From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The original meaning of the adjective profane (Latin profanum: "in front of", "outside the temple") referred to items not belonging to the church, e.g. "The fort is the oldest profane building in the town, but the local monastery is older, and is the oldest building," or "besides designing churches, he also designed many profane buildings". Over time this meaning changed to the current meaning.
Other words commonly used to describe profane language or its use include: curse, pejorative language, swearing, expletive, bad word, dirty word, cussing, strong language, irreverent language, obscene and/or indecent language, choice words, blasphemy language, foul language, and bad or adult language.
Tape-recorded conversations find that roughly 80–90 spoken words each day—0.5% to 0.7% of all words—are swear words with people varying from between 0% to 3.4%. In comparison, first person plural pronouns (we, us, our) make up 1% of spoken words.
Research looking at swearing in 1986, 1997, and 2006 in America found that the same top ten words were used of a set of over 70 different swear words. The most used swear words were fuck, shit, hell, damn, goddamn, bitch, boner, and sucks. These eight made up roughly 80% of all profanities. Two words, fuck and shit, accounted for one third to one half of them. The phrase "Oh my God" accounts for 24% of women's swearing.
Profanity as blasphemy
The original meaning of the term was restricted to blasphemy, sacrilege or saying God's name (or an identifier such as "Lord" or "God") in vain. Profanity represented secular indifference to religion or religious figures, while blasphemy was a more offensive attack on religion and religious figures, and considered sinful.
Profanities in the original meaning of blasphemous profanity are part of the ancient tradition of the comic cults, which laughed and scoffed at the deity or deities. An example from Gargantua and Pantagruel is "Christ, look ye, its Mere de ... merde ... shit, Mother of God."
Scientific research into swearing
Swearing and cursing are modes of speech existing in all human languages, and they perform certain functions that are the object of scientific research. Functionally similar behaviour can also be observed in chimpanzees. Interestingly, the Bible with its talk about men who "eat their own dung, and drink their own piss" is far from the oldest surviving text containing strong language, as even the oldest traces of human writing include swear words.
One study found that swearing is not merely a common reaction to pain – it actually functions as a pain reliever, leading one psychologist to state: "I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear".
However, overuse of swear words tends to diminish their beneficial effect. Linguistic research has also shown that the physiological reactions of individuals who are proud of their education are similar between exposure to obscene words and exposure to bad grammar. Swearing is a widespread but underappreciated anger management technique.
Research into swearing practices in the United States suggests that "men generally curse more than women, unless said women are in a sorority, and that university provosts swear more than librarians or the staff members of the university day care center".
The relative severity of various British profanities, as perceived by the public, was studied on behalf of the British Broadcasting Standards Commission, Independent Television Commission, BBC and Advertising Standards Authority; the results of this jointly commissioned research were published in December 2000 in a paper called "Delete Expletives". It listed the profanities in order of decreasing severity, the top ten being cunt, motherfucker, fuck, wanker, nigger, bastard, prick, bollocks, arsehole, and paki in that order. About 83% of respondents regarded cunt as "very severe"; 16% thought the same about shit and 5% (9% of people over 55) about crap. Only about 1% thought cunt was "not swearing"; 9% thought the same about shit and 32% of crap.
A similar survey was carried out in 2009 by New Zealand's Broadcasting Standards Authority. The results were published in March 2010, in a report called "What Not to Swear". According to the Authority the findings "measured how acceptable the public finds the use of swear words, blasphemies and other expletives in broadcasting". The top ten words or phrases, by the percentage of respondents that found them "totally unacceptable" or "fairly unacceptable", were cunt (74%), nigger (66%), mother fucker (66%), Jesus fucking Christ (65%), cocksucker (60%), get fucked (55%), fuck off (52%), fuck (51%), faggot (46%), and cock (46%). Of interest outside the top ten, 43% of respondents felt the same about slut; 37% about wanker; 22% about shit; 11% about bugger; and 4% about butt-pee.
International auxiliary languages
Distinct international auxiliary languages usually apply different strategies to coin or borrow profane words and expressions.
In Interlingua, the fundamental criterion for inclusion is widespread international use, and this can be as true of a profanity as any other word or phrase. Thus, expressions such as cunno (cunt), merda (shit), and pipi (pee-pee) may be used in Interlingua. Culo (ass or butt) and its derivative incular (to butt-fuck) are also Interlingua expressions. Futer (to fuck) is used much as in English, e.g., "Fute te!" ("Fuck you!") or "Mi automobile es futite!" ("My car is fucked up!").
Books and movies containing famous uses of profanity
- Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry
- Ulysses by James Joyce
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
- Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet
- Various books by Tom Clancy
- The Big Lebowski by The Coen Brothers
- Various books by François Rabelais
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut by Matt Stone and Trey Parker
- Fresh by Boaz Yakin
- Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and the film – "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", said in 1939, was among the first use of profanity in a major American film.
Religious views on profanity
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The LDS Church officially teaches that "Profanity is disrespect or contempt for sacred things. It includes casual or irreverent use of the name of any member of the Godhead. It also includes any type of unclean or vulgar speech or behavior."
- Spanish profanity
- Latin profanity
- List of ethnic slurs
- Minced oath
- Profanity in American Sign Language
- Profanity in Science Fiction
- Seven dirty words
- Swear filter
- Verbal abuse
- Edward Sagarin. The Anatomy of Dirty Words. 1962
- Bill Bryson. The Mother Tongue. 1990.
- Richard A Spears. Forbidden American English. 1990.
- Sterling Johnson. Watch Your F*cking Language. 2004.
- Geoffrey Hughes. Swearing. 2004.
- Ruth Wajnryb. Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language. 2005.
- Jesse Sheidlower. The F-Word. 2009. (3rd ed.)
- Latin profanity
- Sacred-profane dichotomy
- Sexually explicit material