Guest / Limited Access /

As four-letter words become an ever more popular form of communication, it's hardly surprising that athletes might use them, or that one might slip out in a TV interview. NBC's Matt Yocum had just asked Dale Earnhardt Jr. how it felt to win a race at the Talladega Superspeedway for the fifth time, and he replied modestly that his famous dad, Dale Earnhardt Sr, had won there ten times. "It don't mean s---," he said.

The sky fell in. Earnhardt was fined $10,000 and docked points, knocking him out of first place in the Nextel Cup series. But what's interesting is Earnhardt's defense of his naughty word.

"It was in jubilation," he said. "When you're happy and joyous about something and it happens, it's different than being angry and cursing in anger. Of course, we don't want to promote that. But if a guy's in Victory Lane, jumping up and down, and lets a 's---' slip out, I don't think that's something we need to go hammering down on."

Is he right? Does it make a difference whether the word is used in anger or exuberance? Does it matter whether it's literal or figurative? Is there a distinction among different types: obscenity, profanity, cursing, and blasphemy?

A word is just a bunch of letters collected into a sound, of course, and can't be inherently bad. Some people, most famously the '60s comedian Lenny Bruce, insisted that no words should be off-limits. "I want to take the covers off. Whatever you do, you should say the words," Bruce said.

That's a little disingenuous, though; Bruce is implying that whenever we use a dirty word, we're using it literally and sincerely, talking about what we "do." When that's the case, a short Anglo-Saxon term obviously isn't more evil than the fancier import, though there may be community consensus ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueCrossing the Wasteland of Faith
Subscriber Access Only
Crossing the Wasteland of Faith
Years after my dramatic, unlikely conversion, it seemed God had gone silent.
RecommendedGlobal Evangelical Leaders: Trump’s Win Will Harm the Church’s Witness
Global Evangelical Leaders: Trump’s Win Will Harm the Church’s Witness
Conference call explores election consequences on evangelicals overseas.
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickThe Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
The Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
How the New Testament offers a better, higher calling than the Declaration of Independence.
Christianity Today
Joyous Cursing
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

October 2004

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.