[Ads-l] profanity in music lyrics (UNCLASSIFIED)

Charles C Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Wed Dec 23 18:34:59 UTC 2015

Doesn't the decalogic prohibition of "taking the Lord's name in vain" actually refer not to an idle exclamation like "Goddamn!" but rather to false swearing (upon God's name) in a legalistic sense?


Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
Poster:       "Mullins, Bill CIV (US)" <william.d.mullins18.civ at MAIL.MIL>
Subject:      profanity in music lyrics (UNCLASSIFIED)


Jesse Sheidlower recently tweeted a link to an analysis of "profanity" in m=
usic lyrics.



A couple of thoughts:

The authors are using "profanity" as a catch-all for bad words.  I generall=
y think of "profanity" as language involving a religious taboo ("damn" or t=
aking the Lord's name in vain, for example).  Obscenities are those which o=
ffend a sexual taboo (the f-word).  I don't know of a particular noun that =
refers to bad words that offend scatological taboos ("shit", "piss"), or ra=
cial taboos (the N-word), or other miscellaneous bad words (SOB, dumbass, e=

The authors of the study identified "bum" (presumably in the British sense =
of ass) as the most common profanity in Folk music, and the third most comm=
on in Country music.  I bet that the vast majority of the usages of this wo=
rk in these genres referred to "someone who is out of work" (bum =3D hobo),=
 or "to bum" as in "to ask for a cigarette or the like".  I wouldn't consid=
er this usage to be profanity.=20

Country's top 3 were ass, shit, and bum -- surprising that neither hell nor=
 damn were at the top.

The authors link to the list of dirty words for which they searched.  It in=
cluded a number of words that may or not be taboo, depending on usage (ball=
, knob, etc.), but don't explain as to how or if they considered context (f=
rom the comments on "bum" above, I'd suspect they did a poor job of it).  A=
nd it included a number of words that I wouldn't consider to be profanity a=
t all (although I would be careful as to how I used them in polite company)=
 such as Viagra, whore, pornography.  And it included "kondum" but not "con=
dom", which is odd.

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