Grades 9 through 12 Over the course of human history, people have developed many interconnected and validated ideas about the physical, biological, psychological, and social worlds. Those ideas have enabled successive generations to achieve an increasingly comprehensive and reliable understanding of the human species and its environment.
According to that story, the police thought about arresting him, but decided against it. Mitchell managed to escape arrest, but among the rest of us, arrests for swearing at the police are far from unheard of. These arrests have happened under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
People arrested under Section 5 can be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice, and convictions can result in a fine. Swearing, it seems, can be a big deal.
I am rude or offensive when I tell you that your new baby is hideous, when I accept your thoughtful gift without thanks, or when I crack a tasteless joke about death after you reveal that you have a terminal illness.
Some definitions of swearing get around this issue by specifying that swearing should involve taboo ie forbidden language — but even this is not specific enough.
Taboo language includes not only the familiar, bog-standard swear words like that mentioned above, but also other sorts of words that are not my focus here. A category of non-swearing taboo language is blasphemous expressions and words that are otherwise unspeakable for certain religious groups.
Another category is slurs: In slurring someone — for example, by calling them a faggot — you express contempt not only for the person you are addressing, but also for a wider group to which they may belong; in this case, homosexual men.
However, there is enough of a contrast between swearing and these other categories to make it worth separating them when we consider the ethical issues. What sets them apart from other areas of language?
A clue is provided by the second part of the dictionary definition quoted above: It is this unique role in expressing emotion that separates swearing from other uses of language, including other types of taboo language.
This unique psychological role gives swearing a unique linguistic role, too. To understand this exclamation, we need to consider not what the speaker is referring to or talking about, but what he aims to indicate about his emotions.
This makes swearing, in such circumstances, more like a scream than an utterance: Perhaps this explains why swear words often fail to function like other words. Quang Phuc Dong — a sweary pseudonym of the late linguist James D.
And, indeed, both in the UK and in many other cultures, we do much to prevent, censor, and punish swearing. This is often done informally: Knowing that we face disapproval from others if we swear in the wrong context is effective at ensuring that we watch our language.
But there are formal efforts to police swearing, too: The taboo against swearing is, it seems, a pretty serious matter. But elsewhere, blasphemy plays a much larger role.
Perhaps the most striking example is Quebec French, in which the strongest swears are terms relating to Catholicism. These expressions are considered stronger than standard French swears like merde shit. Blasphemy plays a large role in swearing in many religious cultures including Italian, Romanian, Hungarian, and Spanish — but some highly secular cultures also find religious swearing offensive.
Godverdomme Goddamn remains one of the strongest expressions in Dutch. Japanese offers perhaps the most striking example of a hierarchy-themed insult. There are, after all, inoffensive ways to refer to sensitive topics: While lavatorial and sexual functions are taboo, not all ways of referring to them are indecent.
Some have suggested that the sound that swear words make contributes to their offensiveness. There is something plausible about this.
Even so, the sound of swear words cannot fully account for their offensiveness. In any case, focusing on swear words themselves will not enable us to explain fully why they are offensive, because the offensiveness of a given utterance of a swear word is relative to the social and historical context.
We must look beyond the words themselves, and consider the broader behavioural contexts in which they appear. Once we do this, the explanation is easier to find.
We do, after all, have all sorts of preferences about how people behave. Many of these preferences are enshrined in our morality; others are associated with etiquette. Etiquette varies with culture and upbringing, and its conventions are applied more strictly in some settings than in others.Disclaimer: This essay has been submitted by a student.
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