• Rob Friedl

Learn To Swear

On a job in Iowa, 2017

“Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar..”

-Polonius, in his farewell to Laertes

“And another thing I’m not gonna have on this crew, is any cussing. You f**king got that?”

-Rob Friedl, to his new tower crew

Talking and chewing do not mix well.

It takes little imagination to conjure the memory of someone mouthing a particularly deplorable utterance, made all the more excruciating by some half-gnawed puddle of salivated goo sticking their words together where they shouldn’t be. The only thing more remarkable than this agony of sounds, is the utter obliviousness that almost universally describes the perpetrators of such atrocities. While one person is happily conversing, the other suffers in silence, perhaps with fanciful ideas of homicide dancing around inside their head.

A similar, perhaps even more pernicious effect, I’ve discovered, can be felt by those in the company of foul language.

I say I’ve discovered this, because as an occasionally irreverent humorist, I sometimes commit the sin of being unaware of the sensibilities of my audience. On such encounters with those-offended where I’ve mustered the temperance to refrain from inviting said individuals to chance an attempt at self-fornication, I’ve been able to hear an argument or two against the idea of coarse language, and have decided that an address is in order. For sake of reference, I’ll present the objections as they are typically encountered.

Objection 1: “That’s wrong”

It can be. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is obviously a direct violation of the second commandment, and indeed, bears no defense.

A separate reality that is unwelcome to those who don’t possess it, is that there is an art to swearing. Good examples of this can frequently be found among the ranks of military drill instructors, who specialize in transforming expletive-laced instructions into immediate action. A poor example would be this tragic ploy for attention by Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who's stilted utterances most closely resemble the timid explorations of an adolescent, trying on new words for the first time.

Of course, the very virtue of foul language is that it is “inappropriate.” There would be no appeal to using it if it were not. The debate is not whether or not cursing is inappropriate, but whether or not that matters. As language is the mechanism of communication, any words employed, foul or otherwise, carry undeniable significance. But while they can accent or even impact the delivery of ideas, it might be argued that such can be done without sinking the message.

Objection 2: “That’s Relativistic”

It absolutely is. In much the same way that the cleanliness of a truck’s paint relates to the function of its job. If it’s towing a parade float, by all means wash and wax. But if it’s hauling equipment across the job site, don’t waste your time. The very act of doing what trucks were designed to do, is what tarnishes the shine of its paint. Similarly, the very act of engaging the world is what often adorns one’s character with the grit of unpolished mannerisms.

How well-respected are those inspectors who enter a job site in perfectly-pressed pants and unblemished orange vest? The answer is, ‘not at all.’ They might be the CEO or owner of the entire operation, but it’s immediately clear that they have no idea how to do anything other than read a clip-board.

Proper language compliments one’s presentation, and there are times where presentation is the priority. Think of a soldier, dressed for parade. But parades are not the purpose of soldiers, and when a soldier finds himself among the killing fields, you can rest assured his uniform is among the least of his concerns.

Objection 3: “Christians Should Distinguish Themselves from the World”

Indeed we should. But in act, more so than words.

While it might be pleasant to converse with unblemished language, and even speak of rightly things, all of those ideas are spread for naught, if divorced from action. Conversely, one can swear eleven times a sentence and yet still reflect the love of Christ if what they DO is what they should.

This is not a free ticket to unguarded speech, however. Rough language is two-fold. You can have a corruption of content and you can have a corruption of structure. In terms of content- what one chooses to talk about, and the ideas that one supports, can quickly condemn the would-be evangelist. Dirty words might sometimes have a place, but dirty stories will always be destructive. At the same time, however, it is just as possible to frame a righteous message within the corrupted structure of ‘bad words.’ “Pimps are filthy pieces of shit,” does more, as a statement, to condemn evil than its use of the word “shit” does to create it.

Additionally, if proper language compliments one’s presentation, so too does it inform one’s nature. The image that your language presents, does matter to those around you. Undercover intelligence agents, for instance, do not speak the Queen’s English when infiltrating street gangs. Of course the whole of humanity does not consist of gangs, but one of the things that one’s language is capable of doing, is placing them where they fit. And for the evangelist, the more who fit beside him, the better.

Also, when it comes to expressing sentiment, expletives more often than not, betray an authenticity to what’s being said. It is an impression not uncommon to find, that people who swear, are easier to trust.


The final thought I have to contribute to this topic, would be the assertion that not only is foul language not inherently evil, is it quite capable of expressing love and affection. An exchange I once had with a friend, for example, went something like this:

As I was departing the scene of a job site, I called to my buddy, “Hey Jimmy!”

“Yeah, what?” He responded.

“Go f**k yourself!”

“Haha!” He laughed. “I love you too, Friedl!”

And with that sentiment in mind, as well as a full appreciation for the expressive capacity of foul language, but with an understanding of your potential discomfort thereof, I’ll close this essay by inviting you to chance an attempt at self-fornication as well.

Good luck and don’t get dead.

-Rob Friedl

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