The Function of Profanity in Modern English

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Table Of Contents .

Chapter 1- Introduction and Clarification

Chapter 2- Everyday Usage of Profanity

Chapter 3- How Profanity Offends

Chapter 4- A Look at the Literal Meanings and Taboo

Chapter 5- Phatic and Emotive Language

Chapter 6- The Employment of Substitutes

Chapter 7- A Brief Historical Perspective

Chapter 8- The Use of Profanity in the Media

Chapter 9- Conclusions


The Function of Profanity in Modern English

Chapter 1- Introduction and Clarification

Since the beginning of the English language, there have existed certain words that were considered by the majority to be taboo, or not to be spoken in polite discourse. Over the centuries, these words have changed, some disappearing from the language altogether and some simply taking on new meanings or functions. One wonders why, if these words were considered too rude to be spoken, they were ever used, and consequently, how they remained a fixture in a language known for its passing trends and short-lived fashions.

Could it be that these words were, and are, essential for communication? Would the English language be as effective without these words? Are efforts to repress them futile? Does the popularization of such vocabulary create the need for new words with the same taboo status as the original words? To summarize: Does profanity serve a useful purpose in the English language?

In order to answer a question this complex, certain guidelines must be set. The word 'profanity' has a long list of taboo words associated with it, not all of which can be accommodated within such a short study. It is therefore necessary to limit which words we consider. Since this is a study of modern English, the words should be representative of the kind of profanity used today. In his superb study 'Swearing,' Geoffrey Hughes said:

...A major shift has...