Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 21, 1967
NUMBER 33, PAGE 7b-8

To "Cuss" Or "Not To Cuss"

Ralph Edmunson

Is mule-language to be the pattern for the Christian's speech?

Brother Jack Holt wrote a humorous piece about "Cussin" in the February 16 issue of the Gospel Guardian. I don't know whether to take him seriously or not. He says:

Anyone who works with a mule must do one of two things; he must learn to bite his tongue or develop a vocabulary that makes working with a mule endurable. A mule understands only one language. If you are curious as to what this is, ask any mule skinner and then stand back while the air turns blue.

I was never permitted the supreme pleasure of guiding mules, so if bro. Holt says that it takes a special "blue air" language to control them, I have no choice but to accept it. But what was his point? Is it that a Christian farmer has two choices: he can plow with mules and use the "blue" language, or, not plow with mules? For he says, "A mule understands only one language."

It seems that his "tickle-box" was upset by reading a piece on "Watch Your Language." It was impossible for me to ascertain from his writing whether bro. Holt favors or condemns "cussin'." His article was almost completely filled with ridicule, especially directed toward this anonymous article which has appeared in several church bulletins. But nowhere in his entire missive did he make an effort to prove that the alleged dictionary definitions, referred to in the "Watch Your Language" piece, were erroneous. Bro. Holt simply says: "These words do not denote the idea of profanity to society in general." Does he intend to imply that the G & C Merriam Company erred when they told us how the words are used in everyday American conversation? After all, dictionaries do not set the standard for speech - they merely report on current usage.

Bro. Holt, weren't you quibbling when you wrote: "Even when I said 'Gee' to the mule I was `cussin'." Weren't you aware that "Gee," "Haw," and "Whoa" are direction commands and are not the same as the "euphemistic contraction of Jesus"? Likewise, one can say "dam" without meaning "damn," because they are entirely different words.

Again, I ask, what was his point? Does bro. Holt really mean that since "Dennis The Menace" says "Gee," that it is therefore all right for us to say the same? Is Dennis our standard? So Tom Sawyer used these euphemisms! Are we to follow him? What about the Bible references that instruct us not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12: I-2)? I had always been taught that Christians are to be the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16). Are we now to learn that worldly writers are to set the pattern and standard for our speech?

Bro. Holt speaks of these questionable words as "the natural expressions of wonder. Are you not aware that there are children who grow up hearing their parents use the more "raw" terms. When these children say "Jesus," and "God," and "Hell," they, too, are merely giving vent to "the natural expressions of wonder." Their words are different - but the thoughts are the same.

They Do Not Mean To "Cuss"

It has been suggested by some that these euphemisms are permissible because the users do not intend to convey the sense of the stronger terms. Maybe the person who says, "I'll be darned," doesn't mean "damn." But neither does the one who says, "I'll be damned." He doesn't mean "damn" either. Let me give an illustration: I was performing a routine operation at a print shop and its outcome amazed an onlooker. He said, "I'll be damned." I replied, "You don't have to be." He responded, "I don't have to be — what?" He was not even aware that he had said, "damn." To him; it was merely "the natural expression of wonder."

Another time, the foreman of the print shop where I worked accidentally dropped a lighted cigarette behind a stack of paper. I overhead him call to his helper: "Let's get that G- - D- - - -cigarette out." Another person might have said "Dad Burned" or "Dog Gone," but they would have been identical in connotation — "the natural expression of wonder." The man who used the "strong" expression did not mean what he said — he had no intention of implying that cigarettes are condemned by God.

One man hit his finger with a hammer and said, "D- - - it." Another did the same but said, "Durn it." Both expressions were identical in meaning. If one is wrong, both are; if one is right, so is the other. Neither man meant what he said.

Origin Of These Euphemisms

One has the desire to give vent to "the natural expressions of wonder," but has been taught not to say "God" as a by-word, so he says, "Gad." Another feels uncomfortable at saying, "By God," so he says, "E-gad" (a minced oath — dictionary). One said, "Lord, isn't it hot!" Another, uncomfortable at using the Lord's name in such a trivial manner, will change it to "Lawd." I once knew a man who wouldn't swear for anything, so he would say, instead, "I swan."

Brother Holt surely agrees that we should "let our speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt ..." (Col. 4:6). Jesus suggested that this graceful speech should be composed of simple statements of truthfulness: "But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one" (Matt. 5:37). So where is the place for these "by-words" — either "strong" or "euphemistic"? Educators tell us that one who cannot express himself without these "by-words" needs to enlarge and improve his vocabulary.

Hence, what Jesus is requiring is that our words are to express our thoughts and that we should strive for understanding. In other words, we should say what we mean and mean what we say. Certainly, it is proper to use the Lord's name in our conversation, provided it is not used in vain: in some frivolous or non-meaning usage. If in a sermon, we have occasion to refer to eternal punishment, it is perfectly scriptural to use the Bible word — hell.

Under the Old Covenant it was forbidden to use the Lord's name in vain (Ex. 20:7). His name is "holy and reverend" (Ps. 111:9). Would anyone be prepared to affirm that the Lord's name means less now and that it is proper to use it in a light and frivolous manner? What about Jesus statement in Matt. l2:37 — "...every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account in the day of judgment..? Isn't it still true that "... out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Lk. 6:45)?

Swearing is condemned in scripture (Matt. 5:34-37; Jas. 5:12). Whether the actual expression used is, "By Heaven," "By God," "By Gum," "By Gad," "E-gad," or "any other oath," the thought is identical. Some of us have been trying to teach people to stay as far away from sin as possible. Others, apparently, would have us follow sin as closely as possible...

Tell us, brethren, you who uphold the use of these "euphemisms," what message of grace do you intend to convey to the hearers (Eph. 4:29) by using them?

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