A gracEmail subscriber writes: “My 12-year-old child asked me the other day why she is permitted to say some words but not others, and why some words are ‘cuss’ words. Can you help?”
* * *
“Cuss” is a corruption of “curse,” and curse words originally were part of a longer sentence in which someone asked God to sentence some person or thing to eternal condemnation. Later, such words as “hell,” “damn” and “damnation” came to be used by themselves as expletives, often with the same cursing intent. For Jesus’ disciples, casual use of these words is inappropriate, since we ourselves are sinners who lack any power to carry out such a judgment (James 4:11-12).
“Profanity” describes any speaking that lightly esteems what is actually holy. These “bad” words are good words used badly — exclaiming “O my God!” (“OMG!” in texting) or “Lord!” or “God Almighty!” when we are not really talking to God, or using the name and title “Jesus Christ!” in the same flippant manner. This practice usually stems from thoughtlessness, but it shows irreverence and violates the Commandment which prohibits taking God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7). The Bible warns against a “profane” spirit (Heb. 12:16, KJV).
“Vulgar” language is “common” talk not used by respectable people in polite company. These words, which usually spring from Anglo-Saxon rather than from Latin or Greek (sometimes via Norman French) roots, often refer to private body parts or private bodily functions. People who choose these words, or who use them out of context, show a lack of respect for their hearers, a lack of refinement in their own character, and probably a lack of vocabulary to express themselves in polite language. Christians are to avoid “unwholesome” speech (Eph. 4:29) and to speak “with grace” in language that encourages and enhances what is good (Col. 4:6).