Catholics and Cussing

I am pleased to announce that The American Catholic has a very low level of cussing on its pages as certified here by the Blog and Website Cuss-O-Meter!

We live in a vulgar age of debased standards, and one example of this is the prevalence of unimaginative swearing.  Compare and contrast Blagojevich, impeached and removed Governor of Illinois, convicted felon and soon to be the fouth governor of Illinois to be sent to the slammer in the past four decades with this fine example of imaginative swearing from Macbeth:  “The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!  Where got’st thou that goose look?”  If one must swear, be imaginative about it!

To mask the fact that swearing today is unimaginative verbal filler, the shock value is upped with the all purpose F-Bomb.  I have written about the prevalence of the F-Bomb in contemporary American society here.  Today we live in the midst of a constant storm of profanity that has lost the ability to shock, but merely adds to the shabby quality of so much of modern life.

It may seem a minor sin to engage in such language, but one of our greatest saints, Saint Jean Vianney, the Cure of Ars, would not agree with that assessment:

It is indeed surprising, my dear brethren, that God should have had to give us a commandment forbidding us to profane His sacred name. Can you imagine, my children, that Christians could so hand themselves over to the Devil as to allow him to make use of them for execrating God, Who is so good and so benevolent? Can you imagine that a tongue which has been consecrated to God by holy Baptism, and so many times moistened by His adorable Blood, could be employed in vilifying its Creator? Would anyone be able to do that who truly believed that God had given him his tongue so that he might bless Him and sing His praises? You will agree with me that this is an abominable crime, one which would seem to urge God to overwhelm us with all sorts of evils and to abandon us to the Devil, whom we have been obeying with so much zeal.

It is a sin which makes the hair stand on end in anyone who is not entirely lost to the Faith.

And yet, in spite of its enormity, its horror, its blackness, is there a more common sin than swearing, than the uttering of blasphemies, imprecations, and curses? Do we not all have the sorrow of hearing such language coming from the mouths of children who hardly know their Our Father, horrible words which are sufficient to draw down all sorts of evils upon a parish?

I am going to explain to you, my dear brethren, what is understood by swearing, blasphemy, profanities, imprecations, and curses. Try to sleep well during this period so that when the day of judgment comes, you will be found to have committed this evil without knowing what you were doing-though, of course, you will be damned because your ignorance will all be your own fault!

George Washington had a temper which he worked hard to control all his life.  He would occasionally swear when he gave vent to his anger, a vice he detested in himself and in others.  He made this clear in an order against swearing which he issued to the Continental Army on August 3, 1776:

The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice hitherto little known in our American Army is growing into fashion. He hopes that the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it and that both they and the men will reflect that we can little hope of the blessing of Heaven on our army if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Added to this it is a vice so mean and low without any temptation that every man of sense and character detests and despises it.
George Washington

The order of Washington seems quaint in our eyes.  That reaction of course says nothing about Washington and his order and quite a bit about our profane age.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Reminds me of the time that Bush Jr. forgot the microphone was on and called a reporter “major league @**hole” for the whole world to hear.

  2. Here’s cause for cussing. A Houston VA national cemetery director (federal bureaucrat) ignoring a judge’s specific court order persists in prohibiting saying the word “God” at vets’ funeral services. She says its Obama Admin. Rules and Regulations.

    Taking in vain the Lord’s name is always forbidden.

    Condemning another to the nether regions is uncharitable and wrathful (one of the seven deadly sins).

    To the extent they are uncharitable and wrathful all cuss words should be avoided.

    However, words referring to body parts and bodily functions (should be avoided) are not on the same deeply immoral level as the ones that profane God or curse another’s hope of salvation.

    Thank you, catholic Obamas.

  3. Everyone either cusses or uses masked profanity. “F-bomb” another example of a euphemism along with the “n-word.” Everyone knows what the words are but you can’t say them. What hypocrisy.

    Can’t go to a movie without hearing at least one of the “seven dirty words” lampooned by the late, great George Carlin, a lapsed Catholic by the way. Go ahead, hit your thumb with a hammer and yell, “Darn!” See if it works. Get cut off by someone on the freeway and try to refrain from yelling “a–hole!” Nothing like a stream of expletives to relief the pain and stress of life.

  4. I have made it through 54 years Joe almost never using profanity, and my temper is as Irish as most things about me. The tendency to frequent public swearing by large segments of the population is merely an indication of the self-obsession, loutishness and rudeness which is the hallmark of social interaction today. Swinish George Carlin made a lot of money popularizing the trend, although he blew most of it feeding his various drug addictions. He was very much a child of his times.

