I had a young man ask me "who defined the curse words?" Just wondering what your thoughts are on the subject? I know that cursing is a sign of anger and so forth but before I give him my answer I was seeking your thoughts. I do cherish your words of spiritual wisdom.
Thank you for your kind remark. I hope I can always meet your expectations of spiritual wisdom. The person who asked "who defined the curse words?" would have to refine his question to what he meant by curse words to give him an exact answer because even in the Bible what is meant by “cursing” varies greatly, and though popular usage has currently become a little more restrictive, the variations of what can be meant still exist and so must be considered in any look at the subject.
In the popular usage cursing is often a reference to the use of an expletive, especially when someone is “cursing and swearing.” That is they are using profane and insulting language. The Catholics use cursing as a term in reference to excommunication. But people like the Baptists would not so use the term because excommunication from a church is an extreme action done in the hope the sinner might yet come to their senses and repent, not to condemn them to eternal judgment.
The first occurrence of cursing in the Bible is actually performed by God. I call this the two-fold curse for original sin. In Genesis 3 He curses the serpent to crawl on his belly and eat dust (verse 14) and He curses the ground (verse 17) so that man will have to farm it in order to get food in the future. You will notice that in the chapter God never directly curses man though man might consider himself accursed as he reaps the penalty of sin. As a matter of fact in the next instance of cursing is spoken of as originating from an inanimate object. The earth curses Cain and his descendants because it has been caused to open its mouth to receive Abel’s blood. (Genesis 4:11) I could wax eloquent about this cursing coming up because man is made from the dust of the earth but it would take us away from the subject. Suffice it to say that in the usage of the word “cursed” in both Genesis 3 and 4 the same primitive Hebrew root word occurs.
When you come to Leviticus and The Law the use of the word curse can be seen to mean something like “make despicable, dishonor, or to make of little account.” Now if you think that diminishes the impact of the curse we should read Leviticus 24 together. There a man blasphemed, what we would call cursing oftentimes and the matter was brought to Moses for a ruling on the matter from God. So the instructions concerning what to do with a man that has cursed, blaspheming the Name of God is recorded:
14 Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.
16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death. Leviticus 24:14-16.
That type of action today would, I think, surely improve the quality of conversation in the world.
In the Book of Numbers we find cursing as an appeal or prayer for evil or misfortune to befall someone or something. Evidently Balaam had some power given to him to effect such a cursing, otherwise people would not have gone such a distance or offered so much reward for him to carry out his actions. In other words, the cursing of a group of people, in this case the Children of Israel, is no idle act. It is not a mere petition of calamity and should not be uttered lightly. The fact cursings of this type occur in both the Old Testament and the New should tell us that for the most part such things should not be uttered by men but left unto God. When cursing is uttered by someone based on a transgression against them of some moral nature it is called “maledictio” a Latin term. There is quite a bit of Catholic superstition surrounding this form of cursing going back to at least the third century. We often caution people not to ask God to damn something, lest He take us seriously.
The Bible discusses at least four categories of inappropriate language:
Cursing and reviling - Speaking evil of another
Blasphemy and swearing - Speaking evil, irreverently, or lightly in regards to God
Vulgarity and innuendo - Speaking with crude language of inappropriate topics, such as sexuality, physiology
Lying and forswearing - Speaking dishonestly or deceitfully, and using false oaths
All of these at one point or another are connected with various forms of cursing, and are things Christians should refrain from. When you are looking for who defined the curse words or the words that were cursing perhaps we should conclude that God did so in His written revelation the Bible and in His historical revelation to people who have never seen the written word. After all, there seems to be quite a bit of consistency about the subject throughout the human race in spite of the fact some groups actually have no so-called “four letter words” that we identify with cursing. They still have the means within their languages to be insulting and to perform the other types of cursing.
Many common slang terms are merely euphemisms, or softened substitutes for blasphemous language. And though people might not be aware of the origins of words they certainly are aware that what they are saying is of a low class character. The conscience will tell people who do not have the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives that fact. One of my favorite true stories is about a boy born into a German aristocrat family. For generations his ancestors had gone into the army and led men in the nation’s battles. But this young man did not want to be a soldier and hated riding horses. But he loved the sea and wanted to make his career upon it. His family would not agree to it so he ran away starting out as a cabin boy in the merchant navy. Many years later he had worked his way up and entered the German naval forces rising to the rank of Admiral. Returning home to take up his family social position, he found his language was not fit for polite society. It is said that he tried mightily to clean his habit up but the best he could do was substitute “By George!” for every instance he was inclined to utter a swear word. Sometimes there were more of them in a single sentence than other words. Whether he used the actual vulgarity or the substitute the coarseness of his life remained upon him. The lesson is that we should be careful of the language we use to express surprise or displeasure and the habits that we form.
But let us get back to the common word we use as substitutes for the less socially acceptable ones. What do they really mean?
*gosh - Etymology: euphemism for God -- used as a mild oath or to express surprise
*golly - Etymology: euphemism for God -- used as a mild oath or to express surprise
*jeez - Etymology: euphemism for Jesus -- used as a mild oath or introductory expletive (as to express surprise)
*crikey - Etymology: euphemism for Christ -- used as a mild oath
*darn - Etymology: euphemism for DAMNED
More could be listed, but these are sufficient to make our point: In fact, it would be wise to consult a dictionary to see what we are really saying. Even if we do not realize what we are saying, great damage and offense can be generated, because others understand what these words mean. I think that crude words and their substituted might actually flow from the greatest depraved mind that ever existed Satan himself, otherwise why would there be such inventiveness in disguising profane speech and getting people to use it anyway?
For additional consideration: Should one regularly and irreverently exclaim, "Oh, my God!" not knowing there really was One True God, would that make their words less blasphemous? The answer is that although ignorance may cause us to sympathize with such sin, it does not change the fact the words are blasphemous, even though the person was unaware of their significance. Ultimately, it is the idea communicated to the minds of other people that make the words blasphemous, whether or not that is our intention.
I hope this response sheds some light on the subject.
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