I watched a film on TV the other week and I regretted it long before it was finished. I enjoy watching films and it’s something I hadn’t done for a while. I felt in the mood but sad to say this was a total let-down. It was described as in the “West Wing mode” and starred Clooney et al but I hated it. It had a pretty thin storyline and I couldn’t find any character who was remotely likeable. It was all about ambition and cheating and cutting each other’s throats, but what wearied me was the tone of the whole thing. It was not violent and there was no gratuitous sex but the language throughout turned my stomach. It caused me to think again about why bad language, or what goes under the title of strong language, is a serious issue and perhaps symptomatic of our condition. The crux came late on when the president, on discovering he had been exposed, cursed under his breath “Jesus f…….. Christ” I felt shiver run through me. It was the casual way that a blasphemy could be uttered with no thought of the one whose name was so casually covered in excrement and dumped in the gutter. And I wondered why people swear and what they get out of it.
What we used to call foul or profane language, has been reclassified as “strong” or “colourful” language and its use can be justified, if you feel strongly enough about something. It shows that you have some feeling and some passion about an issue. It is justified by the emotional relief it brings the user, as in “lalochezia”. It gives you street cred and shows that you have the common touch. Even the Prime Minister slips some into a speech when he wants to make a point. But you just have to think about the categories of words that are used to see what this is really all about. On the one hand they are words for sexual organs, sexual intercourse, for urinating and defecating, and they are used often with aggressive, sexist and racist overtones with more than a passing hint at rape and sexual violence. On the other, they are names for God for Jesus Christ for the Holy Spirit and sometimes combined with words from the gutter as in the film quote. Why?
Now I know some will immediately respond “Oh come on, you are a wee bit sensitive here, these are just words… words.. words …you are making such a fuss… your reaction to them is totally out of proportion… you are so concerned with the obscenity of language rather than the real obscenities that exist in the world”, Others would go as far as to suggest that if you are concerned about “bad language” it is a sign that you are quite relaxed about all the other evils. But nothing could be further from the truth. You wouldn’t employ that logic in any other context. Language when it is abusive, inciteful, or discriminatory is taken very seriously, even criminal in some instances. The names you might call people of a different race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability or anything that is different from you do matter and it reveals your attitude to them. It tells what is in your mind and that is one step away from doing. It is not a flippant thing. The words that come out of our mouths in a moment of untamed anger or frustration or passion can betray deep feelings inside us. It is deadly serious. It is not significant that the Psalm writer prays “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” because if the thoughts and words are acceptable to God, then the actions that follow will be too.
So my appeal to all wordsmiths out there (including myself) is, before we launch out, before we pit into our speech, before we let it rip, think about the words and why we have chosen to use them. Think about why we would take the name of the Holy God, the creator of the world, the Saviour and Lord and the one that we will all stand before at the end, think about why we would stain his name with words from the gutter and drag it through the cesspit. Think about what we are saying.