University of Southern Indiana

Filth and Foulness 2021 - Elsie Carter-Keith

I Don’t Give a Shit

My parents separated from each other before I was born. Growing up was always a constant back and forth between households. On my mother’s side, I have four younger half siblings, and on my father’s side, I have two younger half siblings. I was the only one going back and forth between parents and households, and although I do not remember much from my earliest childhood, I did notice some differences growing up. My father’s side was more family oriented and could be considered strict. My father and stepmother never cussed in front of my siblings and I as kids. Because of this, we also did not cuss in front of our parents. If we were riding in the car and an explicit song come on, my dad and stepmom would change the radio station to something more appropriate. This varied from growing up with my mom. My mom and stepdad constantly fought and would yell at each other. They did not restrain from cursing in front of my other siblings and I. Songs and movies with strong language or mature scenes did not matter. I saw that I had more creative language freedom when I was with my mom. I grew up hearing her curse and tell inappropriate jokes. I did not see her as any less than my dad because she cursed. I found it funny, but if I heard my father cuss, I was frightened. As I got older, my dad became less strict and started letting loose more. When I turned eighteen, I heard him curse jokingly for the first time and I was in shock. As I got older, I became more comfortable with it and even started cursing in front of my father and grandparents. Of course, I already knew most words from my mother, but I saw myself as finally being able to use them. However, saying curse words in front of your family in the comfort of your own home is different from societal use. Curse words are seen as unprofessional and inappropriate. One’s use of curse words can be seen as a suggestion to their character, such as how they were raised or their intelligence level. Curse words have been used throughout history; however, some words are considered inappropriate and taboo. The stigma of curse words being “bad” words should not be seen as a negative connotation due to the history, cultural use, and scientific use behind them.  

According to the Marriam Webster dictionary, shit is both used as a noun and a verb. Its definition is an act of defecation or to defecate. Its denotation refers to the literal action of defecation and feces. The connotation of shit is seen as vulgar and of slang usage. Its connotation is referred to as something of little value or something containing no worth. Shit can also be used as an exclamation regrading disgust, anger, or annoyance. The online etymology dictionary talks about the rooting and etymology of the word shit. It starts with Proto-Indo-European, the reconstruction of ancient European words. The root skey means to cut, split, or separate. The extended form skeyd became scit within Old English. The sc sequence was originally pronounced sk in Old English and other Germanic languages, but eventually it was pronounced with thesh” sound in Old English. The sh spelling came later under the influence of French scribes. Despite those minor spelling changes, the word has remained virtually unchanged in over a thousand years. You could travel back to Anglo-Saxon times, and they would understand you if you said shit versus saying “scit.”  

There are, on average, ten commonly used curse words, the top two words being fuck and shit. These curse words make up about 0.7 percent of one’s daily vocabulary (Stevens, Michael). First person pronouns such as “we” and “us” make up about one percent of one’s vocabulary. The YouTube video “Why Are Bad Words Bad?” from Michael Stevens’ Vsauce channel, talks about Steven Pinker and how he states that there are five types of cursing and the uses for them. The first type is known as abusive cursing. This is when someone is intentionally trying to hurt another’s feelings or self-esteem. This refers to the connotation of the word shit, something containing no worth. Calling someone a “piece of shit” is purposely meant to hurt someone. A subcategory within abusive cursing, known as supernatural cursing, is when cursing is used towards God. During the Victorian era, euphemisms were developed as to not hurt God or disgrace him. An example is the term “gadzooks” meaning “God’s hooks” referring to the nail wounds within Christ’s hand (Stevens, Michael). The second type of cursing is emphatic cursing. This refers to the emotional use of curse words. The third type is known as dysphemism, meaning the use of curse words to show emphasis. This shows the different definitions within the word. For example, no one says “I stepped in feces.” Rather, they are more likely to say “I stepped in shit” to show their disgust toward the situation. The fourth type of cursing is idiomatic cursing. This refers to cursing in casual atmospheres. The final type of cursing discussed by Steven Pinker is called cathartic. This refers to lalochezia, the medical term referring to the relief swearing provides when in pain (Stevens, Michael). Curse words active a different part of the brain than regular language and using them can give relief. Exclaiming “shit” after burning your hand is involuntary but your brain sees it as a relief and a way to cope with the pain.  

