a relationship, being understood is necessary, and self-expression at the expense of the relationship is probably not worth it most of the time. For the most part, curse words themselves are not what transmits meaning; it’s the emotion behind the words and that you choose to use them. And that can be a powerful message. Though self-expression can feel personally satisfying, my hunch is that it doesn’t have a very long shelf life.


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