It was my last year of high school. I was in my English Language class when my teacher told the class that we would be looking into swear words for the next couple of lessons. I waited until the task had been explained before asking my teacher if I could skip this particular topic.* She very kindly let me. Despite not looking up the history of different swear words, I still managed to learn a fair bit about profanity. This knowledge made me realise something big.
You see, the swear words that we are aware of today were originally…just words. They are words that either had slightly different definitions, or even the same, but which through time gained a negative connotation. Now, that doesn’t mean we should go around using swear words in their original form, but it does raise an interesting question:
If we avoid swearing because the words connote (imply) and have come to denote (actual definition) negativity, why do we still use words like stupid, ugly, idiot, fat, etc…?
Most of us know that there is an entire section in ‘For the Strength of Youth’ dedicated to language. But did you know that out of the 21 sentences in the section, only ONE is explicitly about swearing? Let that sink in. Hopefully you are now wondering what the other 20 sentences are about. Well, let me tell you.
The Lord’s Standard for Language
“How you communicate should reflect who you are as a son or daughter of God. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind. Good language that uplifts, encourages, and compliments others invites the Spirit to be with you. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith, hope, and charity.”
The standard the Church has set for language has as much to do with swearing as eggs do with baking. It’s a step in the recipe, but if you just bake eggs… you won’t have a cake. The Prophets have asked us to have good, uplifting language that is filled with faith, hope, and charity. That means we shouldn’t use negative words when talking about others – or even ourselves. No unkind word can be good or charitable. It also means we shouldn’t be pessimistic and negative of situations we find ourselves in, as that is the opposite of faith and hope, and it certainly does not uplift us or others. Even speaking in an angry tone doesn’t meet the Lord’s standard for language, as anger is absent of charity and goodness. And now, are you ready for the biggest one?
Sarcasm does not meet the standard for language. By definition, sarcasm is “the use of irony to MOCK or convey CONTEMPT”. Mocking does not uplift others. It doesn’t encourage others. When you convey contempt through the use of sarcasm, you show that you believe “that a person or a thing is worthless or beneath consideration”. That is not good. It does not compliment others. It does not invite the Spirit to be with you.
The Tongue of Angels
In Ephesians 4:29 we are told to “[l]et no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good”. Every single one of us could do with improving their language. In ‘For the Strength of Youth’ we are reminded that if we have gotten into the habit of using language which goes against the standard, “[we] can change” if we “pray for help” and “[a]sk [our] family and friends to support [us] in [our] desire to use good language”.
“It’s the same mouth you use to pray, to bear testimony, or to bless [and partake of] the sacrament. Be careful to keep it clean.” (Elder Robert K. Dellenbach, September 1996)
*Personal preference. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong in this situation.