Profanity Essay Essay, Research Paper

“Money doesn?t talk, it swears.” Many of

the most brilliant minds throughout time have used profanity. Shakespeare?s

best works were revised and edited in order to remove the numerous curse

words or obscene phrases he included. The harmless use of profanity in

an informal setting should not be penalized, by the assignment of an essay.

Profanity continuously to evolves, and has a very rich and interesting

history. The system of assigning essays for the use of profanity is ineffective

and counter productive. “When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.”

The evolution of profanity began in the

sixteenth century, and it evolves with each generation. Profanity is recognized

in many Shakespearean works, and has evolved into the profane language

used today. Some cuss or curse words have somehow maintained their original

meanings throughout hundreds of years, while many others have completely

changed meaning or simply fallen from popular vocabulary.

William Shakespeare, though it is not widely

taught, used a rather vulgar and dirty vocabulary in his writings. His

works included subjects that some people wish they had not. “That includes

a fair helping of sex, violence, crime, horror, politics, religion, anti-authoritarianism,

anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, sexism, jealousy, profanity, satire,

and controversy of all kinds” (Macrone 6). In Shakespeare?s time, religious

and moral curses were more offensive than biological curses.

Most original, prior to being censored,

Shakespearean works contain offensive profanity, mostly religious, which

is probably one of many reasons that his works were and continue to be

so popular. “Shakespeare pushed a lot of buttons in his day- which is one

reason he was so phenomenally popular. Despite what they tell you, people

like having their buttons pushed” (Macrone 6). His works contained many

profane words or phrases and as a result, were censored to protect the

innocent minds of the teenagers who are now required to read them, and

also because they were blasphemous and offensive. Almost all of the profanity

was removed, and that that was not had just reason for being there. Some

of the Bard’s censored oaths are;

“God’s blessing on your beard”

Love’s Labors Lost, II.i.203

This was a very rude curse because a man’s

facial hair was a point of pride for him. And “to play with someone’s beard”

was to insult him.

“God’s body”

1 Henry IV, II.i.26

Swearing by Christ’s body (or any part

thereof,) was off limits in civil discourse.

“God’s Bod(y)kins, man”

Hamlet, II.ii.529

The word bod(y)kin means “little body”

or “dear body,” but adding the cute little suffix does not make this curse

any more acceptable.

“By God’s [blest] mother!”

2 Henry VI, II.i;

3 Henry VI, III.ii;

Henry VIII, V.i

Swearing by the virgin was almost as rude

as swearing by her son, especially when addressing a catholic cathedral

as Gloucester did in 2 Henry VI, II.i

Perhaps the two worst of these Shakespearean

swears were “‘zounds” and “’sblood.” “‘Zounds” had twenty-three occurrences.

Ten of them were in 1 Henry IV. The rest appear in Titus (once), Richard

III (four times), Romeo and Juliet (twice), and Othello (six times). Lago

and Falstaff were the worst offenders. ‘Zounds has evolved into somewhat

of a silly and meaningless word, but was originally horribly offensive.

This oath, short for “God’s wounds,” was extremely offensive because references

to the wounds or blood of Christ were thought especially outrageous, as

they touched directly on the crucifixion. “‘Sblood” had twelve occurrences

in all. There were eight times in 1 Henry IV (with Falstaff accounting

for six), plus once in Henry V, twice in Hamlet, and once in Othello. ‘Sblood

occurs less than ‘zounds, but is equally offensive and means basically

the same thing.

Several other words came from Great Britain,

but were not included in Shakespeare’s works. Today the expression “Gadzooks!”

is not particularly offensive to most. Of course, most don’t know what

it originally meant. Gadzooks was originally slang for “God’s hooks,” and

was equally offensive to ‘zounds and ’sblood as it also referred to the

crucifixion. An interesting note is that there is an American store called

Gadzooks, which is a pop-culture vendor to America’s youth. Some of Gadzooks’

shoppers would be very offended if they knew the true meaning of the store’s

name. Another word from this region is a Cockney expression, “Gorblimey,”

which is a word used to swear to the truth, and is a shortened form of

“God blind me.” Also, in England, words such as “bloody,” “blimey,” “blinkin’,”

beginning with the letters “BL” are taken offense to because they, once

again, refer to the blood of Christ and the crucifixion.

The military has an interesting technique

for swearing without offending anyone. They use the phonetic alphabet (A=

Alpha, B= Bravo, C= Charlie, etc.) as a code for their swearing. For instance,

instead of saying “bull shit,” they would say “bravo charlie.” Or instead

of the horribly offensive blasphemous cuss word, they could say, “golf


Most people are familiar with the swear

words that are still used. These “four-letter words” aren’t necessarily

four letters long, but more or less, they get the same point across as

their four lettered friends. Such words usually include crap, ass, shit,

bitch, and fuck. There are many variations on the usage and placement of

these words, but they still pack a punch.

The word “crap” dates back as early as

1846, and is usually used as a euphemism for shit, yet many people find

it equally offensive. As most cuss words do, crap has several different

variations, such as, “eat crap,” “crap-ass,” and “crapola.” The meaning

has not evolved since its first publication, where it was defined simply

as excrement.