The history of the word shit goes back to medieval England when class systems were used to govern society. Class difference shows the different uses of cursing from the lower class to the upper class. The lower class worked on farms and did physical labor. Being exposed to this environment meant being exposed to disease and fecal matter which they referred to as shit. The upper class, being highly educated, used “fancier” words such as defecation. Defecation comes from Latin, which many upper-class people knew since they were educated. Shit, as previously stated, derives from Germanic languages, which were more common to the lower class (Stevens, Michael). These class differences helped form multiple uses and definitions for words we use now. An example is that, because the lower class worked on farms with the animals, they used common words such as cow and chicken when talking about the animals. Since the upper class did not work with the animals and only ate them, they used words such as beef and poultry to describe what they were consuming (Stevens Michael) 

Curse words have been around since medieval time and further and have had their own form of censorship. As time progressed and technology advanced, censorship increased. An early form of censorship was developed by cartoonist Mort Walker. In 1980, Mort Walker, best known for comic strips like Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, published a satirical book called The Lexicon of Comicana. The Lexicon was Walker’s own attempt to classify the symbols used in comic strips around the world (Brownlee, John). However, the book ended up doing far more than that. It is still currently studied in art schools around the world, not just as a textbook but as a dissertation explaining why the funnies matter (Brownlee, John). Walker coined the term “grawlixes” referring to the typographical symbols used to represent curse words (Nordquist, Richard). These grawlixes provided writers and cartoonist to use curse words without using the actual spelling of the word. These symbols include @$#%*& (Nordquist, Richard). For example, shit would be written as $**t. Grawlixes are used to represent curse words but are also in random order unless a symbol looks similar to the letter it is trying to censor. “A” and the @ symbol can be used interchangeably just as the “s” in shit can be used by the $ symbol.  

Other censorship against curse words is book banning and obscenity. The term obscenity is hard to define. It is almost impossible to avoid offending other people without restricting the freedom of expression of the other (Dennis, Taylor). Book banning can occur for multiple reasons, one of them being profanity and the use of offensive language. There are different rules throughout the United States and Britain, but both countries have shared the concern that people simply should not be exposed to offensive language. Catch-22 and Fifty Shades of Grey are examples of books that have been banned at one time for being obscene (Dennis, Taylor).  

Curse words are seen as offensive and unprofessional. Idiomatic curing in used in casual settings such as with family or friends, but in professional settings such as work, using curse words is deemed inappropriate. I want to go into secondary education. In my opinion, teaching is one of the best ways to positively impact a child’s life. When teaching, you are responsible for multiple kids and can be seen as a role model to some. Using curse words while teaching is seen as inappropriate and is strongly not encouraged. The students may find it amusing, but it does not benefit their education. I want to be seen as a strong, intelligent, and respected teacher, and I understand that cursing in the classroom is not the best way to do that.  

As previously mentioned, my parents are separated and had different ways of parenting. Other than teaching, my future plans are to have children. Being raised around both parents who cursed and who did not, I personally think it is best not to expose cursing at a young age. Yes, children will be exposed to it on their own, but to me, it preserves a sense of innocence. I also understand that, occasionally, curse words will slip out when hurt or when frustrated, and I see no issue with that. I would also choose to not punish my children if a curse word is said. There is no need for punishing; I just would not encourage it, and I would try to be a good role model for my kids as much as possible.  

The stigma of curse words being “bad” words should not be seen as a negative connotation due to the history, cultural use, and scientific use behind them. Curse words have been used and developed throughout history. Starting in medieval England, curse words existed amongst the upper and middle class. Different forms were used to show disgust toward disease and to describe unpleasant things such as fecal matter. The lower class would use the word shit while the educated upper class would use terms such as defecation. Both words have the same meaning, but its context depends on social class. The usage of curse words has expanded with the progressing years. There are five types of cursing as described by Steven Pinker. Each type provides an example on its usage and context. Pinker also gave an example of how cursing can be healthily used when in pain or frustrated. Within the 1900’s, censorship with cursing became more relevant due to the progressing technology and the idea that curse words are inappropriate and taboo. Mort Walker developed grawlixes as a way to hide curse words within comic strips. Curse words can be an offensive and sensitive subject, but they just because they are seen as taboo, it does not mean that they are “bad.” There is a time and place for curse words to be used, and it is ultimately up to us to decide when to use them. Whether we want to show emphasis or whether we are casually hanging out with friends, curse words have always, and will always be relevant.  

 

 

 

Works Cited  

Brownlee, John. "Quimps, Plewds, and Grawlixes: The Secret Language of Comic Strips."  

Fastcomany, 15 July 2013, www.fastcompany.com/1673017/quimps-plewds-and-grawlixes-the-secret-language-of-comic-strips.

Dennis, Taylor. "A History of Swearing and Censorship in Writing." Scribendiwww.scribendi.com/advice/swearing_and_censorship.en.html. Accessed 16 Sept.

2019. 

Nordquist, Richard. "What the @#$%&! Is a Grawlix?" ThoughtCo, 5 Mar. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/what-is-grawlix-1690824. 

"Shit." Marriam Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shit. Accessed 13 Sept. 2019. 

“Shit.” Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/word/shit. Accessed 16 Sept. 2019. 

Stevens, Micheal. “Why Are Bad Words Bad?” YouTube, uploaded by Vsauce, 28 November, 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd7dQh8u4Hc 

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