I am currently in middle school, and as many of you know, profanity is thrown around in middle school like clothes in a dryer.

My religion prohibits me from being profane, how can I tell my friends to stop swearing so that I am not influenced by their actions?

For all those wondering what my situation is, I am an 8th grader living in Minnesota. The people I am asking to stop swearing are people who will not believe in my religion, but I would like to still keep them as friends.

  • <comments removed> If you are not asking for clarification about this post, question are not a prelude to start a discussion in comments. See the Stack Exchange Tour. Thank you. Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 17:30

15 Answers 15


My religion prohibits me from being profane, how can I tell my friends to stop swearing so that I am not influenced by their actions?

You don't. You can't expect other people to follow your religion. If you phrase your request like that, it will likely feel to them like you're asking them to adhere to the rules of your religion.

What you can do, is ask them to refrain from swearing around you because it makes you uncomfortable. You may explain that it is because of your religion, but you really should stress that is making you uncomfortable.

Your friends may not follow your —or any— religion, but if they are your friends, they should have some consideration for your feelings.

  • 19
    You even explained why it makes you uncomfortable in the question: it's not that your religion prohibits them from swearing, its that you don't want their influence to lead you towards swearing. That is a very reasonable reason to be uncomfortable (though I admit it may be more difficult to convince a bunch of middle schoolers of this than it was to convince me). It also makes it clear that if they keep swearing, the natural outcome of you being uncomfortable is that you will eventually migrate to a social circle that makes you more comfortable.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 19:16
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    This has a disproportional number of upvotes for the quality of the answer. The answer is a little terse and lacks insight and examination of the situation. I'm not saying the author lacks this, but the answer does. For this type of site, it's cringe worthy what the community sees as quality.
    – user57
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 19:39

My religion prohibits me from being profane, how can I tell my friends to stop swearing so that I am not influenced by their actions?

Taking your personal beliefs and imposing it on your friends who do not share your beliefs is not likely to work out well in middle school, or life in general.

They do not follow your religion and cannot be expected to follow your religion. Your religion prohibits you from swearing, not them.

My religion prohibits me from being profane, how can I tell my friends to stop swearing so that I am not influenced by their actions?

You say it is so they do not influence you, but in reality only you can control what does and does not influence you. You will be surrounded by profanity for your entire life and it is unreasonable to expect everyone to cave to your personal beliefs.

What you can do:

  1. Do not swear yourself.
  2. Ask your friends to tone it down if it makes you uncomfortable.
  3. (Middle School Specific) Jokingly make fun of your friends who swear for no reason. Phrases like "Wow with all that swearing you must be really cool s/" and "What does all that swearing have to do with what you said?
  • 5
    I'd advise against the passive-aggressive third point.
    – G. Bach
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 7:34
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    Honestly, given the nature of middle schoolers, I'm not sure I can honestly recommend the second point either. I think if OP wants to keep friends and avoid potential mockery (which can be very bad at that age and you have few options to escape it), they should just avoid using profanity themselves and otherwise drop the topic. I don't think there'll be much to gain from trying to get other middle schoolers to stop swearing.
    – Kat
    Commented Jan 25, 2018 at 19:13

Don't mention the religion

Only let your friends know that you personally find their constant swearing disturbing. If they care, they will control it.

To strangers, don't mention anything. Let them be.

My experience

Some close friends back in college hostel used to swear too much. It was considered normal back in their hometown. Swear words were like normal words - these friends didn't realize it would offend others.

I never use such words myself.

Sometimes, I'd give them a 'look of disapproval'. ಠ_ಠ

Sometimes I say in a light-hearted way: "Cool it, man! What's up with the language?"

Eventually I noticed a decrease in their swearing - but never completely gone.


Most religion asks you to adhere to certain principals, some encourage you to proselytize... (encourage others to join your religion)

The particular religious tradition I was raised in encouraged the "make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to X" sort of proselytizing

Basically it's often better to be an example, develop a relationship, and then let them ask why you behave the way you do, than it is to preach from on high.

Don't try to force others into your way of doing things, let them see that your way is working for you and let them inquire about that.

From what I've understood being a clergy brat, most religions don't prohibit witnessing sin, they prohibit commiting sin. Hearing dirty words isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's saying them that gets you.

Just keep being a good example. Those that see that your stuff is working may come around eventually.


