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Half-Censored Profanity: What’s The Point?

November 5, 2018

WARNING- The following essay has half-censored and uncensored profanity! Do NOT continue if easily offended!

When I was growing up back in the 1970’s, profanity would get bleeped out on television and the radio.  I can’t remember the specific examples, but it was funny when you heard the bleeps in the middle of sentences.  Even if you weren’t familiar with profanity, you could figure out what the words were.  Back then, profanity was funny because it was rare, but bleeping was even funnier.

Today, bleeping is annoying.  With so much profanity all around us, bleeping it out seems pointless.

Instead of bleeps, written language uses keyboard signs to half-censor profanity, and that seems equally pointless.  For example, there’s a recent bestselling book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.  First of all, if the publishers didn’t give a f*ck, they wouldn’t have half-censored the f*ck.  That shows the publishers are either hypocrites or liars because somebody in the publishing chain (author/publisher/booksellers) gives a f*ck.  If you want to learn how not to give a f*ck, then you shouldn’t take advice from somebody who gives a f*ck.

I would have respected that book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck if the title had been The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Frack.  That would have been funnier.  Maybe there is no shock value in the word frack, but it would have been more interesting because you don’t hear it used as often.

This isn’t the only book that uses a vulgar expression in the book title.  I use this book as an example only because I saw it displayed in a family-friendly department store next to the toy section.  To be fair, books were next to toys, but I thought it was an odd choice of book to display.  Maybe this store is secretly trying to corrupt our children. (you can show that you really don’t give a f*ck by displaying this book next to the toy section).

Everybody knows what f*ck is referring to.  It isn’t really protecting anybody’s innocence.  I choose to half-censor profanity in my blog sometimes because it seems like an acceptable expectation and I’m polite, but it really is pointless.  If I worried about children reading my stuff, I simply wouldn’t use profanity.

I don’t use a lot of profanity in my writing anyway.  The exceptions are my stories, when characters use it in dialogue.  I’ll also write posts about why vulgar words are considered vulgar.  It’s tough not to use profanity when you write about the etymology of profanity, so I go all out in that situation.

The most common way to half-censor profanity is to put the * in place of the vowel in a vulgar word.  I’ll use sh*t as the example now because it’s a standard vulgar expression.  Everybody who believes in vulgarity thinks sh*t is a vulgar word, but it isn’t the worst, and it isn’t misogynist or sexist or racist.  It’s just sh*t.

If a word is vulgar, it means that only “lower class” people should say it.  People in the United States don’t care about the class system as much as people from some other countries.  At least, we’re not supposed to.  A lot of our families moved here to get away from permanent class systems.  Still, even if we’re not stuck in a certain class, we aspire to make ourselves better.  And using appropriate language is one way to demonstrate that you’re not low class or classless.

Even if you use vulgar language, it’s helpful to be able NOT to use it in certain places where having high standards of behavior is expected (like church, some professions, etc).  I wasn’t allowed to use profanity at all until I was 18.  That was a good rule because I was forced to control my language and everybody around me thought I was polite.  I’ve been able to succeed in my profession because of self-control.  People without self-control in my profession flame out very quickly.

When I talk, sometimes I’ll say “shucks” instead of “Sh*t.”  You can’t really say “Sh*t” with the asterisk in it.  I wouldn’t know how to pronounce “Sh*t” with the asterisk, so I say “Shucks” instead.  Some people equate shucks with sh*t, but I don’t.  Shucks is acceptable.  I’ve never heard anybody ask, “Does the bear shucks in the woods?”

The dictionary says shucks means “small disappointment.”  There’s nothing in the definition about defecation or body waste.  Shucks is clean.  So if anybody wonders if the bear shucks in the woods, of course it does; I’m sure there are many times the bear has been mildly disappointed in the woods.

And if the bear catches you during that mildly disappointing moment, it’ll tear probably the sh*t out of you.

From → Etymology

16 Comments
  1. Even Orson Scott Card (an author who has never been hesitant to let people know he’s religious) advises writers to either cuss or don’t, but don’t use half-measures or have characters in a work of fiction use euphemisms that wouldn’t make sense if they used the real cuss words instead. Card mentions “tanj” as an example. It apparently is derived from the acronym for “there ain’t no justice” (TANJ), which makes it a really, really awkward expletive. It’s just about as bad as if someone got angry and exclaimed, “Eff why ay gee tee aich!” (spelling out an acronym) before storming off in a huff. (I once witnessed this happen, and I STILL use it as an example of how NOT to cuss. What a ridiculous thing to hear from a university student, someone supposedly a legal adult and everything! Same person couldn’t bring himself to say “hellhound,” which is NOT cussing. Called ’em “H-E-double-hockey-stick hounds.” NEVER say that, or have a character in a story say it, unless it’s meant to be funny in some way, because people will laugh/roll their eyes. We sure did…

    When reading something, I’d rather the writer simply didn’t cuss at all, rather than use “kinder, gentler substitutes” (as if the reader’s eyes and mind couldn’t handle reading someone cuss — heavens, no!), or beter yet, cuss when the situation makes it appropriate. (So many reviews on Amazon from readers who were shocked — yes, shocked! — to see Bad Language used occasionally by characters in, say, military thrillers written to be read by actual adults instead of teenagers raised in total isolation from the normal world… What did they expect?)

  2. Haven’t heard or said shucks in a million years. My dad’s favorite “Christian cuss word” was “fat,” as in “Oh, fat!” I never ever heard him say one swear word my entire life. But “fat” was definitely heard pretty often.

  3. I think that there are just simply times when only profanity will do, coming face to face with a bear is a good example “oh dear me” just isn’t going to cut it ;O)

  4. Just watched the King’s Speech. A) Phenomenal movie. B) At one point he is asked to say “the F word” to help his stammering, and he says “Fornication”. I burst out laughing.

    • I think saying “Fornication” is okay because it’s four syllables and therefore more sophisticated than the vulgar one syllable version.

      • True, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily when it’s 3 AM and you step in a “present” left by an angry cat, or you spill hot coffee on yourself and stain your brand new shirt while at work where you can’t change clothes. Or when you get so angry you kick a pile of clothes your husband left on the floor while you were at work and you accidentally break your toe on the foot of the bed.

  5. I automatically said “fuck” while I was volunteering today. I didn’t say it loudly, but I still felt bad. I really need to cut back on my swearing.

  6. Shucks. I didn’t know all that shuck about shucks!

  7. I think the publisher of the Art of not giving a Fuck book should have printed the word Fuck on the cover and then covered up the U with a price sticker.

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