Sunday, May 2, 2010

On Cussing (Part 3)

But what is a cuss word? I purport that cuss words do not exist in the universal sense. The only real (universal) cuss word is condemned in Exodus 20:7: "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” But what about these other words? Does the Bible tell us which ones to avoid?

Well, no. That would be an impossible task, since language morphs and changes over time, and since the Bible is translated into so many languages. Instead, it is culture that defines other things not explicitly stated in Scripture as wrong (sinful). For example, what we know as the ‘f-word’ is really an acronym found in the Old English law books designating fornication (carnal knowledge) as a crime (check the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary for a full etymology). This is its denotation. However, it is practically a universal acceptance that the use of the f-word to express anger or disappointment is crass in the utmost above and beyond the use of all other cuss words. The modern person, in using the Old English acronym is not implying a discussion concerning sexual immorality, but rather disappointment with a given situation. This is its connotation. Does that set the f-word free for use among many and all? I don’t think so. After all, there really is something crass about the word, especially when used so flippantly. Malcolm X is known to have said, “A man only curses because he lacks the intelligence to say what’s really on his mind.”

An example of an entirely different, culturally mandated norm will help clarify this discussion. It is the African dowry system. While a man or his family issuing payment for his wife seems repulsive to westerners, the description of it as stated here would seem equally as misrepresented to an African—the dowry is not a payment as much as it is a token of love and appreciation for the in-law family. The dowry is also found in the Old Testament in the descriptive sense, but is not prescriptive. So, culture does sometimes define what is right and wrong in areas where, except in special cases, God’s immutable moral character does not impose itself on the standard of living as mandated for all mankind (worship of idols, murder, lying, etc. ).

The temptation among Christians is to hold those who use the vernacular in scrutiny and derision; their spirituality is in question because of the words coming out of their mouths. But since there is only one actual curse word (using God’s name in vain), judgment should be withheld. Honestly, sometimes only a bad word (one of the many in the full spectrum of bad to worst) can really capture the essence of a given situation, like when you go cherry picking with your dad, and after filling an entire brimming-over-the-rim bucket, carefully bringing it to the farmer’s shanty, and having it weighed and paid for, you set it down and turn to grab another bucket, and in the process kick over the entire pale of ready-to-go cherries. “I think now would be a legitimate time to say (sill in the blank),” you say—but you say it with a smile. After all, it’s only a bucket of cherries. And it’s good for a laugh.

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