The Billings Outpost

Profanity’s long history still leaves uncertainty

On a June morning, after an hour in a sweat lodge, a night in a peyote lodge and a cold plunge into the river, a pair of Crow elders and one fat white boy discussed theology.

“We will all speak Crow in heaven,” Uncle Pius said.

“If we go to heaven,” the second elder said, “the Pentecostals will have beaten us there. The ground will be covered with Styrofoam cups and Pampers.”

His reference was a jab at the clutter sometimes left behind by tent revival meetings.

The fat white boy, still trying to wrap his head around Pius’ declaration, said, “Wha?”

Pius explained: “There are no swear words in the Crow language.” He reckoned St. Peter would brush other applicants aside to admit reverent Crow speakers.

I thought it over, but only for a second. By that time the two elders had pelted me with more puzzlers.

Last night I revisited the question of Crows arriving in paradise without the cargo of profanity.

With only a little grinding of the gray meat, I realized that we all had a role in grading the language we use. Anyone can make up a word, even a profanity. If you can sell your new creation to enough people, it becomes part of the local vernacular. Go on Twitter or Facebook if you want to take it global.

How will you know if your freshly minted word has the amperage to be profane? Smuggle it into an altar society meeting, fling it into the air and if the ladies suck all the air out of the room, it probably qualifies.

Profanity generally comes in one of three forms: words related to sex, excretion and blasphemy. English speakers can easily sort their tongue’s blue words from gentle speech.

England was invaded in 1066 by a gang of Vikings who had conquered and settled in France. They called themselves Normans - their rendering of “North men.”

These north men from the south spoke French. The locals called themselves Saxons and spoke Saxon. Slowly the two languages blended.

Low class Saxons did the work, plowed the fields, cut the hay, fed the hogs and milked the cows. Noble French speaking conquerors lived high on the hog.

The French conquerors ate beef, but it was the Saxon peasant who raised the cow. The French lord lived in a chateau. The Saxon dirt stiff slept in a hut.

One wore a chapeau. The other donned a hat. You get the idea.

Saxon words were used by both tribes for feces, urine, the children of unmarried women, sexual parts, female dogs, the name of the Christ, and commands directed toward his Father.

If names of body parts are dirty words, I have a few suggestions: uvula, spleen and septum.


How about some classic profanity: Primogeniture. A lewd activity, usually involving two milk maids and a goose hunter. Parsimonious. A goose hunter’s lust for multiple milk maids.

Why is it profane to ask God to damn someone? Does God take marching orders from amoebas like you and me? Would he actually condemn someone to hell as a favor? And, by the way, why is “hell” a profanity? It’s only an address. God bless you.

America has a muddled relationship with profanity. The Federal Communications Commission outlaws the strongest forms. Yet, we use them until worn thin. The “f” word - cap of cuss words - is used 47 times in the typical rap song. More and more, f-bombs are dropped on late night talk shows, prime time cable shows. “Men at Work,” a new show (with old ideas) used the “a” word recently on prime time. (And there were girls on the set.) The “s-bomb“ has morphed into “poo,” which sounds worse.

Some members of my family had their own styles of ersatz swear words. My oldest sister’s choice was “Gad.” As in “Oh, Gad.”

I haven’t heard anyone say “gad” for decades. The Gad were one of the tribes of Israel. History and the Bible offer a king, a man and a tribe of that name. Who knows where they went.

My mother could swear a blue streak but only in German. I tried to get by with the usual English substitutes - gosh, darn, shoot, but was assured by my Sunday school teacher that they were as sinful as their rotten Saxon roots.

Not all profanity has Saxon ancestry. Novelists began using several freshly minted words to disarm the  “f” bomb in the 1950s. Frig and frick became the Bobbsey twins of extreme profanity.

Maybe one of these words came from the Norse fertility god, Frigg. Frigg. Would this last fact drop it into the blasphemy category? Would some people be upset if I took Frigg’s name in vain? If that’s the case, I will try not to do it.


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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