The word “ass” had its first publication

as a swear word (as opposed to a donkey) in the Oxford English Dictionary

in 1556. “Whyyped…at the cartt es arse…for vacabondes.” This is not

the definition commonly used today, but is still a vulgar way of using

the word. It was defined as the back of an object, whereas the more widely

used definition is “of the rump, the buttocks, rectum, and anus” (Lighter

37). The more common definition was first recorded in “Covent Garden Drollery.”

The word actually started out as Ïrs, then evolved into arse (which

is the German translation also), and finally evolved into ass.

“Shit” is, when used as an interjection,

“An expression of strong disgust or disappointment,” but is, when used

as a noun, “Anything inferior, ugly, cheap, or disgusting” (Flexner 467).

Shit can be placed with just about any word resulting in a obscene expression.

Some examples are, “shit head,” “shitting bricks,” and the colorful phrase,

“shit or get off of the pot.”

Bitch was first used in 1400 in F and H,

and has, quite amazingly, maintained its original meaning for over five

hundred years. It’s definition in F and H was “a malicious, spiteful, promiscuous,

or otherwise despicable woman” (Lighter 169). It is also used today to

describe “a sexually promiscuous young woman, a male homosexual who plays

the female role in copulation, an ill tempered homosexual male, an infuriatingly

large object, or something especially disagreeable” (Lighter 169-70), among

various others. There are many other forms of the word, such as “bitch

kitty,” or “bitch session”.

“Fuck” is probably the most offensive curse

word. The earliest use of it is in “Verbatim” in 1500, which says, “Non

sunt in celi/quia fuccant uuiuys of heli.” The meaning, unlike the language,

has remained the same, however. It still means, “to copulate” (Lighter

831). Some popular variations of it are “fuck a duck,” “fucked by the fickle

finger of fate,” (Reinhold 79) “fucked up and far from home,” and “fucking


The word “damn” itself is not offensive,

but is rather used as an intensifier of other words or phrases. When placed

with God, however, it becomes a horrible, blasphemous word, which is, to

many, more offensive than fuck. This type of thinking goes back to the

sixteenth century when religious curses were far worse than biological.

G.D. goes back to 1697, when D. Defoe, in G. Hughes Swearing 209 said,

“G.D. ye, does not sit well upon a female tongue” (Lighter 914).

Swear words can be used in pairs such as

“fucking bitch” to intensify and make the swearing humorous. They can also

be used as compliments. Words like “bitchen” have been used since 1957

when Gidget said, “It was a bitchen day too. The sun was out…in Southern

California” (Lighter 171). Profanity has evolved from the religious curses

of Old England and the biological curses of today not only in meaning,

but also in intensity. Besides G.D., the only curses that are offensive

today are the biological curses that make sentences, movies, and just about

anything more graphic or offensive than had the word been left out.

It is improper and incorrect to believe

that by banning profanity students will not make use of curse words. They

will simply speak softly or when the teacher is out of earshot. By punishing

the occasional use of swear words, a teacher actually inadvertently promotes

their use and doesn?t even come close to solving the problem. As a student

with 5 years of experience with high school courses and 8 years at an elementary

level, I believe I qualify as an expert in regards to understanding the

student psyche. It is only in this, my last year of high school that I

have encountered a “Swearing Essay”; I believe that this is ridiculous.

By enforcing this system it only serves to encourage the use of curse or

cuss words. Furthermore, through the research for this essay I have actually

learnt many new curse words.

The use of profanity has never been a problem

with any of the students in any of the courses I have ever taken. If a

student used profanity frequently and inappropriately, the teacher would

speak to that student separately so as to not centre them out or humiliate

them in front of their peers. The occasional swear is acceptable as long

as it is not directed at any individual or group and is not intentionally

offensive. This “Swear Essay” system is very counter productive. When a

student in class swears other students and eventually the teacher reprimands

them. This process takes valuable time, and with several offenders each

period this amounts to a considerable amount of time.

A far more productive approach would be

to speak to the student and ask them to generate a list of alternative

words to be used instead of profanity. By forcing a student to justify

a pre-determined point of view, they fail to learn anything. They merely

regurgitate what has been told to them in class and don?t actually have

to do any real research or work. According to Bloom?s Taxonomy of Learning,

an assignment such as a “swearing essay” would qualify only as knowledge

or comprehension. Both of the categories are tests for lower levels of

knowledge. At the senior level in an advanced class, assignments should

be designed to test higher level thinking skills. A far better assignment

would be to ask students to defend and justify their use of profanity.

This assignment would fall into the highest level of knowledge, evaluation.

The only actual lesson that students learn from a “swearing essay” is to

speak more softly.

Profanity has a varied history and some

of the best minds are known to have employed cuss words frequently. The

“Swearing Essay” is counter-productive and the methodology is flawed. As

intelligent human beings, we all know what is right and what is wrong.

When a swear is not meant as a put down or intentionally offensive, in

a classroom setting it does not merit an essay. This is entire process

and system serves to further discourage the teacher student relationship,

and is waste not only of the offenders time but also of the teacher?s themselves.

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