I think this is something of a potential minefield if handled incorrectly. You are young now, but as you get older this won't just be about what's trendy or rebellious; so certain arguments may not age well. The way you express disapproval is very important. There are good and bad ways of doing it.

You have chosen to adopt a belief which is unpopular. That is your choice, and no one else is obligated to follow it. If you effectively say to them: "this is against my belief, you must not do this", that's a dangerous standard to create. What about when you do something that they don't agree with? Are you willing to change your behaviour to suit them? It's a poor way of mediating disputes. You're basically attempting to command your friends to submit to your authority; that's never going to work amongst peers. And if it does they will resent you for attempting to control them.

When people use the phrase "That's offensive", it's also a bad way of expressing disapproval. Because again it's an appeal to your authority used to manipulate others. And what's more this is often irritating because it's so vague. Like saying "This makes me uncomfortable" it implies you don't trust them, otherwise why would you not be more specific? Amongst colleagues maybe there's no personal connection so you may not want to get into it, but amongst friends there should be honesty and trust.

I personally think often people use phrases like "That's offensive" because it allows them to project strength when really something said made them feel angry or sad, and they don't want to appear vulnerable by being honest about that. But actually when people are honest about their feelings others will be more sympathetic and helpful.

Avoid reacting immediately to swear words with "That's a bad word" or "Stop cussing". Both of which may work, but when you get older frankly that sort of thing will come off as babyish and immature. My pet peeve is "cuss"; the word annoys me because it's like a baby word. How am I supposed to respect you as an adult if you choose to talk like a small child?

So if you want to be taken seriously you need to explain to them why this is an issue for you. You mentioned in a comment that you were swearing in the past, and wish to kick the habit. In the same way if friends know you're trying to change a routine they will often show solidarity. That's true of many cases, like exercise, alcohol, smoking, drug use, food choices, etc.

Explain to your friends that as you believe X, it means that you feel obligated not to swear. Unfortunately you find it easy to accidentally swear, because everyone else is doing it, and you would greatly appreciate if they could swear less when you're around. Say that though this may seem insignificant to them, it means a lot to you.

Incidentally, some languages actually have no swear words. Like Gaelic has absolutely none. It means when people try and insult each other they have to be creative. One colleague said that he overheard his son talking to his mother, referring to the "elderly Gorilla"... eventually realising they were referring to him. So to soften the blow, after explaining your reasons, you may like to add that actually it can be more fun if all of you try and devise creative insults and expletives instead of defaulting to common swear words. If you can invent funny phrases to substitute swear words they may start using them instead, because they're funny.

To summarise:

Lead by example: do not swear yourself.
Be honest: explain why you have a problem with them swearing (I'm trying to swear less).
Request, never demand: phrase this as a request you are making, never an order or demand, especially not by appealing to another authority.
Offer alternatives: encourage them away from using swear words by showing how a creative use of language can be even more funny and expressive.
Be realistic: do not expect them to change immediately, or to always manage to avoid swearing.
Positive reinforcement: if they do swear much less after you've asked, say to them that you've noticed they are swearing less, and you really appreciate the effort they are making.


I wasn't going to answer this, as I'm a 50 year old woman on the other side of the world. Then I saw this meta question Can I request that a user doesn't hint that I am insignificant because of my age? and realised, I should answer, even though there's differences between us, we are both faced with a similar issue.

My situation

I used to swear a lot - in fact it got to the point that I wasn't finishing a sentence without swearing. I blurted out a swear word, when I normally wouldn't have. I'd have a professional filter - so swear selectively, depending on whom I was with and this was failing me, the habit was becoming so severe.

Also my teenage daughter started swearing and it shocked me into realising what a bad influence I was over her.

So I made a new year's resolution (the first one I've made with an intent of keeping) Keep it Clean in Twenty Seventeen. I made a decision to stop swearing and have been more or less successful in this.


It's your religious beliefs that may primarily be your reason for not swearing. Whether or not you divulge that as the reason is something of a tricky area, particularly, as you mention, they do not share your beliefs.

This is why I've discussed my experiences, as they're not really religion based and it shows that we can influence people over swearing, whatever our reasons for disliking swearing.

Religion seems to be growing increasingly unpopular (where I am anyway) and people can be mocked for expressing religious beliefs. If you feel comfortable enough with your friends to express these beliefs, then it shouldn't be a problem to state that as the reason for you not liking to be around swearing.

