The Profundity Of Profanity

Listen to our society, and you will hear a lot of the same messages, many are saying what to buy, or what to do, and some of them are expressing feelings. By looking at a macro level we can identify patterns in our society. One such pattern, that has been recognized is a basic desensitization to images and concepts that have traditionally been considered graphic, controversial, or profane, to include language. It could be argued that the device of profanity is used to shock out emotions and at times entertain us and is always pushing forward because in order to stand out. However, if we look at the root of profanity, we might find that this desensitization could come as a result of inadequate coping mechanisms within our culture causing the frequency and intensity of these outbursts to increase just to feel “free”. With this perspective, we can identify the amount of and intensity of profanity within our society as a indicator and out cry as to needed changes within our community.

Profanity, as we know it today, and is applied to language, the use of vulgar, harsh, or abrasive language or words. This definition suggests that you can not be profane without using words that have been associated as particularly strong. If you want to tell someone they have severely upset you and you say “You’re behavior is really beginning to upset me!” , it might not communicate the intensity of your feelings. But, if you say “You’re really pissing me off right now!”, it is far more clear.  Profane language is harsh and abrasive because it penetrates social policy, for this reason it is more crude but also more accessible.

Now let’s look at the profound, defined by a depth of feeling or insight. When we think of something being profound, we may quickly visualize a great speaker at a podium or a compelling essay, verbose, and with rich language. We recognize profundity as penetrating, and it resonates as true when we observe it. But, there are no profound words themselves, there are ordinary words used in a profound way. To communicate in a profound way is to clearly communicate a profound notion, so the depth of these words are by-in-large contextual.

We see profanity, encroaching on mainstream media slowly. 10 years ago, you would not hear the word “bitch” on television, but now you do. Is this in response to the media’s demand to be more titillating to keep out attention? It might be that media is reflecting  our social desire to be more expressive. As we become a more self-aware society the old rules of behavior seem to serve us less. The traditional frame works of etiquette seem more stifling than supportive. We crave more depth and meaning that is not censored for sake of decorum. It is not that we are less sensitive to profane language but that we are more sensitive to ourselves.

Our desire to express is growing, in opposition to rigid rules of language but of our society at large. The search for the profound is lead by the profane in some ways. Just as expletives cut through communication barriers, those using them in public forum cut through social ones. It is the essence of free speech.

If we define proper use of language as selecting the best words and rhetorical devices to communicate thought there are, at times, no more appropriate words to use than those deemed profane. They color our language with variety and depth in such a way that we can translate the essence of our ideas in much shorter phrases than we could otherwise. The future of language is in the acceptance of all words as we do ordinary language recognizing that the power they have is derived from the power of the speaker and the ideas they wish to communicate.


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