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Bad Language Definitions
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Do we know what "bad language" is? Most people would answer "yes", but where does this knowledge come from? Does it originate from an intimate understanding of what is good and evil, in God's eyes, about different varieties of language, or is it simply a haphazard guess by society? Now that I have your attention, let us strive to ensure that how we define this subject is based on God's will, instead of society's will.
So, what is bad language, and what makes it wrong? Different people will give different answers to these questions. Many will answer these questions simply by saying "My list of words is bad language." and "because the Bible says so" (quoting Colossians 3:8). However, how do we know that the author of that verse was referring to what you call "bad language"? No, for the answers we seek, we must look deeper than words, and search for meaning.
When asked to do this, people will sometimes hint at useful theories. Such theories give a definition of "bad language" which may serve as an adaptable template to keep us in line with an interpretation of God's will, beyond language. The following two theories were pieced together after much thought and discussion.
The first theory is that bad language is language that people do not want to hear, and is wrong because people do not want to hear it. The reality is, though, that most people want to hear and use it. This is supported by the fact that people laugh at comedians instead of gasping at them. Only polite society, which is a minority, shuns bad language. It would follow that it is okay to use bad language in the right crowd. Thus, according to this theory, if all people were to accept all language as okay, there would be no bad language. This is because according to this theory the evilness of bad language lies in whether it is inconsiderate to other people.
However, though this first theory provides an answer to both questions and creates a template, it lacks an explanation of where the definition comes from, which leaves behind a great deal of uncertainty. In addition, the template it creates is not static; it changes from person to person. This would create the sense that bad language is just an illusion, and that there is something wrong with people who reject it. Aside from all of this, it is not the most Biblically sound theory, as the Bible suggests that we ought to _never_ use bad language.
The first theory is very person-oriented, but the second is more language-oriented, and this fact alone makes it seem more like the direction we want to go. One would think that if there were something wrong with bad language, the key would be in its meaning, something universal and firmly based in what God wants us to say, rather than what other people want. However, finding a pattern in the meaning of bad language, much less explaining it, is a very difficult task. The second theory is an attempt at this.
The second theory is that bad language is language whose use does not match its official meaning. To put it another way, bad language is language that does not communicate an idea that comes from the language itself, which is wrong because the language itself is not fulfilling its purpose, which is to communicate ideas. In other words, when bad language is used, the meaning of what is said does not come from the meaning of the words used; it is implied from the situation and the fact that something was said. The words themselves carry no meaning, and are therefore thought of as empty. To put it yet another way, to be considered good language, what it communicates must tie into the meaning of the word or phrase. This theory is derived from the meaning of expletives, or vulgar filler words.
One example of this in action might be the word "ass". Its official meaning was "donkey" and it is now used to mean "butt". This theory would hold that it is becoming more accepted because its new definition is slowly becoming more accepted, which results in the word no longer being used in a bad way.
Also, this theory provides for forms of bad language other than expletives and the currently unmentionable example given above. It provides an explanation for lists of "bad words" that many people use as their definition of "bad language". These lists are words that have been used in a bad way so much that their actual meaning has diminished in value. This means that even when they are used in what would normally be considered a good way, they are still considered vulgar.
Thus, that example is a race between the new definition becoming more accepted and the whole word diminishing in value. It is unclear at the time of this writing whether the Christian community will accept the word after having been considered vulgar for so long.
One consequence of this theory's concept of a "bad word" is that the offensiveness to God of using His name in vain can be explained. The most common application of using God’s name in vain is the phrase “Oh my God.”. The reason that using God’s name in vain could be considered wrong, aside from being in the Ten Commandments, is that one is using God’s name in bad language. This, in theory, affects the value of His name similarly to how it affects the value of the meaning of normal words. If you have trouble visualizing this, try saying to yourself "I want saying God's name to be like saying [insert bad word here]".
Now back to the main issue. The pretense of this paper, as discussed in the introduction, is that we, as Christians, should reconsider what we call "bad language". The first theory would provide no changes to our current understanding. In fact, the majority already ascribe to it on some level, assigning varying levels of badness to language, according to the varying levels of how distasteful it is to others. The second theory, however, would force us to rethink every word we use, for we may unknowingly be using what God considers bad language. If you find the second theory reasonable, then the author might suggest rethinking (but does not make any claims about) words and phrases such as "Oh my goodness!", "hello", "what the heck...", and "What in the world...". "hello" might be an example of something unexpected. Its value may not be obviously bad, but it is worth considering whether it communicates meaning and where this meaning comes from.
As Christians, we cannot afford to rely on a sinful heart for God's will. Instead, we must actively seek it with our minds--indeed, with all our being. This is especially important because when it comes to bad language, our hearts have been raised by society, not God--having never questioned society's teachings or tried to understand them.
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