  5. Interesting, Don, how there is an imaginary and fuzzy demarcation between “public swearing,” as you put it, and “private swearing,” which I have often heard in small groups by people who ordinarily do not swear in larger company. Not sure how they decide when it’s OK to let loose.

    As for me, having grown up on the mean streets of NY, hearing my hard-working dad come home every day and unleash some choice words, and then transitioning right after high school in the Navy, cussing was very much part of my vocabulary. The way I look at it, the additional words are merely more tools in one’s verbal arsenal and to be used whenever one feels the need to vent or otherwise express oneself where a euphemism will not do.

    Although I have and continue to make free use of profanity, especially now that we have an empty nest, at elsewhere — especially when missing a 3-footer for par — I did make it a practice not to utter obscenities when my kids were young and impressionable. In other words, there’s a time and place. Of course, TAC is not the place. But next time I stub my toe, which is bound to happen in the next few days, in the privacy of my home, I will not be shouting just “ouch!”

    At the risk of trapping myself in a paradox, I, too, decry the incivility and coarseness of modern society in which cuss words are indiscriminately used, especially by young children. I suppose it’s one of the “privileges” of being a mature adult to be permitted to make use of an expanded vocabulary — judiciously, of course, and with appropriate restraint.

    Given your “almost never” exception, it is a relief to know that an Irishman possessing such high virtue as yourself now and then has a lapse or two.

  6. “Given your “almost never” exception, it is a relief to know that an Irishman possessing such high virtue as yourself now and then has a lapse or two.”

    A minor virtue, but my own. I also have never drunk alcohol, other than in Nyquil, which I assume makes me a rara avis among those whose ancestors came from the Isle of saints and scholars. However, I have more than enough sins to account for come Judgment Day to keep me from feeling much pride in mastering certain minor virtues. I also do not gamble, perhaps a legacy from generations of thrifty Scots in my genetic mix!

  7. I plead guilty, unfortunately, to the sins you have been able to avoid, which, if I ever return to the fold, no doubt will mean at least 1,000 more years in purgatory.

  8. The worst of sins Joe are those involving pride, as exemplified by the fall of Lucifer. I wish I was immune to that particular sin as I am to drunkness, gambling or being foul mouthed.

    One of my favorite passages from the Screwtape Letters on a virtue that I have always found hard to attain, although, as indicated, a sense of humor helps:

    “Your patient has become humble, have you drawn his attention to the fact??? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “ I’m being humble” and almost immediately PRIDE – Pride at his own humility- will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride make him proud of his attempt – and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don’t try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go on to bed.”

  9. How true, Don. When you try to act humble, it just doesn’t work. I remember after I did an act of contrition or went to confession, I always congratulated myself on what a good Catholic I was. I just can’t grasp why God loves such flawed creatures as we. If I were Him I would have scrapped the assembly line and started over again.

  10. When Jesus picked Mary Magdalene out of the gutter, he told her, “Go and sin no more.” I would be neither she nor anyone else, including St. Paul (who admitted as much) could keep that command.

  11. I rather suspect that she did not engage in the sin of adultery again Joe which I believe was the sin He was referring to. Saint Peter asked Christ to leave him because he was a sinful man. We sometimes gives up hope for ourselves, and it is therefore fortunate that God does not.

  12. BTW, Don, that link you provided (cuss-o-meter) does not seem to work. You mean there’s a Big Brother somewhere monitoring cuss words on the Net? Also, TAC’s low incidence must be the result of censorship by you and others who run this site. So your “score” is more the result of policing the posts rather than restraint on the part of the posters, no?

  13. P.S. I did get the link to finally open and tried several other “racier” websites and still got a zero rating, which means that either the cuss-o-meter isn’t very effective or otherwise very liberal in its scoring.

  14. I don’t think ‘cussing’ or not ‘cussing’ is the question to ask. I believe that the disposition of a person will dictate speech. If we concentrate on acquiring the correct disposition, our approach to language will fall into place. Some words may be used becauxe they’re popular, even while they may sound rather like ‘cussing’. But the disposition is what people will really notice.

