Swearing and the Soul

If Americans now see 'M-----f-----g' as the new 'darn', what does it reveal about our spiritual health?

It’s not just rockers, rappers, and mobsters anymore.

Dick Cheney

does it.

John Kerry

does it.

Samuel L. Jackson

does it. Even

12-year-old Little Leaguers

 do it. Use the f-word, and its more pungent compound cousin, that is.

Lately, it seems Americans have become unshockable. The word that starts with “mother”—or more precisely “mutha”—delivers about as much sting as “darn.” Walk through an American city, and you’ll hear the once-unutterable obscenity bandied about on the street, across social, generational, racial, and ethnic lines. What the bleep gives? And does bad language make us bad people?

If so, it looks like we may be turning into a nation of evil-doers. According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted in March 2006, two-thirds of respondents believe that there’s more swearing now than 20 years ago. Seventy-four percent said they experience the use of profanity in public frequently or occasionally. And 64 percent said they use the F-word anywhere from several times a day (8 percent) to a few times a year (15 percent).


The question of whether coarse language degrades our social fabric has become a staple of culture-wars debates. And social critics on both the left and the right blame pop culture for all the trash talking. But popular demand, in the form of online user-generated videos and blogs, pushed the epithet marrying “mother” to the medieval term for sexual congress into this summer’s most parodied action movie,

“Snakes on a Plane.”

After one blogger created a mock movie trailer in which actor Samuel L. Jackson tells his fellow passengers, “I’ve had it with these snakes on this plane!” the blogosphere was abuzz with the more obscene version of the phrase, perhaps in an homage to Jackson’s fondness for the word in his earlier film, “Pulp Fiction.” Eager to give fans what they want, the folks at New Line Cinema worked the obscenity-laced scene into the finished product.

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