Profanity

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Cartoon drawing
A drawing of profanity replaced by symbols

Profanity is the act of using swear words. The adjective is profane. Profanities can also be called curse ("cuss") words, dirty words, bad words, foul language, obscenity, obscene language, or expletives. It can be called an oath, although this word also has a normal meaning of a "solemn promise".

Religious profanity is called blasphemy. The verb is to blaspheme and the adjective is blasphemous. Saying “God!” or “Jesus Christ!” as an expression of surprise or annoyance is considered by many people to be blasphemy, mostly because one of the Ten Commandments says not to use God's name "in vain" (without substance or without relevance). Swearing oaths can also be considered wrong by some who follow Jesus' teaching against swearing oaths in the Gospels (such as Matthew 5:34).

A profanity usually refers to religion, sex, or bodily functions. These are things that people feel very strongly about. In some languages, such as French, there is more profanity about religion than most other topics.

A profanity can be a word or gesture or some other form of behaviour.[1]

Different words can be profanity to different people, and what words are thought of as profanity in English can change over time.

Whether a word is a profanity will always depend on the way people think. Some people will be offended by something, while others will not be. Words which should not be used are taboo words. Using such words is thought by some people to be a sin. For example, some Christians, some Muslims and many Mormons believe that swearing is a sin.

Opinions on profanity[change | change source]

Some people call profanity "crude," but some say that it is no cruder to say "damn" than "puke" (a word that is simply vulgar, but not a swear word). People who use profanity do not always mean to make anybody feel bad, and tolerance for different forms of profanity can vary widely, from person to person. Most often, using profanity is a verbal outlet for strong feelings (usually unpleasant ones), that might otherwise cause a physical reaction. At other times, some people may use profanity as humor.

Coprolalia[change | change source]

Some people develop a mental condition where they use profanity constantly. This is called coprolalia. Many people think this is called Tourette syndrome. Tourette syndrome is actually a group of symptoms that only includes coprolalia 15% of the time. The condition can be aggravated (made worse) by stress.

Examples of profanity[change | change source]

Several of these words come from Anglo-Saxon or Norse names for body parts, and bodily functions. They came to be thought of as profanity mostly after the Normans brought French and Latin words for them to England.

Ass
The buttocks or "butt" (from Anglo-Saxon ears) of a human. Usages include "get your ass out of here", and "kiss my ass", which are usually considered mild. Ass also refers to donkeys, who were formerly called asses; "you are such an ass" comes from this usage.
Bastard

A person with unmarried parents also used as an insult to someone who causes trouble or something poorly planned or made.

Bitch
Means female dog, but is usually a rude name for a woman who is considered unpleasant or demanding, or anyone in a servile position. Can also refer to a bad situation ("I had a bitch of a time"). Also used as a verb, meaning to complain ("they bitched about the problem"). By contrast, bitchin' (sometimes "bitchen") can mean something very good or pleasant ("a bitchin' car"). For example: "Sup Bitch" or "Shut up Bitch" is also often used.
Cocksucker
Sex as someone who sucks the penis, the word is considered to be very disgusting and used to describe a disgusting person.
Cunt
A vagina. Also used as an offensive term for an disliked woman or man ("She's a real cunt") or "cuntface" or stupid "cunt".
Damn
A verb, meaning to curse someone or something. It is commonly considered mild profanity, and is sometimes used to show disappointment or surprise.
Dick
A vulgar term for a penis similar to the term 'prick'.
Fuck
A verb, meaning to have sex. Can also mean to cheat or steal from ("fuck over") someone, to interfere with ("fuck with") something or someone, or to cause harm ("fuck up"). "Fuck up" can also mean to make a mistake. It is often used as a meaningless intensifier, especially in the adverb form ("too fucking expensive"), ("What the fuck?"). Fuck is also used to describe someone under the influence of drugs and or alcohol ("they're fucked up"). A person may also be referred to as a fuck. The many uses for fuck make it one of the most versatile words in the English language. For example, "That fuck Jonathan was so fucked up last night he fucked some fucking whore and got fucking gonorrhea. Holy fuck!"
Hell
The underworld, or a place of punishment in the afterlife for evil, according to many religions. Used to express disappointment or surprise.
Jerkoff (also "jerk off", "jerk-off", "jack off", "jack-off" and "jacking off")
Refers to masturbation. The noun is often written as a single word, while the verb is two words. Usually means a person who has bad priorities or reasoning, or the act of masturbating ("jerking off").
Motherfucker
An insult that can be used for sex inside the family, but mostly used in the sense of bastard. The verb motherfucking is used mainly in rap music as a stronger form of fucking. (see above)
Nigger
An offensive word for black people. "Nigger" (or "nigga") is commonly used in popular urban black rap media, where it is used towards others in friendly or derogatory manner.
Cracker
An insult used toward white people as nigger is used toward black people.
Piss
This term refers to urination. In the form "piss off", it orders people away or declares that their statement was nonsense. In the United Kingdom, somebody who is pissed is under the influence of alcohol, while in the United States it means that a person is angry. The British term for angry is pissed off.
Poon
An offensive term for woman that is very similar to cunt or pussy and also refers to the vagina
Prick
This term refers to the penis, and also as an insult for an unpleasant person.
Pussy
This term refers to the vulva, and also to a weak man. It can also refer to the practice of stimulating a woman's vulva, cunnilingus.
Quim
The vagina or vulva. Used similarly as "cunt".
Shit
Feces; also a verb, meaning to defecate. As an exclamation, it is similar to "fuck". It can be used to refer to any object, although it is often used in reference to drugs (heroin or marijuana in particular), music, or a person's belongings. May also mean trouble, or annoyance by others ("I'm tired of this shit"). It can also mean very poor/of bad quality ("this music is shit").
Slut
An offensive term for women (and sometimes men), similar to bitch. Usually refers to someone with loose morals, or who gives in easily to others, or puts their own gratification ahead of more important things. It is similar of calling someone a "ho" ("whore") or "tart".
Tit
Often referred to as a slang of breast or to describe a foolish or inept person
Freaking
A replacement for fuck sometimes also means anger and annoyance or scaredness

Profane gestures[change | change source]

These are mostly performed while facing another person, and can be meant toward them, or about them. These gestures are considered as strong as profane words in most cases.

Biting one's thumb
Performed by placing the tip of a thumb under the front teeth, then pulling the thumb slightly forward, with the fingers closed. Mocks the "thumbs up" gesture. Can be taken to mean "bite me", though it predates the common use of this phrase.
Grabbing one's own crotch
Also an invitation to "bite me", or to perform oral sexin a servile way.
Pretending to give fellatio
One pokes out a cheek with the tongue, while rocking a closed hand toward the mouth, at the same time. Indicates something or someone is a waste of time.
Pretending to masturbate
Indicates something or someone is a waste of time, or performs poorly.
Showing one's middle finger ("flipping the bird")
Understood generally to mean "fuck you".
Thumbing (or "fluting") one's nose
Performed by placing the tip of a thumb against the tip of the nose, then wiggling the fingers. Expresses contempt, or thinking that someone is foolish.
"Up yours"
One turns a forearm horizontally, while swinging the other fist and forearm around it. Suggests something being shoved into a person's rectum. If the middle finger is shown, it is a stronger form of "fuck you", or a suggestion of anal sex.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Definition of Profane", emphasis on original, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, retrieved on June 5, 2007.