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Profanity
Mom with a View

Profanity

When we resort to swearing we diminish ourselves.

by

“Watch your mouth.”

“Watch my mouth? Every time I try, my nose gets in the way!”

This silly line is from a children’s tape, an introduction to a song about a topic that isn’t silly at all -- the dangers of speaking in a negative way about others (otherwise known as lashon hara). But lashon hara is certainly not the only form of destructive speech. We can hurt others with words in many different ways. We can be mean, thoughtless, cruel, insensitive. To be a kind and caring person, we constantly need to watch our mouths.

And there’s even more. What we sometimes neglect to realize is that not only can we damage our fellow human beings through our misuse of the gift of speech, we can hurt ourselves as well.

I recently heard the host of a national radio talk show comment that one difference between the baby boomers and their parents is that the baby boomers swear more.

I think most of us would agree that this is not an example of progress! Yet we have become immune to it, completely desensitized.

My husband and I live in a bit of a bubble. Since he is a rabbi, people tend to “watch their mouths” around us. But once we step into the “real world,” it’s everywhere. One of the President’s advisers is even (in)famous for the amount of profanity he uses. I wouldn’t want that on my tombstone!

And people in the working world inform me that it’s ubiquitous. It’s taken for granted. I’ve been told that “It’s the only way to get things done. It’s the only way people will listen to me.” It makes you seem tough and powerful. But does it really?

I would think that power resides in those people with a greater command of the English language, those who can use other words to express what they mean. Just as a truly talented comedian doesn’t need to rely on cursing for a cheap laugh.

I seem to be out of step with the world around me. I’m offended by harshness and vulgarity. I find it profoundly disturbing and cringe when hearing it.

But I think the real harm is in how we coarsen ourselves through the use of profanity, how we damage our dignity, how we abuse that precious gift of speech that is uniquely human.

I think that when we resort to swearing -- either to make a point, or to be cool, or just as a part of conversation -- we diminish ourselves.

Many of us are careful to only put healthy or organic or the latest gourmet food into our mouths but cavalier about what comes out of them.

And bit by bit, we callous our souls. Bit by bit, we diminish our self-respect and, contrary to our avowed purposes, actually lose the respect of others.

Profanity masks a lack of real power.

We may be able to cow people into submission through screaming and cursing, but fear is not respect. The profanity masks a lack of real power.

I wouldn’t want to return to the fifties (or any other era for that matter) but not everything about it was bad. Making a point without swearing was testimony to a greater refinement of character, certainly a goal for all of us.

It can be like one of those “increase your word power” exercises in Reader’s Digest to try to find appropriate substitutes. Think how much more articulate and eloquent we will become. Think how much more elevated and dignified we’ll be. We’ll be reaching for the spiritual instead of sinking to the physical.

And what everyone’s grandmother or great aunt used to say -- “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all” -- can be applied here also. Certainly silence is preferable to a barrage of vulgarity assaulting our ears or the ears of those around us.

I saw a beautiful idea recently that the Vilna Gaon expressed in his Ethical Letter: For every moment that a person closes his mouth, he merits a hidden light that no angel or earthly creature can fathom.

Published: October 11, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 23

(23) Daniel Atkin, February 7, 2013 9:38 AM

Every choice has a consequence

I came to this website acknowledging profanity is bad and I want to change. Stories like this is what makes the internet useful and worthwhile. Hats off to you for making a better world. I liked the comment "We feel the world owes us our wishes." Our choices have consequences and profanity destroys ourselves from within. We can be our own worst enemy.

(22) Anonymous, December 2, 2012 3:14 PM

shocked, really

Because of circumstances, I have lived mostly in a sort of "bubble world" sheltered from the world. Lately I have been going online to places like You Tube and looking at some of the comments people leave on videos and I have been sort of shocked by it. I did not realize the world has sunk so low. Nearly all the people there, depending on the subject of the video, will be using profanity. I made a simple comment, innocently, and this woman called me a B**** for no reason whatsoever. I told her, dont you have any self-respect at all? Which is what led me to go look up self respect and profanity on the internet, leading me to this article. It is just what I was looking for. Sometimes I feel as if I am from another planet.

(21) Joey, June 11, 2010 9:49 PM

I must admit, I have to work on this a bit. ;-) God bless!

(20) Wendy Levites, December 25, 2009 12:22 AM

IEmuna, I forgot this; thanks for the reminder. Love, W

(19) Anonymous, October 16, 2009 10:29 AM

thank you!

what a wonderful article. Sadly most of the people who should read it don't read aish.com! I recently started a course, the instructor, a 50 man, is incapable of speaking a sentence without at least one 4 letter word in it! Altho' I need this course for a qualification, and he is good at what he does, I'm not sure I can endure this. Baruch Hashem we become sensitized to bad language, but the outside world thinks it's normal. Friends tell me I should ask him to moderate his language but so far I haven't said anything, honestly I don't think he's capable of talking without profanity. What a sad world.

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