Lately I’ve been fascinated by language, and this led me to ask one big question: why is there so much religion in swear words?
On one of my favorite self-rambling drives, it struck me how so many popular expletives have a touch of religious language:
- Holy crap!
- What the hell!
- God damn it!
- Jesus Christ! (I’m counting this one)
I have a hard time believing these became swears naturally, since a few make no sense to me. Why is “Holy Crap” an expletive? A swear is normally used when we feel extremely good or bad. Yet “holy” is positive while “crap” is negative. The two cancel each other out and we have a neutral phrase unsuited for swearing. I must’ve missed the memo.
I don’t think it’s some kind of brainwashing, but I do think it’s affected people. It’d be hard for our swears not to affect our thinking. We use them when our emotions are highest, which makes those memories have a powerful effect on us. So would using subtly religious words during these moments subtly push us to religious belief?
Maybe it’s a stretch to think mere words could sway us this much, but language shouldn’t be underestimated. When it comes to our beliefs, if our thoughts are the most important part of them, our language is right after it. We can’t have thoughts without the language to form them, so the words we use directly affect the kinds of thoughts we have. It’s why in 1984, the Party was removing words related to rebellion - it would make rebellious thoughts impossible, thus rebellion itself impossible. It’s also why politicians are trained to pick their words extremely carefully, since the emotional effect of different words can greatly influence how we view an issue.
I like to wonder, if these types of curse words weren’t used, how much would the world’s religious views change? Would people today be more or less religious than they are now? My own guess is people would be less so, although I don’t know how much. As much as language affects the world’s religions, it’s only one factor.
Think about it: if some subtly referenced the zoo whenever they swore, the zoo would be much more important to them. They’d likely visit the zoo regularly, give money to their local zoos, ask their zoo for forgiveness after making mistakes, protest against businesses they think are anti-zoo, and say people who don’t go to the zoo our bound for eternal suffering.
It sounds crazy, but remember: don’t underestimate the power of language. A few different words and, in a few decades, everyone could be part of the Sacred Church of Zoology.
Cheers, Max A