However, in my experience in life, it's usually better to just address the issue at hand - you don't like swearing - than to entangle it with any larger and potentially controversial issue, as the prime message you are trying to deliver is "You don't like swearing" not "You're religious". Introducing religion as the issue may derail the conversation from focusing on swearing.

The difficulties

Now here's the rub. Aussies tend to swear a lot. It's our culture. The F, S and B word are commonplace and now even the C word is being thrown more regularly. And me being such a bad swearer (or a successful swearer - which is not a good thing) and then going cold turkey and stopping, it would cause people to do a double take if I asked them not to swear.

Now in this instance it's been mainly family members I ask not to swear, my children (aged 15, 17 and 23), my sister and my mother. At first everyone was resistant. An instant wall of tension and resistance. "But you've been the biggest swearer!" - exactly! which is why I've stopped.

Handling these difficulties

So how I handled it, was to explain - you know I've given up swearing and I'm trying to raise the bar. I would make it light. Particularly with my mother, we joke when she swears and I joke about how offended I am. This may seem likes it making a mockery, but it has actually worked. She rarely swears in front of me and we're 8 months into this change.

My sister was ok, when I explained to her - when she wasn't swearing and the situation was cool, that I really didn't want to be around swearing. So choosing a time when swearing wasn't an issue was the best approach.

My children, the younger two have adapted quite well, which is interesting, as they're teenagers and teenagers seem to have a reputation for objecting to limits. I am not stern, I simply say "don't swear, it doesn't sound nice" and screw up my face a bit, like I can smell something bad.

My adult son, it more adversarial. He won't be told. What has happened, though, it will devolve into him making a joke, which is an improvement over conflict.

Reasons not to swear

I also actively fight swearing on this Network and one of the things I say to people (both on here and my family) is, it takes more effort to not swear - to find words to fill those places.

Also when there is conflict and tempers are flaring, if you've noticed for example in road rage incidents, people will usually swear when they're angry and the use of swear words will fuel the anger. They're easy to emphasize and exaggerate the intensity of what is being expressed. Not swearing when angry, takes some of the sting out of it, as using a decent vocabulary tends to slow down the brain, as the person needs to find words to express this intensity and when people are angry, often their brains lock up a bit. So a commitment to not swearing is actually practically helpful.

Respond when things are cool

Some of the methods and reasons I've given can be discussed when people are cool. If someone has just sworn and they're corrected, particularly if there's other people around, they're likely to get defensive and become adversarial.

It's better to mention to people who regularly swear around you, that you don't like it at a time when they've not been swearing.

Choose who you tell

The other issue is, if it's an acquaintance, there's unlikely to be much worth in attempting to stop them from swearing or even sticking your neck out and telling them you find it offensive. In a teenage environment, it's capable of back firing and then encourage people to troll you or tease you for your beliefs. Pick you targets, so that you don't become a target.

At the end of the day, you cannot control how others behave, you can only communicate how their behaviour affects you. You need to weigh up the costs and benefits of communicating this to various individuals.

Ask yourself: Are they likely to respect me? From observing their general behaviour, you'll know what type of character they have and whether or not it's likely to blow up in your face. You're allowed to protect yourself from being ridiculed.

Lead by example

There will always be people doing things we hate, that's the world and it makes it difficult when people, who are striving for goodness, are constantly battling the baser nature of human beings.

The best way to improve behaviour in those around us is to lead by example. Just as I was a bad influence on my children and you fear your friends will be a bad influence on you, make a positive affirmation that you will be the better influence. If you stay strong in your mind, with little occasional reminders, people, will hopefully start to feel uncomfortable and a little ashamed to swear in your company.

  • 2
    Wow. This was a truly great answer with lots of thought and time put into it. Much respect to you, Mrs. Colomb. Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 18:48
  • @baranskistad you can change the accepted answer at any time. The accepted answer is short and terse. It's a shame it has no many votes.
    – user57
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 19:36

As you can see from many other answers, giving a specifically religious (especially Christian) reason for a request is considered inappropriate in contemporary Western culture. Profanity, which used to be considered inappropriate, is now considered appropriate and deserving of toleration and respect, while your religious convictions are considered the opposite. And while it is acknowledged to be inappropriate to use words that are offensive to someone's gender, sexual, racial identity, extending such a courtesy to someone's religious identity is considered an assault on "freedom."

