swearing, cursing, and saying bad words

James E. Clapp jeclapp at WANS.NET
Fri Feb 25 02:33:38 UTC 2000

Curtis Booth wrote:
> The recent discussion of the 10 commandments set me to thinking that
> sometime in the history of English there might have been a semantic
> extension of swear in the sense of "make an oath" to encompass "say a
> bad (taboo) word."

Well, if it didn't occur in the history of English, maybe it occurred
over a longer history.  Either way, here's some support for your

The folks whose Web site I've called attention to for its info on the
Bible and slavery also have, as it turns out, a large page devoted to
analysis of the Ten Commandments.  Of course, I don't know if these
people know what they're talking about, but for what it's worth, here's
part of what they say about the commandment regarding use of the Lord's

"This verse originally meant that one is not to use the name of God for
'any frivolous or malicious purpose or in magic.'

"Until recently, the phrase 'taking God's name in vain' related to
contracts. They were sworn 'in the name of the Lord'. If the terms of a
contract were broken, the offending party was said to have taken 'the
Lord's name in vain.' [Citing J.S. Spong, "Why Christianity must change
or die," Harper Collins (1998), Page 154.]

"Today, it is often mistakenly interpreted as prohibiting swearing. This
has nothing to do with its original meaning."

This, and much more, is at http://religioustolerance.org/chr_10co.htm.

James E. Clapp

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