I rarely curse. Not never, but rarely. I'm not offended by bad language though. For one thing, a really well-placed curse word can make a point in a way that embeds it in your memory forever--Clark Gable and Tony Campolo both come to mind. And as a therapist, I know that pain comes out of people in raw form and I think that's more than okay.
But like spanking and paprika, profanity is much more powerful when it is used sparingly. Whether it's unnecessarily cluttering the dialogue in a movie or heightening the hostility in a conversation, it's often a lazy way to communicate. For one thing, cursing used to be much more creative--there were a whole range of bad words that you could choose from, depending on the situation. Today, there seems to be only one word and it can be used as a verb, an adjective, a noun or an exclamation. I'm pondering . . . could it be used as an adverb or a gerund? Hmmm . . .
When I was about 10, I was curious about bad words and unsure about how to use them since the family I grew up in was pretty much profanity-free. (My freshman roommate used the f-word 17 times between our dorm and the mall on the first day I met her. I got all kinds of education my freshman year.)
Anyway, I was visiting my grandmother, who was in the shower adjacent to the bedroom where I was making a phone call to my cousin. I got frustrated with the phone, tossed the phone book angrily on the bed, and said "Dammit!" My grandmother poked her head out of the bathroom door and said, "Go to your room and I'll be there in a minute."
I flounced off to my bedroom, setting up my argument that other people used that word and that I was old enough and besides I couldn't find the number and . . . anyway, I was ready to fight for my rights even though I knew I was in trouble. Nana sat down on the edge of my bed, held up her hand to keep me from launching into my defense, and calmly and slightly disdainfully said, "Do you know what that word means? It means that you want someone or something to go to hell. And you just told a phone book to go to hell. How does that make any sense?"
Embarrassed, deflated, I had no answer. I looked down and said, "I don't know. I'm sorry." She hugged me hard and said something about how it wasn't a problem. She never mentioned it again, not even to my parents, as far as I know. Just a few months later, at Thanksgiving at Nana's house, there would be a much more serious incident involving my brother and a curse word I truly did not understand, but that's another story. Nana never told on me.
In his book Real Live Preacher, Gordon Atkinson reflects on the use of words. He writes, "I am constantly found guilty of the sin of words. Vulgarity is not my downfall, although I am vulgar. My sin is having words that are far more beautiful than my life. How graceful are those whose lives outshine their words. Perhaps my life will catch up to my mouth someday." I like that.