  15. It is funny that this particular mark of poor character is one I’ve been working very hard to control or stop practicing. I would never have thought quitting cussing would be harder than quitting drinking or quitting smokes. I think that what comes out of our mouths is a reflection of what is in our souls. So my prayers have been directed to God for giving me a new heart, mind, and new mouth. I have improve over the last few months, but I cannot enter into a discussion about politics without sinning. 😳

  16. Politics involves a lot of opinion as I see it. I’ve come to see party labels and platforms as basically relative in relation to the kingdom of God. We learn that Jesus is King, not Caeser or any state. His kingdom alone endures. I don’t even bother to argue politics anymore.

  17. “We learn that Jesus is King, not Caeser or any state.”

    We also learn to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. That leaves ample room for political discussion and disagreement.

    Sawman your comment reminds me about a crooked politician who was going door to door seeking votes. One of his constituents gave him an earful and then felt bad about it, that is until he saw his priest doing the same thing to the public thief. God makes allowances I think when we are sorely tested, and some politicians would cause Saint Paul to swear!

  18. Yes, I advocate involvement. But I can’t see taking sides with a party since each contains truth and error mixed. Neither party, furthermore, represents God’s kingdom which alone brings about justice, truth, community, etc., in the fullest sense.

  19. “since each contains truth and error mixed”

    True, although the same can be said for most things this side of the grave. I am a Republican. That party best represents my political views, although I certainly wouldn’t claim that it is free from error. As long as the Democrat Party embraces abortion, I will work against that party in the political sphere as long as there is breath in my body. However, this discussion is going afield from the topic of my post.

  20. Indeed. I think a person within whom the Spirit of God is at work will witness accordingly. Speech will reflect that. People get an overall sense of someone regardless of a slip here and there. Someone may use a certain word that’s construed as ‘cussing’. They won’t do so repeatedly, however, unless it reflects their inward condition.

  21. Unfortunately, swearing is a vice I indulge in more than I would like to admit. As a Navy vet, I can “swear like a sailor”. My dad, who was not averse to foul language himself (although he rarely used it around the house), often said it’s a sign of immaturity.

    I wonder what George Washington would think of the modern U.S. military, where profanity is an intregal part of its vernacular. I remember hearing a Marine WWII vet saying he had to speak very slowly and deliberately when he returned home because he was so used to swearing.

  22. I think it is dangerous to assume that you can see the inner person through their outward appearance. Sheesh… To hear y’all talk, most of the good men I’ve known are bound for hell for their speech alone.

    You are taking cussin too seriously. Rude? Assuredly, which is why we mutter under our breath rather than sayin what actually comes to mind. There is a HUGE difference between taking God’s name in vain and cussin youself out after doing something stupid.

  23. Greg, good point. Ex-swabbie here, too, and when I was at sea for months at a time and in an environment where swearing was the norm, it took me awhile to adjust when I got home. I remember the first few days sitting at the dinner table with all my relatives and we were having a big Italian meal. Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Mom, you making the best f—n lasagna in the world.” The conversation when stone cold, then everyone laughed nervously while I apologized profusely. It’s a matter of conditioning.

  24. “By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged, they poison it.” (Joseph Collins)

    Pride may goeth before a fall, but you’ll still feel the pain of a broken tailbone. 🙄

  25. “By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged, they perfume life; discouraged, they poison it.” (Joseph Collins)”

    I represent quite a few people in my criminal practice Invective who let their emotions do their thinking for them. I doubt if many of them view their life as being perfumed by the experience.

  26. “I think it is dangerous to assume that you can see the inner person through their outward appearance.”

    Appearance no, G-Veg, but actions usually. Rampant cussing is a sign of societal decay, a symbol that we care more for expressing ourselves, no matter how poorly and unimaginatively,than we do for those exposed to our verbal pollution. It isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is a bad thing.

  27. The thing is, the image we cultivate is rarely the person we are. Actions speak louder than words but many a good man cussed regular and creatively wheras many a cultured monser didn’t.

    Are we talking about cussin for effect or reflexively?

    I hear tell that Grant and Patton cursed something awful. My Senior Chief could bring down a Mig with his invective. I’d swear my gradfather brought rain to his parched fields with the choice words he directed to that North Carolina sun.

    I detest the inclusion if curse words for effect such as many stand-up comics present but I’d expect, and even enjoy, a good and creative string from one of my uncles. (Mechanics cuss better and longer than most Navy guys.)

  28. I’d argue that excessive priggishness and loudly proclaiming one’s own superiority is as much a sign of societal decay. Again, pride being a sin, and all.

    One might even say it’s the sign of someone who takes themselves entirely too seriously and may be a bit of a Pharisee.

