The Controversial Case for Profanity


I  guess you could call me a recovering curser. Not one to appeal for a supernatural calamity type of evil curser. Rather the profane, get-your-mouth-washed-out-with-soap-by-your-mother when you were a kid kind. My late mom wouldn’t have approved when on July 13, 2012, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC policy permitting broadcasters to be fined for profanity on live TV finding the regulation unconstitutional. I’ll bet residents of Middleborough, Massachusetts, didn’t approve either. Early in June, they were so fed up with public profanity that they voted to impose a $20 fine on anyone ticketed for the offense. The violation appears to be limited to individuals swearing frequently and loudly. But it was protestors who made their voices heard loudly on June 26, 2012 by hosting a public protest against the pending statute. Reportedly, most of them weren’t even from the town of just over 22,000 residents which is located less than 40 miles from Boston.

For me, profanity is personal, because using colorful expletives became an entrenched habit early in life. Besides Mom’s Ivory soup, when I was only 19, the owner of the restaurant where I waited tables, reprimanded me for my foul mouth. Being an educated and successful businessman, I listened intently as he corrected me by saying, “Intelligent individuals know how to use their vocabulary to express their emotions without resorting to obscene words.”

But after finishing college while employed as a corporate representative for a large manufacturer, my supervisor seemed almost amused by my vulgarity. It was in the early eighties, and I was desperately trying to make it in what was then a man’s world. I used obscenity as a defensive weapon to balance my gender inequality, and to create an impression. Regrettably, I must have been creating the wrong impression, since I never moved up the corporate ladder. Let’s be honest are you awed by a female whose salty language could make the late comedian George Carlin blush?

Speaking of Carlin, I did walk out of one of his shows back then. He was doing his famous monologue where he lists one bad word after another, making people laugh hilariously. Yet for the first time in my life, I was enlightened to the fact that a lot of dirty words are simply references to female anatomy. Being a lifelong champion of women and being one myself, I couldn’t support degrading the very sex I had tried diligently to defend.

Yet it’s been decades since I let those four letter words fly freely. My endeavor to curb my wayward tongue started when I became a Christian believer almost 25 years ago. There were Scriptures that convinced me that spouting obscenities was probably not attractive as a Jesus follower. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3: 9 & 10 NIV

For those of you, who want to know how far you can go before it becomes sin, I think that Ephesians 4:29 in the New Living Translation is pretty clear, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” If that verse is not convincing enough, take a look at Colossians 3:8 NLV, “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language.” The term, “dirty language” is referred to in the Bible’s King James Version as “filthy communication.”

According to The Preacher’s Files [], “In the Greek language, the phrase, ‘filthy communication’ means foul speaking, low and obscene speech.” More than two decades ago, in respect to my newfound faith, it took a concentrated effort requiring vigilance and time to liberate me from my potty mouth. For months, I bit my lower lip constantly to avoid swearing, shocked by how frequently I cussed like a sailor.

Fully rehabilitated, and moonlighting as a prerelease speaker at North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, more than a decade ago, I was surprised when an educator negatively commented about my lack of expletives. Following my lecture, the public school principal said, “When ‘John Doe’ comes to speak, he uses the ‘F’ word, and the prisoners can relate.”

“I know the ‘F’ Word,” I said with sarcasm. “But I don’t use it, because I thought we were trying to teach the inmates to aspire to a better life.” Inwardly, I was disappointed that someone trained to instruct others, thought we should incorporate their bad habits into our delivery to communicate more effectively. Besides, everyone knew that “John Doe” was paid thousands for his speeches, while I barely made three figures.

Recently, I’ve noticed that even clergy sometimes seem to think it makes them appear more relevant if they throw in a few four letter words occasionally. Of course, I don’t think most folks in ministry would venture into the “F” bomb terrain, but apparently a British priest did. I read the account of a vicar in northern England who used the infamous word on his Facebook page. The Church Report shared the story on May 25, 2012, “Priest Apologizes for Unholy Language on Facebook.” Seriously, Father, what were you thinking?

As a transformed gutter-mouth girl, I’ve been on both sides of this argument. Only one expletive away from a relapse, I’m biting my bottom lip again, but this time it’s over the outcome of Middleborough’s ban. This new ordinance is under scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union as a possible violation of the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech. The ordinance also had to be filed with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office by July 11, 2012, and then there would be a possible 90 day review period to review the bylaw’s constitutionality.

Interestingly though, the ordinance actually decriminalizes public profanity which has been an illegal, but rarely enforced offense in Middleborough since 1968. The recent demise of the FCC policy probably sets a precedent that the First Amendment protects people’s right to cuss up a storm. But how about a little common courtesy in public? Maybe we could designate a “foul language only” section in community settings and eateries. Although if my former boss was still around, I’ll bet he might have a little chat with patrons about their deficient vocabulary, if he caught them swearing in his restaurant.

Christina Ryan Claypool is an award winning freelance journalist, inspirational speaker, and author of the book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors. Contact her through her Website at