My Stand on Swear Words
Updated: Jul 18
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A good portion of this blog post has been copied, adapted, and paraphrased from an extremely helpful article originally published on the following website: https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/102008088. No portion of this blog post should be considered original content. All rights are reserved by the original author.
"Nothing is often a good thing to do, and always a good thing to say." - Unknown
I grew up in a family with a zero-tolerance position against swearing. Strong language had no place in our house, and I adopted that belief as I grew up. Therefore, you can imagine my shock and surprise when I discovered that profanity was heavily used by my peers at university, work, and in public. For those who didn't grow up in the same environment, they may not realize how the use of swear words affects me. Therefore, as an independent adult, I have decided to detail seven specific reasons why I don't swear:
Reason #1: Swearing is habitual.
Habits in general aren't necessarily good or bad, but they show us what we do frequently. Once they become cemented in our daily routines, they become unconscious. Once a habit becomes unconscious, we have very little control over them. I do not want to be mastered by any unhealthy habits, because I do not want to lose control of myself.
Since the use of swear words is difficult to control once the habit has begun, I try to keep my mind clear of those words, even if that means avoiding certain movies, books, and other forms of media. Staying away from swear words indicates to others that I have strong self-control my emotions. By not swearing, I am effectively "counting to ten," giving myself time to calm down instead of lashing out in anger.
But why is swearing a bad habit?
Reason #2: Swearing is a symptom of deeper, underlying problems.
People swear for many different reasons: reasons that they may not even fully understand themselves. People may swear in order to express anger, to show frustration, to get attention, to appear tough, or to challenge authority. No one would agree that these motivations are good, so swearing indicates where some serious work needs to be done in a person's life. Even if a person uses bad language simply because others do it, copying their example reveals that you "follow after the crowd" and that you're not your own person (as described in Exodus 23:2).
But that's not all.
Reason #3: Swearing shows others the worst part of ourselves.
Although many people will dismiss profanity as "just words," the act of swearing is not just saying words. Luke 6:45 says "Your words show what is in your heart" (Contemporary English Version). From this passage, we can clearly see that what we say doesn't simply reflect the type of person we would like to be--it reflects the type of person we already are.
Language expert James V. O'Connor says: "People who swear often tend to be disagreeable, critical, cynical, angry, argumentative, and unhappy complainers." For example, those who curse whenever something goes wrong reflect the belief that everything must always go right. It's as if they just can't handle mistakes. On the other hand, O'Connor notes, those who don't swear "are often calm,...mature people who [can] deal with daily annoyances." Which type of person would you rather be?
Yet swearing doesn't just show what's already inside us; it can show what is to become of us.
Reason #4: Swearing often leads to more serious problems.
Like most people, we care about our appearance. We want to make a good impression. But how we speak often has a greater impact on others than how we look. The fact is, our speech can determine such things as whom we will attract as friends, whether we will be hired for a particular job or not, and the amount of respect we will receive. Often, the initial impression that people form of us based on our appearance quickly fades when we start talking. Says O'Connor: "You have no way of knowing how many opportunities to make a new friend you might have squelched, or how often you alienated someone or lost a degree of respect through your lackadaisical use of foul language." Yet swearing isn't just dangerous for our future prospects.
Swearing is also unhealthy for those around us. Many people already self-censor their language when around young children. Why, then, do we not censor ourselves around adults? Often, people who swear and then get in trouble for it make excuses for their habit. By blaming our peers, parents, teachers, culture, and entertainment for our bad habits, we are doing much harm to others. To begin with, we harm the reputations of those who are accused. In essence, we try to shift blame away from ourselves and onto others. Yet all of this lying harms us, as well. By making excuses for our swearing habit, we admit to having no self-control over our bodies. We show our immaturity, which quickly results in a lack of trust from others. All of this together leads to a loss of good reputation, and a good reputation is critical for keeping a job. Many companies strictly prohibit the use of swear words (unclean language) when at work. Swearing isn't worth losing our jobs, or ruining a customer's day. And being off-work or at home doesn't excuse us from these protocols; people are always listening.
But what if everyone around me doesn't care?
Reason #5: Swearing is lazy use of language.
Language is a remarkable gift, and should be treated with respect, not abuse. Practically everyone over-uses the same swear words, and just as the use of "um," "like," or "really" as filler words is discouraged, the use of swear words simply demonstrates a lazy use of language. All languages have a multitude of ways to express one's self, and words should be chose carefully, not blindly. When we speak, we do not want our choice of words to cause others to think we are lazy and uneducated. When we encounter a situation in which we feel strong emotion, we can always find a combination of complete sentences that effectively expresses our feelings in a non-confrontational way. If we cannot think of anything but swear words to say, then it is far better to say nothing at all.
In many ways, the use of swear words is a product of our pride. In modern western culture, people tend to think of themselves first and others later, putting their own comfort and satisfaction before anything else. This self-absorption is clearly demonstrated by those who can't stop talking about themselves, using swear words to seek attention and fill space. Yet the mark of a great person is someone who can't be bothered with trivialities, who rises above the mundane and transcends speaking just for the sake of hearing their own voice.
