When my youngest son was about six years old, he said to me, “Dad, I need a word!” Puzzled, I asked, “What kind of word?” “Well,” he said, “something I can say when things go wrong on the playground or when I get mad.” Amused, I asked, “What do you have in mind?” To my surprise, he said with feeling, “I don’t care, as long as it sounds like…” then he finished his sentence with a vulgar expletive.
Now, he plainly knew he was not supposed to say that word, but he wanted something close to it to express his displeasure. It was a learning moment for him—and for me—as I explained that some words are simply not to be used, because they are offensive and not a proper use of speech.
Words and phrases that have their origins in antiquity expressing anger, sexual innuendo, racial slurs and curses that take God’s name in vain are very common. Adults, like my son, often seem to “need a word” to express their feelings in an emphatic way. And, knowing that profanity, cursing, etc. is wrong, they have adopted words and phrases that are softer and less harsh. They sound similar to the unacceptable words and have the same meanings to those who hear them. Such words and phrases, known as euphemisms, are very common and widespread as colloquialisms throughout society.
Many such expressions are a part of folklore and seem harmless. Yet expressions that have origins in swearing oaths, curses, and particularly in using the name of God in trivial or disrespectful ways are not harmless and should be rooted out of one’s vocabulary.
In the famous movie Gone With the Wind (1939), the dashing Rhett Butler vented his frustration toward the very difficult heroine by using a short phrase that has become famous—a phrase considered shocking at a time when such language was not found in respectable films.
Today, this seems very mild considering the “no holds barred” approach to films in which language of the vilest kind is used routinely. This same approach has crept into television and radio reporting and entertainment. What was first done for shock value is now accepted as normal dialog by much of society.
“Does it matter?” you may ask. After all, these are just words used to communicate feelings and ideas. This is a fair question. If we desire to please God in our conduct, it certainly does matter. The Apostle Paul, expressed it this way: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:3–4).
He also wrote, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:6). Notice, our goal should be gracious speech not peppered with profanity or watered down with substitutes for unacceptable words and phrases.
Since the Tower of Babel, (Genesis 11:4–8) where the languages of the various families or tribes were “confused” by God in response to their rebellious activities, there has existed a language barrier. That will change in the soon coming Kingdom of God when a “pure language” will be introduced, free of profanity, euphemisms, and all of the names and ideas of paganism. The little book of Zephaniah contains this exciting prophecy: “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord” (Zephaniah 3:9).
My young son never found a word he really liked. About as close as he came was “Aw shucks!” If you want to learn more about the Way of life that is concerned about pleasing God in this life while looking forward to His Kingdom, order our booklet, What Is a True Christian? free of charge.