Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Spectacular Power and Influence of Swear Words

The most effective words, and arguably most powerful, we possess in our language are the words that are not often uttered. The taboo surrounding them give them power. I'm talking of course about swearing.

There are many belief systems that the mere utterance of a word without particular purpose will cause a harmful effect. Saying the "true" name of God in the Jewish faith when in vain, is thought to be of grave offense, for you are attempting to overpower God himself. Hence, they use the term "Yahweh", to indirectly refer to God outside of religious function. Taking the Lord's name in vain is a type of swearing known as Paranormal Swearing, but there are many others. 

Abusive Swearing is the most commonly known, and as the name implies, is designed to insult to an extreme degree that normal words would not allow. These words are given power because of the intent and of the rarity of their use. According to economical law, rarity means value. When we hear someone insult us with a rare form of speech, we feel as if the insult is not just an expression, but an injury. If we are able to disregard the speech or practice this swearing more often, it tends to lose it's value. Thusly, we do not feel as injured as, say, a sheltered Christian.

Another type of swearing is Emphatic Swearing. Emphatic Swearing can be quite effective and truly drive the meaning of emotion behind the swear word. A great example of this is the most climatic moment of the popular movie "A Few Good Men". When Colonel Jessup is asked if he ordered the code red that killed a subordinate after relentlessly being pummeled with questions, he shouts "You're goddamn right I did!". The setting is in a courtroom, a specific area where you do NOT swear, coupled by a high ranking officer who should be above reproach. His emotional outburst and swearing while admitting to murder shock and leave the entire courtroom paralyzed for a few moments. That is the power of mixing emotion with swearing.

Quite the opposite, Euphemism Swearing is much less dramatic, and hardly a form of swearing at all. A doctor may politely say, "After the patient went into cardiac arrest, he defecated." That's swearing? In a way, it is so, and worth noting. The politeness around such a traumatic event is to be equally noted, for it is equally strange. A normal person, while frantic at the time, would give a statement to police similar to, "The guy just shit himself and died!" Normal? Yes. The Euphemism Swearing would be most powerful if the "normal person" had been calm when saying that. Many would suspect, if it was a homicide scene, this guy might be a really polite killer.

Alternatively, the frantic person saying "The guy just shit himself and died!", is a type of swearing. This is called Dysphemism Swearing. This means the person might not swear if they were calm, but they swear to really drive home the unpleasantness of the experience that couldn't be conveyed if they said it in a politically correct way. They want their trauma to be the policeman's trauma.

But swearing isn't all bad. Cathartic Swearing, termed lalochezia by medical practitioners, is when swearing relieves pain. Shouting "shit" or "fuck" after you hurt yourself can actually reduce the pain felt. Just don't say it in front of your kids, like in A Christmas Story.

Ideomatic Swearing is shown best, in my opinion, by Stephen King in his novel/film "Stand By Me". This type of swearing serves not as an emphasis for speech, but actually as the opposite. It is used to show an air of casualness, that bringing taboo to light is only natural. "Well, shit man you can sleep at my house tonight.". It's saying that we're all friends here.

What's interesting about all these different swear words is that the power from them is because, as stated earlier, of their economical rarity. The only time where this rule doesn't apply is in Ideomatic Swearing, which holds a power of it's own because it changes the atmosphere of environment rather than effecting an individual person.

As these terms come into popular use and mainstream by television, radio, and other media outlets, people will and have turned to archaic words not really used today to bring back the taboo meaning behind it. Words like harlot (meaning slut) are already circulating in the "underground linguistics" of more eccentric crowds and religious folk. 

The lesson to be drawn from this is that words have power, usually in unusual combinations to invoke vivid meaning to the reader or listener. There are only few select words that have true power all on their own, and those are swear words. Without identifying the meaning, a novice writer might misuse them. More commonly, they might just repeat swear words for shock value, which is lost very quickly with every swear word used. This is why I mainly use Dysphemism Swearing and Emphatic Swearing. 

As always, thanks for reading!

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