The Weaponization of Language - excerpt from FOOL

Mar 14, 2023 10:16 AM

Is there anything our culture regards as profane anymore?

See this excerpt from Chapter 10, “Beware the Fool."

The Amplified Bible follows the King James here, and [translates Proverbs 13:16] as follows:

Wisdom rests [silently] in the mind and heart of him who has understanding,

but that which is in the inward part of fools is made known.

Here is the point: this proverb shows us the difference of demeanor between the wise person and the self-confident fool and explains the reason for that difference. There is a clear contrast between the quiet confidence of the wise and the exhibitionistic bravado of the fool.

…. According to Proverbs 13:16 the prudent one—the person of insight—deals with knowledge. He acts with forethought based on the best information he can get about the situation. Again, there is a quiet confidence at work here. He has nothing to prove to anyone; he just takes care of business. The self-confident fool, in contrast, lays open or displays the full-fledged folly to which he aspires. This is much more emphatic than saying that he shows himself to be a fool whenever he acts. He deliberately exposes and flaunts rebellion. This includes his use of profanity and obscene language.

One of the moral barometers of any culture will be found in its sense of propriety regarding language. Specifically, an observer can discover what a society regards as holy by listening to what it regards as profane. The purpose of profanity is to shock and offend, and its power is measured by its offensiveness to hearers.

When I was a lad growing up in the Oklahoma "Bible belt," the words “hell” and “damn,” used outside of their scriptural and religious context, were mildly shocking profanities that were not used by decent people, and certainly not in mixed company or in public discourse. To tell someone to “go to hell” was an insult over which boys would fight and business partners would part company. To curse in the name of God over a matter of personal displeasure was still regarded by most—at least publicly—as an act of blasphemy, because God was still the locus of things holy, and religious faith was still sacred.

Not only so, but simple personal dignity, self-respect, and respect for others forbade most people from public use of “four-letter” language. The commander of the American airborne division trapped in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, General Anthony McAuliffe, must have been powerfully tempted to give an obscene reply to the German general who called for his surrender. His historic one-word reply did register his strong rejection of the demand but could also be printed unexpurgated in headlines and grade school textbooks. He said, “Nuts.” The extravagantly profane General George Patton is reported to have commended the remark as “eloquent.”

Today, some decades removed from those times, the use of religious profanity is not even regarded as rude. The name of God is regularly used in vain in television situation comedies during “family hour” viewing and on the sports pages of newspapers as a compound curse word that is not even capitalized. Obscenities once thought most abusive now punctuate the conversations of school children—not the “bad boys” at the back of the playground, but the “regular” kids in the lunchroom and classroom. Is there anything that our culture regards as profane? It would have to be the crudest possible designations for bodily waste and sexual perversion. If this is so, what does it say about what our society believes to be holy?

The self-confident fool “talks trash” because filthy, insulting, abusive speech is part of his act. It is how he makes his point, how he gets things done. It may be in business negotiations, it may be in the city commissioner’s court, or it may be in a family discussion. For him, words are deeds.

Copyright © 2015 by Garry D. Nation.  All rights reserved.

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