I know it's not the best source, but there's a funny TV show on Showtime network called, appropriately, Penn & Teller: Bullshit! The pretense of the show is this comedic duo tears apart various beliefs. Generally, they tend to interview the extreme oposite ends of the spectrum and they (intentionally, I'm sure) generally interview the worst possible representatives on the side that they're trying to put down. They have an episode devoted to "Profanity" in which they discuss and show, through various arguments/interviews, that the concept of bad words or profanity is a simple social convention that is outmoded or outdated. I don't buy into this wholeheartedly, but people need to watch what they say; I don't mean walk on eggshells and avoid saying "bad words" completely. I'm saying there's a time and a place for everything, and "bad words" are appropriate in the appropriate situation. I like the line from the TV show Firefly, "I swear when it's appropriate." Though the other character replies, "Simon, the whole point of swearing is that it ain't appropriate." Well, I feel the way Simon feels. Swearing is appropriate. Just like exclamation points, they exclaim an emotion. When you're in a meeting at work with your bosses, you probably shouldn't swear. But, it's not that big of a deal to swear when you smash your thumb with a hammer.
What brings this up you ask... Well, I've been reading a couple blog entries about slang. This first one about the slang surrounding the Prohibition in the 20s and 30s, then this one about trying to teach IBM's supercomputer "Watson" slang from Urbandictionary.com, last but not least this entry about the different uses of the word snow. All this reading about slang and the difficulties behind it's proper use made me think about profanity. They're intricately related, profanity and slang are difficult intricacies in language, especially a second language. As a second (and someday third) language learner I can say from personal experience, this is one of the hardest parts of learning a new language. It's funny, because that seems like one of the first things many of my friends sought out right away when learning a new language.
It reminds me of a story I often tell about my time learning Korean. We were in class one day and one of the teachers was leaving the school; we were having a going away party later that day for her. Well, the word for "going away party" is somewhat similar sounding to "sex party/orgy." One of the guys in our small, four-person class accidentally asked (in Korean), "What time is the sex party for our teacher?" Of course, this innocent kid had no idea that's what he said! He was clueless and so was the girl in our class, but the Marine, who fit the stereotype and knew all the "bad words" in Korean, was cracking up laughing at our poor classmate's misfortune at saying something so embarrassing. I made a point NOT to learn all the bad words in Korean, but I was a good student and I knew his mistake immediately just by knowing related vocabulary, so I was laughing hysterically as well. It's easy, even for good students, to make similar mistakes and using actual profanity/slang in a new language, and I still have problems using such language in Korean, I've learned some Korean profanity so that I understand it when I hear it.
I wanted to update this entry with a funny video from Messy Mondays. These funny videos often cover a variety of topics and they had a good lesson about bad words.
To 'slide' down the slide with me, click the photo and use left/right arrows to scroll through the pictures. I can't wait to make a better version of this, now that I've practiced, but here's my first and only attempt (so far).