To quote Michael Bass's answer on Quora.com: "The Mandalorian [in the Disney+ streaming tv series] follows in the long tradition of mysterious, no-nonsense cowboys who don't speak unless they have something to say...Some cultures consider excessive talking to be unmanly, and the Mandalorian is just the natural extension of the idea, being someone who REALLY doesn't talk much. Look at his scenes with the blue alien.
The Mandalorian's helmet and laconic nature immediately make it clear that he's the one in charge. The manacles are just a formality at this point. Try to run, he'll take you in dead just as easily. It also adds an air of mystery to him. The Mandalorians don't take their helmets off. Not even among themselves. They are always dressed to do battle. They are always armed. They are always dangerous.
This stylistic choice, immediately makes the Mandalorians cool and mysterious. They're not just another culture. They're another culture that is VERY different from our own. One with its own code of honor, customs, and taboos. Our hero pulls a knife on one of his own kinsmen for touching his helmet. Why does he do this? Why is never taking off the helmet that important for them? You don't know. But you want to know. That's the audience connection."
Don't we all want to be "cool and mysterious"? Don't we all want people to take us seriously when we speak? The Mandalorian shows us how: not by swearing, but by staying silent and only speaking when necessary.
So why not swear only when it's really, really important?
Reason #6: Swearing is vulgar.
Many swear words (or their shortened versions) refer to gross substances, private body parts, or socially unacceptable practices. Although some people choose to swear with words like "Jellybeans" or "Scooby-Doo," the fact remains that they are using them as swear words, so they are still swearing. Since everyone knows what the speaker actually means (based upon the context, tone of voice, and lack of a complete sentence), those words are merely substitutes. Hearing swear words or their substitutes puts bad ideas into our minds, even if we try to ignore what is being said. No one really wants to think of animal excrement or sexual behaviors, so staying away from swear words lets our minds focus on more wholesome, healthy thoughts. Let us follow the wise words of Philippians 4:8, "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things" (New International Version).
Why would the Bible say such a thing?
Reason #7: Swearing shows disrespect for the Creator of speech.
Suppose you gave your friend a hand-made t-shirt as a gift. How would you feel if you saw your friend using that garment as a rag or a doormat? Now think of how our Creator feels, then, when we misuse the gift of speech. Little wonder that God's Word states: "Put away from yourselves every kind of malicious bitterness, anger, wrath, screaming, and abusive speech" (Ephesians 4:31, New World Translation).
Some swear words are sinful. Those swear words that misuse God's name or that of His Son, Jesus Christ, are forbidden by the Bible. The Ten Commandments specifically state that "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name" (Exodus 20:7, New International Version). When we use His name to refer to Him in a conversation, it is fine. When we use His name as an exclamation, it is often a sin. We should not need to defend God here in order to protect His name; He is certainly big enough to handle it when others misuse His name. However, we should certainly guard our tongues if we do not want to be those people on Judgement Day who has to explain why we misused His name during our short lives here on Earth.
As you can see, there's good reason to stop swearing. However, if it's become a deeply ingrained habit, how can you overcome it?
Action Item #1: Realize your need for change.
First, you must see your need to change. You likely won't stop swearing until you understand how you will benefit from altering your speech. Which of the seven reasons above would motivate you to stop swearing?
Action Item #2: Discover what's behind the swearing.
Second, you must figure out what's behind your swearing habit. Understanding why you swear is a key to determining how you will address the problem. For example, if you swear just because everyone else does it, you need to learn to build confidence in you own strengths. Taking proper pride in being your own person is a vital part of growing up--and a big help in eliminating the habit of swearing.
Action Item #3: Find alternate ways of expressing yourself.
Third, you must find alternate ways of expressing yourself. It's not just a matter of biting your tongue. Conquering the bad-language habit involves replacing it with good language--in essence, putting on "the new self" (Ephesians 4:22-24, New International Version). This will help you to gain greater self-control and self-respect--as well as respect for others and from others.
The following scriptures will help you to put on--and keep on--your new personality:
Verse: "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things" (Colossians 3:2, New International Version).
Application: Train your mind to value things that are good and upright. Your thoughts influence the way you speak.
Verse: "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." (Proverbs 13:20, New American Standard Version).
Application: The language used by your friends and associates can rub off on you and hurt your future prospects.
Verse: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD" (Psalm 19:14, New Living Translation).
Application: God is pleased when we use His gift of language wisely.
It is my hope that these eight reasons have successfully demonstrated why I choose to avoid profanity. Even though I might seem uncomfortable when someone swears, I don't expect anyone else to change their habits; after all, they probably don't even realize that they have such a bad habit. However, I can control my own words, and I can distance myself from people with unhealthy habits in order to keep myself pure. As a Christian, I have strong reason to avoid foul language, for the Bible says: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29, New International Version). My New Year's Resolution is to "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." (Colossians 4:6, New International Version).