Proliferating Profanity

June 20, 2000

"On television and in the movies, from the boardwalk to the boardroom, Americans are cursing more--and liking it less." So begins an article in The Washington Times appropriately titled "Proliferating Profanity." And it isn't just the newspapers that are noticing the rise in profanity. One host of a Christian television talk show began her program the other day by getting on her soapbox and talking about the profanity she heard over the weekend at a Wal-Mart. Parents and kids were using language you used to hear only from sailors and construction workers.

Dennis Baron, head of the English department at the University of Illinois in Urbana, says, "In the last 40 years that I've been observing the use of profane speech, I've seen a growing tolerance for its use in public context--such as on television, on radio and in music and in films and theater." He also notes a backlash. One of the things his students routinely say they would like to change about the English language is swearing.

Linguists and scholars of popular culture agree that the amount of private profanity has stayed about the same. The change has been in the proliferation of public profanity.

Rochelle Gurstein, history professor at the Bard Graduate School in Manhattan, has documented the coarsening of American society since the 1870s in her book The Repeal of Reticence. She says, "I'm always amazed at how far the media pushed the limits. I remember during the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings thinking, ‘This is the end. It can never get worse than this.' Then we had Lewinsky. Now, I never say never."

What do we do? Colossians 3:8 says we are to put aside abusive speech. So I recommend you listen to Christian radio which won't embarrass your family, and set a good example for your children to emulate.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.