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Why does writing words such as "hell" and "damn" trigger internet filters that insert asterisks into my writing? What is it about these words that makes them offensive to the point that people use substitutes like "heck" and "darn", sometimes in situations that sound very childish? (Double hockey sticks, anyone?)

  • They're used in the bible as standard words.
  • They're not vulgar, sexual, or disgusting like other swear words.
  • They're not "using the Lord's name in vain".

I agree they're strong words when wielded and not nice when directed at someone ("damn you"; "go to hell"), but on what basis do Christians consider them "cussing" in casual speech ("I had a hell of a time", "my damned car won't start") when used passively?

For people who are sensitive to these words, are other forms like "hellish" or "damnable" acceptable, or is it just the four-letter format? Is it less acceptable in speech than in writing?

Maybe I just need to be educated about what is the actual Christian definition of cursing.

Edit: There are 3 votes to close this and a suggestion to move it to a language site. I don't want to presume but I'm guessing it's because some are offended: Even the title has been sanitized! This is exactly what I want to understand... And I'm not asking about "certain common words": I'm specifically asking about "HELL" and "DAMN" which are Christian terms, and I thought I was clear that I'm asking about it in the sense of regular usage, not when used as curses. Is there cause for offense in these words because they can be used as curses or is it something inherent in them? Please believe me, I'm not trying to be confrontational, I genuinely want to understand the nature of these words in our common culture.

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I'm not sure what this has to do with Christianity? –  Bruce Alderman Sep 2 '11 at 3:26
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@Bruce Should we migrate it to english.SE? –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Sep 2 '11 at 3:32
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@ChaosGamer: Maybe the question could be rephrased. Which Christians, specifically, consider these words to be "cursing"? Cursing, to me, is a synonym for imprecatory prayer--something completely different from saying "damn" or "hell". –  Bruce Alderman Sep 2 '11 at 3:37
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These are mainly Christian sensitivities. The words are from the bible and the reaction/offense to them is based in Christian standards, I think? –  Andrew Vit Sep 2 '11 at 3:37
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@Bruce But what the OP is asking is totally different from that. –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Sep 2 '11 at 3:38
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closed as off topic by Bruce Alderman, warren, wax eagle, Caleb, Shog9 Sep 2 '11 at 17:20

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2 Answers

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29 to not let "corrupt communication" come out of your mouth.

EPHESIANS 4:29-32 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

When Peter denied that he knew Jesus, he did so while cursing and swearing.

MATTHEW 26:74 Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.

And in the books of Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells us that what is in your heart comes out of your mouth.

Matthew 12:34 (KJV) O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

LUKE 6:45 (KJV) A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

Words have different meanings when used in different contexts. The word "hell" when read aloud from the Bible has a different emotional impact than when an angry spouse or coworker shouts "What the h***!?" from across the room. The difference should be obvious.

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Growing up in central Kansas in the 1980s, I was taught—both by my Sunday School teacher and by the english teacher in public school—that "damn" and "hell" were not obscene but vulgar, i.e., that they were only used by uneducated people. I remember being told that if we used them, people would think we weren't very smart. I can't remember ever hearing anyone say they were offensive. And plenty of people from church used these words in casual conversations.

Edit:

Also, I recall C.S. Lewis using both words in the Narnia series. So I'm thinking the offense is cultural, not religious.

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+1 for vulgar. I've always believed that profanity is the hallmark of a tragically limited vocabulary--you use words like that, it makes people think you're stupid even if you aren't. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 2 '11 at 4:04
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semi-related, Jesus referring to the scribes and pharisees as "hypocrites" was akin to some modern-day "cuss words" –  warren Sep 2 '11 at 4:29
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and on the cultural bit, "bloody" is minor or unoffensive in the US, but about the worst thing you can say in the UK (or at least was at one point) –  warren Sep 2 '11 at 4:30
    
It is pretty cultural, and it's also social. In NZ they are perhaps vulgar/common, but, at least in the peer group I grew up with, they are not considered offensive or swearing. When I came to the states I "startled" a lot of people at church with my use of these words. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 2 '11 at 6:54
    
@Mason. And you've always been wrong. youtu.be/s_osQvkeNRM & youtu.be/HSQmk6gGTcE. –  TRiG Sep 14 '11 at 2:49
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