I doubt this shift will reverse any time soon, and you will experience this even more intensely if you pursue your interests and end up in Silicon Valley. Expressing your faith in any form, especially as it relates to questions of morality, will be quite risky. As Bruce Frohnen says:

The lesson to be taken from all this, I submit, is that there is no such thing as a “naked” public square. No society is “neutral” in regard to religion or, indeed, any important set of social institutions or values. The liberal myth of laws that treat all values and value systems as equal covers up an attempt to change the cultural and ultimately religious norms that bind together any stable community. These norms undergird any society’s laws and shape its public life. As the demand for neutrality gives way to the demand for Christian conformity with anti-Christian dictates the bad faith of earlier claims to desire mere “fairness” become increasingly clear.

Given all this, I think the best strategy is to still love your friends who use profanity, but spend more time with friends who will not influence you in a bad direction. You are still young, and so the company you keep now will set your habits and trajectory for the rest of your life. Avoiding profanity in college and in the workplace will be impossible, but if you develop good habits now, you'll be less liable to picking up profanity when you get older. Given that you don't want to make a habit of using profanity, that people generally start talking like those they frequently hang out with, and that it'll be hard to change how your friends talk, adjusting your hangout habits is your best option.

This is also the course of action recommended by your religion's sacred text:

Apostle Paul:

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.


He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.


And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

  • 3
    Hi, welcome to Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange! Feel free to take the tour and check out the help center. Have you confirmed that the OP is Christian? If not, using all-Christian sources is probably not the best course to take. I'd also suggest that you remove the editorializing here about the supposed impropriety of profanity; it comes across as overly judgmental. Finally, can you explain why your suggestion is correct - in other words, what makes it better than simply random advice? Thanks.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 17:16
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    1) OP has reputation 101 in the Christianity community. 2) Sorry if I came across as judgmental. To be clear, I think that it's only inappropriate after conditioning on OP's religion. 3) Done! Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 17:54
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    @HDE226868 I am indeed Christian, I simply made the question's religion anonymous so that it could be better found and related to. Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 18:03

Your religious beliefs have absolutely no claim on others, not even your closest friends. It is really that simple. The belief that one's own religious beliefs should have any consequences at all for the behavior of others is a tragic error that will destroy friendships and alienate coworkers.

Profanity is an unfortunately weak kind of speech. You should forgive your friends this minor weakness. It is also speech that is a relatively safe violation of relatively mild social norms, which is why it is attractive to teens. You should be able to understand this in your friends. Make your own decisions about your own speech, ideally without relying on superstition to do so. Leave others to their own decisions, unless they seek your opinion.

  • 2
    I would tend to avoid phrases like "there is no complexity to this situation at all" when people ask for help. I would also avoid overly vague solutions like "grow up", additionally calling religion, an important tenet in the OPs life, superstition indicated that you might not be objectively evaluating the situation and may be depreciating something that is important to the person we are trying to help.
    – Joe S
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 15:35
  • 3
    One rule to follow when giving advice is realizing that what's easy for you might not be easy for them.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 15:48

Ah, yes. That stage. I remember it quite well.

I was exactly like this. I didn't like swearing, but my peers at school would also try and trick me into saying something like "shut up" - which was a big deal since I always made sure not to say it.

I'd recommend you to do two things:

  1. Stay conscious

    Depending on how respectful your friends are of who you are, always remain in control of yourself. From what it sounds, you're friends don't seem to have an awful lot of respect for your beliefs. You will have to stay aware of what is going on around you, and make sure that you "think before you speak."

  2. Tell them how you feel

    Clearly, this is making you feel very uncomfortable. But why is it making you uncomfortable? Your religion may be one factor, but it's not the only one. Your friends' actions go counter to your values and morals as well. You don't like these actions. So communicate that. "Yo guys. You know I don't like this. Settle down with the language a little bit."

    This will take time, and you will have to be assertive. Don't back down from you stand for. Every time one of your friends swears, or says something profane, call them out on it. "Hey! Language!" Eventually, your friends will catch on.

This doesn't mean that you stay away from your friends, just call them out on things you don't like. Be assertive, and don't stand back from what you believe. Eventually, they will adapt and mature a little bit.