  29. Yes, the Pharisee cannot let God be God. They take themselves very seriously, and they would play his role.

  30. “I’d argue that excessive priggishness and loudly proclaiming one’s own superiority is as much a sign of societal decay. Again, pride being a sin, and all.”

    I’d say that being foul mouthed and acting as a troll on a website under an assumed name is something a bit more sinful than priggishness. I do not think that anyone looking at our society, at least anyone in their right mind, would regard priggishness as being a major concern.

  31. “They take themselves very seriously, and they would play his role.”

    Actually the Pharisees were the closest among the Jews to the message proclaimed by Christ. Much of what Christ proclaimed in moral teaching we find also in the writings of the Pharisees. Christ condemned them not because of what they taught, but because they failed to live up to their teachings.

  32. Mac,

    You repeated yourself again: “crooked politician.”


    I cut GI’s and vets a whole lot of slack in this area. “Single men living in barracks don’t make plaster saints.” Kipling

    However, I don’t remember any of the WWII men I knew growing using cuss words. At least, not around children.

    I’m not sure the following is not cussing. C&W singer Billy Joe Shaver, “If you don’t love Jesus go to hell.” But, I doubt Billy Joe is a Catholic. And, I know he is not an Obama catholic.

  33. I believe C. S. Lewis was right when he said that our virtues can become our vices. It’s easy to become prideful when we abstain from ‘cussing,’ etc.

  34. One can become prideful in anything Pat. Nitpicking on the internet comes to mind for some reason. In any case to engage in cussing so as not to risk pride in not cussing strikes me as perverse.

  35. Read “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand and “Escape from Davao” by John Lukacs, two unforgettable true stories of POWs in the Pacific theater during World War II treated so cruelly by the Japanese that even the most pious of the prisoners gave scatological and obscene nicknames to their savage guards.

    In wartime, under such dire conditions when men were tortured, starved and treated like sub-humans, I think even God would make allowances for the use of profanity under such circumstances. Point being that cussing needs to be taken in context.

  36. Yes, most definately. I think we should make it an effort to speak as ‘correctly’ as possible. Sometimes, though, we can go overboard in an effort to win approval from God.

  37. “In wartime, under such dire conditions when men were tortured, starved and treated like sub-humans, I think even God would make allowances for the use of profanity under such circumstances.”

    Quite correct Joe. Just as I think he would have made an allowance for a prisoner sticking a shank between the ribs of an especially brutal guard under such dire circumstances.

  38. I appreciate your expertise on American military heroes. I tend to think of Grant as rough and tumble and assumed he. was a drink and swear kind of guy.

    There seems to be a link though between the prior discussion on tattoos and the present discussion on cursing. You present a forceful statement barring all with the collateral claim that the activity is evidence of a decaing society. Only, I fail to see and you have not identified the inherent wrongness of the act.

    If the act isn’t wrong in and of itself then it must be the effect that makes it wrong.

    I just don’t see how a discreet tatoo or cussin under my breath is either wrong on its own or harmful in its effect. Therefore, how can it be that Others cn safely judge me as terribly sinful on either account.

  39. BTW, Don, there is a profoundly moving moment in Lukacs’ book when the sole Catholic in a group of 12 attempting to escape from prison camp after the Bataan Death March produced what could be called a miracle. Stuck in swamp, virtually lost and stung by insects and crawling with leeches, the man — Sam Grashio — gathered the men around him and offered up a prayer he remembered to the Blessed Mother. The men repeated every line he said — about five in all — and immediately after they ended the prayer, a sense of total calm came over the group and they were able to resume their escape. That one passage in the book brought me closer to my Catholic faith than anything else in the past 10 years.

  40. John Lukacs was a profound thinker and historian. Two thumbs up for Lukacs—read his The End of an Age. Deeply insightful!

  41. pat, that’s a different Lukacs. John D. Lukacs (note middle initial) wrote Escape from Davao and is a much younger man. No relation, I believe. The other Lukacs whom you refer to is indeed an excellent historian.

  42. “and assumed he. was a drink and swear kind of guy.”

    Drink yes, although that tended to be exaggerated in the telling. Grant got into trouble with the bottle when he got bored and when he was away from his wife who he loved very deeply.

    “I just don’t see how a discreet tatoo or cussin under my breath is either wrong on its own or harmful in its effect. Therefore, how can it be that Others cn safely judge me as terribly sinful on either account.”

