Profanity and Culture [Letter to the Editor]

New York Times

To the Editor of The New York Times:

Owing to the extensive use of profane and blasphemous language having become so common seemingly among people in all walks of life, many people have been trying to solve the problem why this should be in our advanced stage of civilization. Some time ago I noticed an explanation coming from Prof. Thomas R. Lounsbury, which is as follows:

Profanity is a brain test, the habit is, in consequence, subject to the general laws governing intensitiveness. To a very great extent the practice of swearing is specially characteristic of a rude and imperfect civilization. With the advance of culture profanity declines. It declines not so much because men become peculiarly sensitive to its viciousness, but they do to its ineffectiveness---the growth of refinement both in the individual and in the community. Much must always be allowed in the case of particular persons for the influence of early training and association. Exceptions are, therefore, too numerous to lay down any positive rule; still, it is safe to say in general that a man's intellectual development is largely determined by the extent of his indulgence in profanity.

I fully indorse the professor's remarks as to profanity being a brain test, and that it can show but a mental weakness among those who allow themselves to fall into the habit, but I beg to differ with him as to the possibility of its diminishing with modern culture and education, which has fully been demonstrated in the past, as there is no time in our history where the opportunities were greater for education and culture, and where we should be at the height of perfection in this respect. What is needed to rid the country of profane language is to start in our schools and colleges an education of clean speech and respect for reverence which is fast being driven out by blasphemous and filthy tongues, and to assist this the laws of the land that exist throughout the country, and which were made to protect us against blasphemy and other forms of low language should be vigorously enforced.


Halifax, N. S., Oct. 14, 1910

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