Should We Use !@#$ Curse Words More?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

These days, we're hearing profanity from the mouth of an 11-year-old girl in a box office hit and from the Vice President of the United States. Is cursing becoming more acceptable?

We talk to John McWhorter, a linguist and author of the book, "Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English," and Timothy Jay, psychology professor and author of "Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech." We take a look at exactly that: why we curse, and whether it would be less offensive if we all cussed more.

We started this conversation here online and this is what listeners have to say:

Tonya, from Staten Island, writes on our website:

"In scripture, the Bible, God forbits it.  It is considered to be empowering, but I believe it takes away from empowerment because of its commonness.  Originality and individuality is so much more unique.  Charm and eloquence would be so much more engaging and empowering.  Talking used to be a gift and a skill.  What happened?  I encourage those around me to not use it.  It's much more engaging to be original in our speech.  More thoughtful.  We should want to hear each other more, not less.  But, for thsoe who choose it, it is their free will."

What do you think? Do we swear too much these days?  Do you swear?  If so, when and where? Is there a time or place when you specifically don't swear? Is it time to clean up our foul mouths?


Timothy Jay and John H. McWhorter

Produced by:

Jen Poyant

Comments [10]


You really make it seem so easy along with your
presentation but I to find this matter to be actually something that
I feel I'd by no means understand. It sort of feels too complicated and extremely wide for me. I am looking forward to your next publish, I'll
try to get the grasp of it!

Mar. 07 2013 02:55 AM
Robert Lobsinger from Newkirk, Oklahoma

Maybe you would enjoy...

Apr. 21 2010 09:06 AM
Pavel Gurvich from norwalk, ct

It is interesting that some people try to bring Bible into this argument. They probalby mean third commandment that forbids to use God's name in vain.

However to the best of my knowledge Bible is using four letter word in it.
In Genesis XX!.9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.
The verb translated into "making sport" is Hebrew Le Tsahek (Metsahek as a participle). The same verb in the Genesis XXXIX.17 is translated in the speach of Potiphar's wife that she gave to servants of the house after Joseph refused to lie with her accusing him of rape attempt sounds like this: "The Hebrew servant, whom thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock (LeTsahek) me".

When I discuss this with some of my friends one of them gave me the answer:
"They probably did not see at the time anything bad in it. It is the religions in their interpretation of the Bible made sex a forbiden topic to mention."

I do not advocate swear neither I embrace it. I think we need to accept that some of us use it and not to be hypocritical about it.

Apr. 20 2010 08:47 PM

Jane, I'm (sincerely) curious as to why you mention that he's an elderly black man? This isn't a rhetorical question, believe me. Would you have felt it was less offensive if he were an elderly man of another color?

Apr. 20 2010 10:05 AM
Nancy Whitecar from Northville, MIchigan

As a teenager, I heard a lot of old fashioned cursing in my own home as my father described his day. I heard a lot of vulgarities at school. As a young adult (college age and just beyond), I somehow found myself using those vulgarities. Now I don't and I'm often bored with people who do. I hear folks use certain words as nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs...every part of speech. Get some vocabulary, for cryin' out loud! Occasionally, a short snappy word will fall from my own lips, but in general, I love finding more colorful and interesting words to get my point across. Have curse words lost their power? They still have the power to make people seem quite dull.

Apr. 20 2010 10:01 AM

I find it ironic that this story follows Celeste calling Charles Evers, "Charles." If you want to talk about civility, then we should be much more concerned that a national reporter refers to an elderly man (and yes, an elderly black man) by his first name. That, to me is shocking and totally unacceptable.

Apr. 20 2010 09:59 AM

It's efficient, period. If I drop a rock on my toe, I could spend ten minute soliloquizing on how angry and in pain I am using flowery and creative big words in iambic pentameter, and yes, those around me would get the idea. Or I could shriek one well-chosen swear word and get the point across far better and more quickly, not to mention engage in a bit of catharsis that all of the well-place rhetoric in the world may not be able to achieve as adroitly. Seems to me that using language in an appropriately efficient manner isn't the sign of low intelligence some would like to put it across as.

Anything in language can be overdone, whether it's swearing, using big words, or correcting others' grammar. Why is no one up in arms about those other things?

Apr. 20 2010 09:12 AM
Molly, RN from New York

As a pediatric nurse in the city, I hear parents using curses in directing their children on a daily basis. Aside from the obvious problem of modeling uncontrolled temper & inappropriate volume, & the failure to demonstrate public versus private behavior, this develops directly into teenagers who cannot/do not control themselves, which is tied to failure to finish high school, keep a job, and mediate conflict. I hope that social pressure can curb this trend, but frankly, I don't see it happening.

Apr. 20 2010 08:02 AM
Rabbi Scott Bolton from New Jersey

We tell our students that the more they curse the less intelligent they sound. Plus, it's verbal excuse-making for a limited vocabulary and a lack of thoughtfulness. Placed for emphasis, in the proper context, why not let curse words be shockers? But, if the salt and pepper of our conversations or story-telling become expletives, we are going backwards. We might as well grunt and growl. More eloquence is likely to bring out more of the caring, creative humanity in all of us.

Apr. 19 2010 09:40 PM
Tonya from Staten Island

In scripture, the Bible, God forbids it. It is considered to be empowering, but I believe it takes away from empowerment because of its commoness.Originality and individuality is so much more unique.Charm and eloquence would be so much more engaging and empowering. Talking used to be a gift and a skill. What happened? I encourage those around me to not use it. It's much more engaging to be original in our speech. More thoughful. We should want to hear each other more not less. But, for those who choose it, it is their free will.....

Apr. 19 2010 11:30 AM

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