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Minced Oaths and general things about "rude" words
PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 9:16 am Reply with quote
Joined: 23 Jun 2006
Posts: 36
Location: Kiel, Germany

I hope I'm not offending anyone here, I know that cross-cultural discussions can be quite misunderstanding sometimes. So i'm not trying to attack English native speakers here, I'm just trying to understand the concept behind it, and my thoughts may sound a bit harsh.

The question is: Why - oh why - are English native speakers so concerned about four-letter words, sexual allusions and other profanities in the language? I never understood that, and I always thought it's a cultural or religious thing - until I had longer discussions with a British friend of mine and it turned out British people are as sensitive about it as the Americans. The British are probably not really Europeans, but they are still much more European than the Americans and much less religious, so we can clearly strike that out. I don't really know what the situation is in Canada and Australia, but given the "South Park" movie, they are less sensitive about it.

What I don't understand is how people can constantly self-censor their language, while they still use it in form of minced oaths. So instead saying "shit" they say "shoot", instead of "hell" "heck", "god" "gosh" and so on. Everyone knows what they mean (and I suppose the kids know, even though adults try to keep them away from it, like with this extra forum here), but it's still accepted to say "what the fudge" instead of "what the fuck".

I don't know how it is in French or Spanish, but in German there is nothing like that. The only minced oath I know in German is "zefix" in Bavaria, where it is used instead of "Kruzefix". When you say "scheisse", you say it (and depending on the situation) most people won't care (of course saying it in a fine restaurant is not appropriate). Cursing and especially sexual allusions are much more accepted in German speaking countries, despite the efforts of some groups in the 1980s to change that (I recall some people trying to change "geil" (sorry, untranslateable, it's more or less the same as "cool") to "stark" (awesome), but that didn't work). There is no language censorship in TV like in America, where there are actually fines (FINES!) for saying "rude" words for the network, which causes them to "beep out" those words. There is nothing like that in German TV (however some talk shows "beeped out" bad words, probably because it looks to "cool"). "Rude" language is just part of daily life, just like nudity, which is also banned in American TV.

Please, English native speakers, tell my why are you so sensitive about it? I don't get it! What is so bad about "rude" language? I think it's just ridiculous how intelligent people can alter their behaviour in such a strange way just to avoid some funny words.

And again: no offence intended.

"Das Leben stammt auf alle F?lle aus einer Zelle, doch manchmal endets auch bei Strolchen in einer solchen." (Heinz Erhardt)
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 28, 2006 11:54 am Reply with quote
Joined: 28 Oct 2006
Posts: 10

My first observation is that a month later and you had not a single response to your question. Either folks have nothing to say on the subject, or it's too taboo to talk about.

The short, and unsatisfactory answer is that it's cultural. I know that's obvious but it's all I can offer at this time. "Rude" words literally jar the ear when I hear them. That's the way I've been brought up, and the emotional response is automatic. That explains why the taboo is perpetuated, but now how it began.

Anyone else want to add anything to this? I'd be interested in any thoughts on the matter.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 28, 2006 6:09 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 08 Jul 2006
Posts: 38

I remember seeing a stand-up routine where the comic was talking about the USA's aversion to language and sex, and he explained it by bringing up the point that we were colonized by people "so puritan they had to be kicked out of England."

And even though it's just a comic routine, it's a very good point. If you think about some of the religious groups that were around a couple hundred years ago, we've definitely relaxed a bit since then. Most notable is the Shakers, who believed in total celibacy, even after marriage. Unsurprisingly, they're dying off.

With roots like that, it's amazing we aren't more uptight than we are.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2006 9:18 am Reply with quote
Joined: 23 Jun 2006
Posts: 32
Location: Cologne, Germany

strange enough, most swearwords i learnt i learnt from americans. i suppose this might be just an ordinary observation - whereever you find a strong tabu, you also find a strong greed to break it. 't was quite a special context, being a volonteer on kibbutz, an environment where we were amongst ourselves, without rules set upon us by older people. i just realised not all americans use swearwords all the time - the opposite, actually - when i went to the states. and i had a hard time getting those words out of my daily vocab again.
it seems to me, that using what ren? called 'minced oaths' is a clever way of breaking a tabu without breaking it, or actually breaking it in a socially permitted way.
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Nice thread
PostPosted: Sat Mar 17, 2007 9:58 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 17 Mar 2007
Posts: 5

I, as usual, can really only speak for myself.

When raising a small child, you self censor in order to prevent the child from mimicking you. Nearly every parent probably has a story about an oath uttered that is mimicked by a toddler endlessly.

Now, mine is 11, so he probably knows words that I don't , now! I guess I do it, personally, as sort of a mental exercise. It's easy to say "Oh, shit." It's simple, and doesn't require any thought at all.

But to come up with "Oh, tartar sauce!" requires a little bit of energy, is somewhat classier, self identifies me as a Spongebob fan, is less likely to get a nasty look, and might make a girl giggle.

And I can think few better reasons than that.
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Censored language
PostPosted: Tue Apr 03, 2007 8:31 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 06 Oct 2006
Posts: 41
Location: Atlanta, GA, USA

I couldn't tell you why we Americans have SUCH a hangup over words. I've never understood it, myself. My own parents censored themselves until I was probably about 9 years old. In fact, one family legend is of my parents and grandparents in a restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee with me when I was...very young. Maybe 3? Two? Somewhere in there. Verbal, but not old enough to actually remember the incident. Anyway, I knocked over a glass of water. Then, to the astonishment of everyone in the restaurant and the mortification of my family, I apparently yelled--at the loudest volume I could reach--the worst string of expletives I had ever heard from my entire family. I yelled: "DADGUMMIT LORDY ME I SWEAR!"

I was 12 before I ever heard the word "fuck" spoken aloud by anyone, and I think I was 14 before I ever said my first "dirty" word: "damn." Smile

I'm quite over that, now.

A friend of mine decided not to censor himself around his children. It led to some odd incidents because his wife (who is Taiwanese) tried to make the children understand that although DADDY said the words, they weren't always appropriate. So friends of theirs would be over at the house and one of us would let slip something like "Damn it!" and their then-six-year-old son would say "Don't say 'Damn'!" in his mother's accent.

Why we do it, I couldn't tell you, but I think we're getting a little less...hung up over it.

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Minced Oaths and general things about "rude" words
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