    Who said you were terribly sinful G-Veg. My concern is with public swearing. In regard to tattoos, my objections are in the realm of taste, I simply do not like them, and in their prevalence today, often on parts of the body where they can’t be missed by casual observers. For those who haven’t read my post on tattoos, I link to it below:


  43. “The story on Sam Grashio, the Catholic soldier I mentioned in previous post:”

    That reminds me of a priest Joe who was captured when Bataan fell, and endured the Bataan death march. Father William Thomas Cummings. During a field sermon on Bataan he made the famous observation that there were no atheists in foxholes. He was a constant inspiration in the Japanese POW camp, even as he slowly died from disease and starvation. On one of the aptly named Hell ships transporting POWs to Japan as slave labor, he died saying the Our Father. Just before he died he told his fellow prisoners that if he survived the War he hoped to work with street kids in Tokyo. One of the men scoffed and said that the Japanese were hopeless. Father Cummings responded, “Son, no one is hopeless.”

  44. From one of the survivor’s account of Father Cummings:

    “By now an evening prayer had become a part of their simple routine. Of the estimated 16 chaplains in the party, both Protestant and Catholic, only three were to live to Japan. The strongest seemed to be the Army priest, Lt. “Bill” Cummings of San Francisco and Ossining, N. Y.

    One Navy man says, “I shall never forget the prayer that Father asked that first night after the bombing, when the Japs would not let us move the bodies. Before, many men had paid no attention, but this night the minute he stood up there was absolute silence. I guess it was the first real and complete silence that there had been since we left Manila. Even the deranged fellows were quiet.

    “And I remember what his opening words were. He said, ‘O God — O God, please grant that tomorrow we will be spared from being bombed.’

    “The last thing he did was to lead us in the Lord’s Prayer. I think every man there, even the unbalanced ones, managed to repeat at least some of the words after him.””

  45. Don, I think Cummings is mentioned briefly in the book. The foxhole quote is usually attributed to journalist Ernie Pyle. In “Unbroken,” Louie Zamperini, who suffered brutally as a POW under the Japanese, especially a particularly vicious guard nicknamed “The Bird,” vowed to kill him if they both survived after the war. ‘Zamp’ was obsessed with the Bird and vengeance until he went to a Billy Graham meeting one night at the urging of his wife, found Christ and wound up forgiving his tormentor. Ironically, the Bird, who lived until 2004 in obscurity until found by CBS 60 Minutes, was unrepentant to the end.

  46. Of course, one can be self-righteous in their criticism of profanity. But I don’t think Don is doing that here. He is simply making an accurate observation that there is a link between the rot in our culture and the hyper-prevelance of foul language to the point of glorifying it. I remember hearing stories of my maternal grandfather knocking out one of my uncles because he wouldn’t stop swearing in his house.

    As far as invective being good for you. I would say more times than not the opposite is the case. Righteous indignation is one thing. But even here one has to be careful. It can have a dangerously intoxicating effect. There are few things more dangerous than a chip on the shoulder coupled with a legitimate gripe. And I say that from personal experience.

  47. Joe, the quote about atheists and foxholes has been misatributed to several individuals including Ernie Pyle. Father Cummings is the one that came up with it in 1942 on Bataan in a sermon. The quotation was passed on in the book “I Saw the Fall of the Philippines” by General Carlos P. Romulo which was published in 1942.

  48. Zamp’s first person account is told in “Devils at My Heels.” Truly a transformed man after he was converted. He is now 94 and continues as an inspirational speaker.

  49. I have seen the following assertion made in several print sources dating back to at least the 1950s: the “Protestant” concept of cursing/cussing is four-letter or obscene words while the “Catholic” concept of cursing is misuing the names of God, Jesus, Mary or any of the saints.

    I always understood that the kind of cursing that was truly a sin was to call down evil on someone else — to say “God damn you!” and REALLY mean it (not just as a passing exclamation) would be a mortal sin. However, at least one catechism used by my mom when she took instructions in the Catholic faith in the mid-1950s claimed that use of four letter words wasn’t a sin of blasphemy, but could be a sin against charity if done to shock or disturb others, and was certainly not something to be encouraged.

    Personally I have come to prefer “dagnabbit”, “crimony”, and “jeeminy” as all-purpose substitutes for the genuine cuss words. The real cuss words lose their impact when overused. An F-bomb coming from someone who normally never curses at all gets your attention in a way that it doesn’t when coming from the mouth of someone like, say, Blago.

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