The Plague of Profanity
Are you as sick of hearing it as I am? We are exposed to it at the supermarket, over the back fence, and at ball games. It fills our novels, movies, and is profuse on television. What is this mysterious influence? Profanity!
We hear it—not just from sailors (“cuss like a sailor”), or from the French (“pardon my ‘French’”)—but from all strata of society. It used to be the case that a gentleman would never use profanity in the presence of a woman—and deep down he knew he shouldn’t use it anywhere. Now, women can swear with the best (or worst) of ’em. Small children, who have not learned to discuss much of anything yet—on an intellectual basis—can spew forth a blue streak. It almost seems as if some of their first words are of the four-letter variety.
It was a matter of recent news interest when a young genius—ten-year-old Greg Smith who has just entered college—talked about his TV-viewing habits in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes. “I have a rule,” he said, “that after three bad words, after three curse words, it turns off.” Many probably assessed him as some sort of little religious nut.
Following that rule will jettison a lot of TV. A recent study by the Parents Television Council found the use of profanity during the so-called “family hour” (8:00 to 9:00 Eastern time) is up fifty-eight percent from two years ago. And the nature of the language (e.g., sexual explicitness) is getting qualitatively worse.
The Bible is not silent on the proper use of human language. Paul wrote: “Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
The term rendered “corrupt” is the Greek sapros, akin to sepo (“to rot”). It denotes that which provides no good service. Our words in the presence of others ought to be such as build men up, rather than debasing them (cf. Job 4:4).
Again, the inspired apostle wrote: “[B]ut now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful [‘filthy’ KJV] speaking out of your mouth” (Colossians 3:8). The term signifies that which is base, characterized by shame. As a result of their studies of the Greek papyri, Moulton and Milligan suggested that the word generally denotes “foul or filthy” language (1963, 14).
In connection with Colossians 3:8, the noted Scottish scholar, William Barclay wrote: “There can never have been a time in history when so much filthy language is used as it is today. And the tragedy is that today there are many people who have become so habituated to unclean talk that they are unaware that they are using it” (1957, 184). Take note of the fact that these comments were written forty-two years ago. If such was the case then, what is it now?
Profanity is such an invasive influence; it’s a mind-maggot. It gnaws its way into the recesses of one’s thinking, and, if harbored, will make its presence spontaneously felt at the slightest provocation. This is what happens when we allow ourselves to be unnecessarily and regularly exposed to its vileness. We may soon begin to “cuss” mentally even if we don’t verbalize profanity outright.
“But we can’t cut ourselves off from the whole of society,” someone complains. That is right, of course. But we can attempt to minimize our exposure.
- Barclay, William. 1957. Colossians. The Daily Bible Study. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster.
- Moulton, James and George Milligan. 1963. Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton.