What Not to Say: A Language Primer for Catholics

My father is a decorated Navy fighter pilot, as was his father before him. As the firstborn, and with no brothers to do it, I figured it was up to me to carry on the tradition. But while I get my feistiness from my dad, I have my mom’s lousy eyesight, and ended up as a commercial pilot and flight instructor, rather than a war hero.

I loved flying, and I enjoyed teaching, but the environment of flight schools was really . . . something. I was a young, single female in an almost exclusively male workplace. I was anxious to fit in, and be accepted as one of the boys. The obvious way to do that, it seemed to me at the time, was to learn to start cussing. If I could shock them all with my vulgar language, I could make sure I was respected for being good at my job, rather than for being a woman.

You gals aren’t going to believe this, but . . . it wasn’t a very good plan.

My father had always made me feel worthy of being treated like a lady, but in my workplace, my choice of language convinced my co-workers of something different. Insisting that I wasn’t to be respected as a woman, and not actually BEING a man meant that, however good a pilot I was, I never could find my place in their ranks. Moving to a different flight school a short time later and cleaning up my language meant I could be respected as a whole person.

When I quit using profanity fifteen years ago, I figured I was all set. Then, about ten years ago, I realized I should probably quit saying “Oh my God,” when I didn’t mean it as a prayer. That was easy enough. I could just replace it with “my gosh” or “my golly” or “my goodness.” But then, about five years ago, I read THIS Gospel. And, shut the front door, it seemed pretty clear that Jesus said NO meaningless swearing, not by anything, even cutesy replacement words.

There are actually four different types of language the Catechism tells us to avoid in sections 2146-9. Jesus isn’t talking about profanity in this instance, or cursing (the calling down of some evil on a person or place), or blasphemy (disrespect of the name of God or other holy things), he’s specifically referencing swearing—as in: “I swear to God, I will turn this car around!” or “Oh my heavens, this humidity!” or “By my head, here come the Capulets.” None of those fall on our ears as vulgar the way that “bad words” do. But that’s kind of the problem. In using profanity, I was devaluing myself, but in swearing, cursing, or blaspheming, however unintentionally, I was devaluing God in my own eyes and to everyone around me.

It took quite a while to break those habits, but it’s been years now since I (knowingly) swore or cursed or blasphemed OR used a “bad word.” And I’ve managed to express myself just fine in the interim. I hope!

[Tweet “Make good to the Lord all that you vow. – Matthew 5:33”]

Watch your language habits. How are you using it?

Kendra Tierney is currently writing a book, fixing up a tumbledown hundred year old house, and gestating baby number nine. In her free time, she carpools, homeschools, and feeds the other eight kids. And her husband. You can find her first book, A Little Book About Confession, here, her blog here, and her word art here.


  • Reply
    angie thomas
    June 17, 2017 at 9:11 am

    Oh Kendra! Just when I think I know you…a pilot too…is there anything you can’t do? Love this ….I’ve wondered about the seemingly innocent swearing but quickly distracted. Thank you for your thoughts, new mission ahead.

    • Reply
      Kendra Tierney
      June 17, 2017 at 12:19 pm

      Hah! I like to keep you guys on your toes. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Amy Schisler
    June 17, 2017 at 9:51 am

    So, so true. I’ve considered, for quite a while, writing a blog about swearing or using profanity. As a writer, I firmly believe that doing so does nothing but debase our language and cause one to look inferior. Thanks for giving us proof. God bless.

    • Reply
      Kendra Tierney
      June 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks Amy. That’s true. Becoming a writer has definitely changed my relationship with words.

  • Reply
    June 17, 2017 at 10:07 am

    My dad would always chastise us about using “gosh” by saying it’s just a replacement word for God and still counts. I always laughed and said “then what am I supposed to say?!?” And he’d reply “Nothing!” I never really understood until this reflection!

  • Reply
    Kendra Tierney
    June 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Your dad is a wise man. 🙂

  • Reply
    Lurker Bee
    June 19, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Does “shut the front door” not count as a “cutesy replacement”? I always thought it was a replacement for “get the f*** out.”

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