  • 1
    What makes me uncomfortable is my friends have gotten me to get into a habit of swearing in the past which I do not wish to go back into. Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 3:24
  • 3
    @bjskistad Wait, so you've gotten into the habit? What about my answer is making you uncomfortable? Maybe I can address it
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 3:29

I remember saying as a young man, "X is a good guy and he'd be a great guy if he'd cut out the foul language." He didn't quite do so, but he did "moderate" his language."

Your approach will differ slightly from person to person, situation to situation, but there will be opportunities to tell your friends, "I like you, but I'd like you even more if you would stop swearing." You might even say something like, "you can sound better than that," or "you can express yourself better than that" after someone swears.

I'd try to keep "religion" out of it, unless someone asks you why you feel the way you do. Just try to sell "not swearing" as being the "right" thing to do.


I think it is more about profanities being thrown around which makes you uncomfortable and in general throwing profanities makes many people (including me) uncomfortable and offended. When I was in school and college years I made it clear to my friends and other that I don't like it and most of the time people around me did not use profanities knowing that I don't like such speech and thus refrain from it while talking to me. Occasionally there were people who were so habitual of speaking profanities that it was not possible for them to not use such language and I simply avoided such people.

And I also think if you do not make it an necessary religious issue (AFAIK almost every religion prohibits profane speech) but more of social mannerisms issue then people around you are more likely to give you a consideration. Don't turn it into an unnecessary religious issue because it is not. Also you may consider avoiding or ignoring such people to make sure your views on that are communicated in non-verbal manner.


(Just a little hint: not everyone knows what "8th grade" is, so giving your age would be more useful. I assume you are around 14 or 15 years old.)

how can I tell my friends to stop swearing

You cannot, period.

This is a very tough cookie, which takes some people years or decades to swallow and work around. What to do if other people do or say things that you do not like or want. In my experience and opinion, it is strictly impossible to really change other people by saying a few words to them. You can force their short-team behaviour (in extreme cases, like teachers towards benign students, or police towards criminals etc.) but you cannot really change what they really are, what they are thinking, their character and so on.

It spares you much frustration to...

  • Understand why they are doing it.
  • Equipped with that knowledge: explain (to yourself) that they are not inherently evil or stupid, but that they are logically driven to do it by circumstances (note: a "circumstance" can also be something interal like "puberty is the time where humans actively try to cross borders to check for reactions from their peers" or "in puberty, most people are not mature enough to think through whether their behaviour is good or bad").
  • Separate your appreciation for your peers (for their "real" core human being) from such behaviour, which might or might not have complex reasons, which they might or might not be able to influence.

so that I am not influenced by their actions?

If you manage to see things for what they are, you should be able to get much more relaxed concerning their actions. The words themselves (the physical movement of air molecules) cannot hurt you. The intention behind the words should not be able to hurt you either. They are not you, and you are not them.

If you determine that them using such words somehow shows that they are really trying to harm you (as in: beat you up etc.), then of course you react appropriately in whatever way you deem best. Avoiding them, probably.

If you determine that they are likely still good people, just a bit mislead at the moment, then just accept them as they are and stick with being yourself.

At no point whatsoever is there any reason for you to change yourself to be more like them. You do not need to swear. You do not need to play silly mind games. If they somehome trick you into swearing, you can rest assured that your deity will very likely understand. The important part is that by thinking and asking about these things, you are already showing proof that you are far beyond other people at that age in maturity, and on a good route. Your intentions are good, that is most likely what counts.

Back to the other question:

how can I tell my friends to stop swearing

You can stay yourself, firmly. Show them that it is possible to be a relaxed, compassionate human being who is fun to be around without you swearing all the time. Don't berate them, don't belittle them, don't lower yourself to their verbal level.

If it does not work out that way, i.e. if they absolutely "need" the swearing, and they really start to get ugly towards you, then it's time for a bit of separation. You don't need to burn bridges, maybe just reduce your time together a bit.

Disclosure: I have no religion myself, but I have some other very specific and fundamental convictions regarding ethics, morals or every day things; I had many phases where I was like you in that I "knew what was best for everyone" and tried to change people around me. Stay away from that folly. Be a positive example, but that's about it. I would not even mention your religion in any way, regarding this, you will very likely get bad results for that (they might start swearing specifically at your religion and such).


