“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” -Ludwig Wittgenstein

Foxtrot. Uniform. Charlie. Kilo.

This post is going to talk about curse words. If you’re uncomfortable with such language, I’d ask you to stay anyway.


A lot of people have rather strong opinions about cursing, always have too:

The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.
George Washington

I don’t want children cursing. I’m very strict on my nieces and my little brother. They have to listen to clean versions of music. Even my music.
Nicki Minaj

Never use a big word when a little filthy one will do.
-Johnny Carson

I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.
-Mel Brooks

If you can’t say ‘Fuck’ you can’t say, ‘Fuck the government.’
-Lenny Bruce

Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.
-Spencer W. Kimball


Clearly, there are some widely varying opinions about the use of ‘four-letter words’. Let’s start at the beginning. Why do we call them ‘curse words’? According to Dictionary.com, profanity was originally seen as any speech that disparaged the Christian God. Early on, speaking against God was seen as wishing harm on others or belittling faith, basically cursing them. Voila! Saying words that might piss off a deity is sure to bring harm. (Oh the implications.)


Three events set me thinking about swearing and the taboo against it.

The first was when the word (remember to breathe) cunt came up in a conversation with Irish. I don’t remember how we got there, but there we were. He was surprised to learn that the word didn’t automatically offend me. A lot of people consider it the most offensive word, especially in feminist circles. I don’t have a problem with cussing in general though I think Irish uses it a little too often sometimes. In the end, I don’t care. Thinking about it, I couldn’t recall a time when he had said the c-word. I never really understood the specific hatred of the word myself. As far as cuss words go, I think it has a very satisfying mouth-feel. A lot of people find it particularly dehumanizing and derogatory towards women, cutting them down to only their sexual bits. I can’t think of anyone that is equally offended by ‘dick’ though. As with everything, I feel context matters.

The second was a trip to a wonderfully delicious taco joint much beloved in certain parts of Texas, Torchy’s Tacos. Their food is delicious, though not all that spicy to my tongue. Anywho, their slogan is ‘Damn good.’ This came up as my friends and I pondered where we should go to lunch with our little ones. Several of the kiddos are at the age where they are learning letter sounds and reading. One fellow mom joked about whether or not to be honest about the word that loomed above the seating area at the location nearest to us. In hot bright bulbs, it proudly speaks to the quality of their food. Sure enough, we chose Torchy’s and my daughter was soon asking me to confirm that the lights spelled “damn good”. Yes, my child, they do.

We allow Boots to curse. With Irish’s mouth (and mine too) she knows several words and understands the context in which to use them. I don’t think that is a bad thing. I don’t feel that we have somehow failed as parents by allowing her to use her words honestly. Not that it has been an issue yet, but I’m sure the time will come when we need to teach her that derogatory language is not the same as simple swearing.

The third was a stroll through old vlogbrothers videos where I happened upon this gem from Hank Green:

To me, the two most interesting things that Hank brought up in the video were the scientific bits:
1. Swearing happens more in the emotional part of the brain rather than the language areas.
2. Letting loose profanities actually helps us deal with physical pain.

A lot of defenders of lingual obscenities argue that cussing is no different than choosing another word. That doesn’t seem to be the case though. Profane language really does have more power over us than other words and not necessarily in a bad way. To me, the societal ban on swear words speaks to a lot more than coerced politeness. If spoken obscenities are literally giving our emotions an outlet, what does it say about us that we stifle those impulses? We have a hard time expressing and accepting our emotions, we even go so far as to stigmatize individuals that see a therapist. Is censoring language that gives voice to our suffering, both emotional and physical, just another example of rejecting mental health?

Words have power, pen is mightier than sword and all that. That isn’t a bad thing, especially words that allow us to articulate that which is so often restrained. Ironically, banning profane language has probably only given it more might. As Dumbledore said, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” It is clear to me that we are afraid of the truth and depth of our feelings and shutting our mouths when impulse strikes is adding to our anxiety.

I don’t know how Ludwig Wittgenstein felt about cursing but I don’t plan on limiting my language or my world. My vocabulary regularly feels inadequate and I crave its expansion. I refuse to inhibit even one ‘obscene’ word.


The first four words of this post were not chosen at random. They come from a song filled with innuendo and a lovely example of using lyrical creativity.
I also thought I’d share some of my favorite replacements for curse words:
Holy TARDIS of Gallifrey!
Oh my Dumbledore!
Bloody Hell! (Not so polite across the pond!)
Frick! (Or: Frack!)
Oi. (
Or: Oi vey.)

ETA: I literally just saw today’s Daily Prompt. I guess this is close enough in the sense that I wouldn’t ban any words, including curses. Even hateful, derogatory words need to be remembered so that we can recall our stupidity and refuse to go there again. That doesn’t stop me from wishing those words never existed in the first place.

4 thoughts on ““The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” -Ludwig Wittgenstein

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