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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Christianity and Culture: Dirty Words, Part Two of Three

One way a discerning Christian should react is by considering language in light of its historical context and development. Too often Christians react with knee jerk paranoia at the changing whims of culture and society. When cultural standards become systematized as necessary components of “the Divine Life”, the Spirit of the Law is buried under the pilings on of Pharisees.

The modern form of the "F" word
first appeared in Middle English poetry a little over five hundred years ago. It was rendered in falsified Latin form in a poem entitled “Fleas, Flies, and Friars”. While the denotation referred specifically to the act of intercourse, the connotation was not particularly profane; although, it seems to be used exclusively in the context of fornication. It was reacted to with shock because the context of the poem satirizes Carmelite friars and the inappropriate relationships with their cross-town mistresses. There are many possibilities as to which language the English rendering of the word derived its origin, although according to the OED, it seems most likely related to the German word “ficken”, which means “to rub, to scratch or to strike.”

Akin to any vocabulary of similar usage, the F-word was likely considered "vulgar" because it was taken from the speech of the common man. Vulgar Latin was the language used by commoners of the Roman Empire prior to the Middle Ages, much like the Koine Greek of the New Testament during the time of Christ and the establishment of the Church. In subsequent centuries, the term "vulgar" broadened to include any language's basest form as used by the common people. The educated British of the Middle Ages (specifically the clergy) spoke and wrote in the Classical Latin of Virgil and in French, Italian or their own language of Middle English (which is Germanic and also had a vulgar form). Therefore any slang that came from the speech of commoners was considered to be suitable only for the tongues of peasants, artisans, and merchants. When a poet used such slang he was being "vulgar", which had more to do with the exploitation of lower-class frivolity and ignorance, rather than morality (although, it was assumed that the lower classes were by nature less moral than the upper classes). Since then, historically, the F-word's "vulgarity" has been in a state of flux. It seems that in some generations it is extremely taboo but later is downgraded to neutral, only to be resurrected and considered profane again. America is the only English speaking country (although I am unsure of Canada) that has recently considered it the most taboo of all words. Sometime prior the 1960’s a myth was spread that detectives had originated the word, using it as an abbreviation for the technical term for rape (Forced Unlawful Carnal Knowledge and other variants). But, the strength of it’s obscenity was probably increased as those on the lunatic leftwing fringe of society such as James Joyce, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut and the adherents to the licentious hippie movement all employed liberal usage of the word. English culture currently regards several words as MUCH worse than the F-word, many of which American’s use daily, either in mockery or even in an attempt to be more pure of speech.

By the natural process of linguistic evolution, the F-word's meaning has expanded beyond its original denotation to include the verb usage "to betray or to commit a foolish action", or as an imperative as a signal of angry dismissal. Not to mention the extensive states of being it can portray (drunk, deadly situation, caught by the authorities, etc.) . It is used as a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb. These alternative usages are what the FCC is saying they will not rule on. The intention of the FCC is to protect the general public from obscene language, and by that they mean overtly sexual language. They are saying that if the word does not refer to sex, it is not in violation of FCC law. Similiar judgment is employed to the many other words which have dual connotations. For example, it is perfectly sensible for the AKC Dog Show of Animal Planet to use the term "bitch" repeatedly, but we would understand something else if that is how Matt Lauer always referred to Katy Couric and all other women on “The Today Show.”

Language itself is largely a relative and subjective device. It only has the value that a culture assigns it. Definitions only last as long as they are agreed upon, and are all too often muted, perverted, or expanded. This is why properly handling the Scriptures, with interpretation and exposition being guided by cultural context and historical usage (Calvin’s historical-grammatical method), is so crucial. The denotation and connotation of an American English word today may vary wildly from an earlier context and time. Just consider the word “gay” and one can understand what I am getting at.

As a political conservative, who promotes conservative principles, I think that the "God is dead" leftist crowd is actually disarming themselves of ways to offend people. Think about it; if every taboo word is pillaged of its meaning and force, what weapons will these poor degenerates have to shock people with. Their onward march to institutionalized moral relativism is assuring their own impotency. Likewise, their insistence to defile themselves only demonstrates the veracity of God's word. For it is the assignment of profanity that is sinful; the taking of that which is amoral at worst and righteous at best, and commandeering it for wickedly perverse ends.

Obviously my Christian world view renders final judgment. I realize that those dead in sin will continue to "glory in their shame". I am to expect nothing more from them, the Bible is quite clear on this, and we are to realize that "to the pure all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure." Becoming outraged when the increasingly secularist government continues to relax its moral expectations on language is a worthless exercise. And when liberal churches permit secular inanities into their Sunday morning liturgy, why should the discerning Christian be surprised and indignant. If anything as Reformed Christians we should be indifferent to it, understanding the basic nature of the dilemma. Our focus should be on people's souls, not on maintaining a cultural morality that is extra-Biblical. The preaching of cultural asceticism should not be substituted for the Gospel. Nor should the preservation of cultural asceticism be lumped in with the preservation of the Doctrines of Grace. In the words of G.K. Chesterton (oh my, a Catholic!), “Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils.’ Christendom should be in the business of language restoration, not its demonization.

Go to Part Three

Category: Gnat-Strainers


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