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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, (including Mormons) and some Muslims 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" or "crap" than it is to use "hate" (a word that simply creates a very strong emotion, 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.

Sex as someone who sucks the penis, this word is considered to be very disgusting and used to describe a disgusting person.
A vagina. Also used as an offensive term for a disliked woman ("She's a real cunt") or "cuntface" or stupid "cunt".
A vulgar term for a penis similar to the term 'prick.'
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!"
An offensive word for white people, commonly used in the United States, first used refer to whites around 1946.
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)
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.
An offensive term for woman that is very similar to cunt or pussy and also refers to the vagina.
This term refers to the penis, and also as an insult for an unpleasant person.
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.
The vagina or vulva. Used similarly to "cunt".
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").

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 sex in 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.