I don't really like it when others swear. I myself don't swear.

That said, unless something someone else says is especially frustrating to me (i.e., I don't call out some of the more minor uses of strong language, but use of significantly stronger language I might say something like, "hey, could you not use that language?" or whatever) I don't bother them about it. (This of course is in my friend circle, I don't really listen to many conversations out of it.)

However, just not swearing myself when, as you said, "profanity is thrown around [...] like clothes in a dryer" actually kind of sticks with people. I didn't realize this, but I've overhead mentions of it now and again. I think people actually respect me all the more for it.

Like politics, death, public speaking, and money, religion is one of those words that gets people on edge. Don't bring that up. If someone says something particularly atrocious say something like, "hey, can you go easy on the cuss words? it kind of bothers me" or "hey, no need for that", or even "really?". Otherwise I'd suggest just thinking about what you're saying, not others.

It's up to you whether you repeat that new gossip, the latest cuss word, or wear some new style. Choose what you do based on your beliefs. Others will notice.


I work in a situation very similar to your school situation. When I first joined the job, it was the case for a couple employees in particular that every second sentence contained a swear word. The other sentences were nothing but cussing.

The trick I used was simply to show by my lifestyle that I didn't approve of their swearing. This showed itself up in several different ways:

1. Don't swear yourself.

Kind of obvious, but it actually sets a tone, especially if you can show yourself somewhat outgoing and lead the conversation yourself. Frequently, people start swearing less

And if all else fails...

2. Show very mild disapproval when someone swears.

If possible, make it disapproval that you fellow students / workers / friends / whatever won't notice consciously. A very slightly lowered eyebrow, a very slight tightening of the muscles and a very slight withdrawal makes anyone who is subconsciously watching you feel very slightly uncomfortable. This will actually tend to decrease the amount they swear, since it actually has a very slight "Rubber band" effect.*

3. Steer conversation away from swearing.

This can be difficult to do in a lot of cases, but occasionally, it is possible to direct the conversation away from some particularly negative experience / situation which is bringing on a lot of profanity. Being directly involved in the conversation can give you the power to move away from those topics, avoiding the cussing.

*Note: I just pulled out that particular article at random. You can read about the Rubber Band effect other places as well.


Sure, it's okay to be a prig sometimes.

And I mean that.

It's everyone's right, and we don't really need to use the word, "prig", either. We have the right to express an unpopular opinion.

And it's also okay to try to understand your friends.

Let's try to understand.

Why is it called swearing?

If your religion admits to the ten commandments given to Moses, you will note that it doesn't say, "Don't swear!"

It says,

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

The following is not a Bible lesson, it's a bit of history on the reason we call this particular mode of emphatic speech "swearing", and "profane".

Invoking the name of deity used to be roughly equivalent to what signing a contract is now. (Roughly.) It was a strong assertion of the will to do something, or not to do something.

There's more to it than this, but I don't want to spoil the discovery for you. Study it out in your own history books and/or scriptures, and you will find much better answers than you will get here.

But remember to think while you do so. Thinking is where you get the answers. (And if you are inclined towards religion, an attitude of prayer can help the thinking processes.)

So, what is profanity? What does profane mean?

I'll skip a bit, leave you to discover that one, as well, and tell you some of my opinions. I am told I must not skip this or I will be making this a bible lesson.

To understand the meaning of the word profanity, we need to understand the word, "sacred". It's a word common to many religions and philosophies. The word sacred means "set apart" from the things of ordinary life. We use the word "special" these days to mean much the same thing. It's just not quite as strong in meaning.

The verb, "profane" pretty much means to take things which are sacred -- special -- and use them where they don't belong. As an adjective, it indicates things which have been used where they don't belong.

"Inappropriate" is a word that we commonly use to mean something very similar, although it is not as strong a word.

Profanity, when talking about language, basically means language used inappropriately -- well, language used really inappropriately.

Inappropriate language is inappropriate for several reasons. Let me see if I can describe why, and show some examples of appropriate use in the process.

I had a teacher who, when a student used a strong word for fecal matter, would sometimes respond by looking around at the floor or ground and saying,

Where? Don't step in it!

Not all the time, just sometimes. I think he was trying to help the students understand that the words meant more than just,

I'm old enough to feel strongly about something and assert my opinions.

