Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speech Is Magic

Some favorite topics of mine:

Cuss words
Back to the Future
The Bible

All linked together by Lingamish. Read his post, then read the article Eddie links to: Toward an Evangelical Theology of Cussing.

One could add another section to Svigel's excellent paper covering the relevance of speech-act theory to cussing. More noticeably than most other words, curse or swear words do things. Taken at face value, they invoke a curse or register an oath. Of course, many people no longer believe that God, or the spirits, or the universe itself responds to their oaths and curses. But even when used by someone who believes that speech is potent only in the human realm, the words still act. They intimidate, shock, or impress. They grab the hearer by the collar and demand attention. That's why it's called strong language.

To forestall an inevitable response: the words do this to the extent that they remain strong language. If, in a given social context, the words become so common that they become accepted, inoffensive, even expected, then their status as "cuss words" is thereby diminished. Doing things with words is essentially magic, and you can't deploy the most powerful magic indefinitely without diminishing returns.

1 comment:

David Ker said...

Darn! Shucks! Geez! In my church tradition those words were definitely taboo and the result was that they gained power through censure. This is such a fascinating and complex topic. Why are scatalogical terms of latinate origin acceptable but not germanic? Etc.

Thanks for the link love.