Minced Oaths and Grawlixes—the Grey Area of Swearing?

By Lau Jue Hua, Singapore

We all know swearing is bad—that’s why we don’t teach vulgarities to children. There’s an abundance of Christian articles and Scripture verses (James 5:12; Colossians 3:8) censuring the use of expletives, but what do we Christians do about the grey area in between?

To exactly understand what is this grey area I’m referring to, we have to first define a swear word. It’s simple really. A swear word refers to any bad, foul, and taboo language. However, swear words in some parts of the world may not be deemed as a vulgarity in other parts. In short, swear words are determined by social codes.

Take for example, in the UK and Commonwealth countries, the term “bloody” is deemed as an expletive, while it is not perceived as profane in American English. In Singapore, the word is considered as a mild expletive, and is frowned upon in formal settings. This example shows how geographical and social differences make it difficult to define an exact list of swear words.

It is this difficulty that produces a grey area comprising of minced oaths (a misspelling, mispronunciation or replacement of a part of profane, blasphemous or taboo term) and grawlixes (a string of typographic symbols used to represent an obscenity or swear word).

“Since I’m not using the actual profanity, I’m not guilty of swearing” is the train of thought that seems to run through the minds of those who use these minced oaths. It is this false sense of security that has led us to letting our guard down against the evil of our tongues.

If you think about it, the meaning behind the substituted words is still the same.

After much rambling, the point that I’m trying to make here is that there can be no compromise. Even if we were to replace these profanities, it would still be considered swearing since it serves the same purpose. It is not the exact word that matters, but the thoughts behind it. If even the name of Jesus, as perfect and pure as He is, can be used as a curse, what does that say about other “less” vulgar words we use as replacements?

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:35 NIV). Our words reflect our thoughts. As believers, we should not swear and we should stop using minced oaths. We should try to only think and say wholesome thoughts that edify others and exalt God.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

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