People don't mean that there is fecal matter somewhere when they say those words. They are generally referring, consciously or otherwise, to an old proverb about the dung hitting the fan. (Did you know they had fans in cow barns thousands of years ago? ;)

Picture the farmer clearing the floor of the cow barn with a shovel, and a load poorly tossed getting into the fan. This is an archetypical metaphor for the after effects of working when you are tired, or of being careless.

Such use could also be a reference to the older version of the proverb,

Bad stuff happens.

The reason the words are inappropriate is that they say more and less than what we mean. They do not communicate very much, other than that strong emotions are being verbally asserted.

Of course, if we are going to use these words, we should (like some of my farmer friends) use them when we are talking about dung, etc.

But if we are going to use them as strong metaphors, we should generally limit them to only when things are going to be really, really bad and everybody's going to be blasted by the flying aftereffects.

Except that overuse is another problem. For instance, I complain about a certain software vendor, but it has become so common to complain about the software vendor that no one hears the real meaning. So I don't complain about that software vendor nearly as much as they deserve any more. People misunderstand me if I do.

The overuse of the complaint undermines the meaning.

So, we probably should not use words profanely even when the situation calls for strong words. People will likely think we are just trying to be cool.

As a different kind of example of how words can be inappropriately used, and how they can be appropriately used, I'll offer this thought:

Sometimes, especially when I am driving by myself, someone cuts too tightly in front of me, and I find that strong words come unbidden to my tongue.

Now, I have learned (but still sometimes forget) to remind myself that I don't want the driver in front of me to suffer the wrath of God, and that I don't particularly intend to violently and sexually assault the driver, and that I don't really thing the driver's car is full of fecal matter.

So I take a deep breath and think what I really mean.

If I were talking directly to them, I would say something like,

Please look, and at least signal first.

And, even though they can't hear, I find that I am much better off saying what I mean, instead of being lazy and invoking the wrath of God or whatever. Anger, and the desire to use strong words, disappears while I am putting my frustrations into real words because, even though I can't communicate my frustrations with the driver, I can communicate my frustrations to myself.

And, in taking the time to think, I have time to respond to their dangerous driving, and remember that I'd rather arrive alive than be dead right in my opinions of their driving.

So, if you were sitting beside me in the car on the (hopefully rare) occasion when I turn loose with some inappropriate language, you might say something like,

At any rate, we don't want that to happen while we are behind them. By the way, could that be your wife's little brother driving that car?

Your friends may not know this strategy. But now you have seen it.

Be careful how you say things like this to your friends. Make it a joke. Don't be critical. Smile, and be careful not to sneer. Remember that, while you want them to be able to say what they mean more effectively because you know that will make them happier, those kinds of changes have to come at their pace, not yours.

So, be creative, and set a good example.

  • 2
    I think your answer would be stronger if you dropped the "bible lesson", which anyway depends on a presumption of Christianity and the OP hasn't stated a religion. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 2:09
  • 3
    I'm sorry but the tone of this answer doesn't seem to comply with the "Be Nice" policy. The question isn't asking "why do people swear"? or "should I follow my religion's teachings and not swear"? or any other question... it's asking "how do I address my friends' swearing?", which I'm not even sure you answer here.
    – Catija
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 15:41
  • @MonicaCellio Is it a little less "Bible" oriented now, or do you want me to quote the Quran or some Buddhist or Hindu text? (Sorry I'm being a little snide today. It's just really odd to see this kind of misunderstanding here.)
    – Joel Rees
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 2:57
  • 5
    I don't think I'm misunderstanding. Your answer, especially your first version, screams "evangelical christian" to me, & even if the OP so identified, I find your attempts to teach the OP religion out of place. Everything before "Inappropriate language is inappropriate for several reasons" is IMO completely superfluous & harms your answer. (Maybe some stuff after; I haven't read it all again post-edit.) Take the OP at his word and work with it instead of trying to get him to view his religion differently just based on your unsourced say-so. Sorry if too blunt; don't know what else to say. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 3:10
  • 1
    Joel, I'm very religious myself but not your religion. I've been part of lots of interfaith discussion, much of it online (i.e. in written form). Let's just say there are some common markers. But I'm not trying to have a religious discussion; I'm saying that challenging the OP's religious premises on a site about interpersonal skills is out of place. They are what they are. I'm glad you're thinking about a rewrite. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 14:04

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