Being a college student means a lot of different things to people. Before I came to the University of North Texas, I never thought constant swearing was part of this definition.
I feel as if I am in the extreme minority of people here at UNT that do not use curse words. Most people don’t understand why, and say they’re just like any other words.
But it is a scientific fact that although language is stored in a complex section of the left hemisphere of the brain, swear words are actually stored and accessed in a completely separate location called the limbic system, which is used for motor activity and emotional behavior.
Words affect people in ways scientists have only just began to discover, and swearing or not doing so is an extremely important decision every adult will make in their lives.
I grew up in a conservative home, where cursing was considered a transgression. So I didn’t swear because I didn’t want to be kicked out of the house.
In middle school, my friends swore at school like it was nothing, but continued to be squeaky clean at home.
I tried it for a while, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t know which person was the real me — vulgar and profane Kari, or squeaky-clean Kari? I eventually decided to simply refrain from swearing, but I needed a better reason.
I sought out passages in the Bible that dealt with profanity.
Throughout the New Testament I found verses that said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” (Ephesians 5:4), “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10), and “ . . . the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
Being the logical, rational person I am, even this didn’t reform me. So I researched further into philosophy.
A very important text that helped me work through this moral issue is Aristotle’s philosophical work “Politics,” which asserts through reason and logic why profane words are shameful and should not be uttered.
Aristotle discusses the concept of voice and speech. He explains that animals use voice to communicate pleasure and pain, but humans need a more complex system of communication for sharing information.
Instead, we communicate through the power of speech. Speech deals not only with pleasure and pain, but deeper issues that could more thoroughly describe philosophical ideas.
Our use of speech is a vital characteristic that sets men apart from animals. Aristotle uses this as a basis of his argument that swearing is based more on voice than speech, because swearing is more about emphasis or impact rather than meaning – swear words convey pleasure and pain, rather than complex ideas, so using them harms the English language.
“Politics” also asserts “the light of utterance of shameful words leads soon to shameful actions.” This means that the language we use creates a moral outline for our behavior, and that using profanity can encourage us to act like animals rather than humans.
This idea is also reflected in the Bible verses I quoted above, so it appears that pagan and religious thinkers agree that swear words are harmful.
People often tell me I am creating unnecessary censorship that limits what language can do, and since I am generally against censorship, I didn’t know how to respond.
But I realized that my decision actually involved freedom of choice, because self-control advances human development.
After all, practicing self-control means we’re resisting our primitive impulses, and confirms that we are multifaceted human beings fully capable of replacing our unhealthy urges with higher persuits.
The combination of neurological proof by science, commandment by religion, and explanation by philosophy is where I found the reason, faith, and power to control my words.
Society constantly reinforces these crude, basic swear words into my life, making this decision one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
But honestly, defying the instinct to swear ultimately confirms my belief that life has a larger purpose, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kari Smith is an English and history junior. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.