Monday, January 5, 2009 | By: Zachary Bartels

Euphemission...

Emergent pastors can swear. Even when they're behind the pulpit (not a literal pulpit, of course) with their fauxhawks and their green Bibles printed in soy-based ink, they can drop an F-bomb and no one will bat an eye. Now, I'm not legalistic about language (what may be completely appropriate in one setting can be flat-out blasphemous in another), but if there's one place where we should be overly careful with what words we use, it's in the pulpit (again, not literally in the pulpit, of course). So I'm not going to write a legalistic list of words that can never be used in preaching; discernment in the Spirit and the weight of responsibility in preaching God's Word ought to be enough to keep us out of trouble.

For example, I can't see myself ever using the S-word in preaching (except like this), but Tony Campolo famously used it to open our eyes to our own shameful complacency in evangelism. And while I'll probably never use the word "sucks" from the pulpit either, if I do I'll be plagiarizing Dan Seaborn who, when trying to communicate the damage divorce does to kids, said, "Let me use a Greek word: it sucks."

I've twice let slip a word that I didn't mean to use from the pulpit. Once, while doing a first person Easter sunrise service, fully decked out as a Roman soldier, I said the word "frickin'." The angel moved the "big frickin' stone." Got too caught up in the moment and it kind of shattered the suspension of disbelief. On another occasion, I referred to "all that crap" while being reviewed by Mike, my field ministry supervisor. (Shocking, right?) Oh, and I pulled a Tony Campolo once while preaching at a retreat and said, "don't give a damn" to drive home a point with the junior highers.

So Postmodern emergent type pastors can swear, but I can't. I mean, I can swear. But I really, really shouldn't--for three reasons. First, there's that whole "let no unwholesome talk pass through your lips" thing from Scripture. Then there's the fact that I'm a pastor, who must remain above reproach. Then there's that infant who hangs out around here, soon to graduate to toddler, who before long will be repeating just about everything that he hears (which is why I'm going to communicate only through recitation of the Westminster Confession of Faith.)

But here's the problem: what do you say when you've crushed your thumb in the car door and there's only one word that really seems qualified for the job? "Sugar?" "Aw, man?" I think we lack some of the basic euphemisms needed to communicate basic human feelings. I knew one guy who would shout, "Praise the Lord!" Only, what he meant was "Sh-t!" In what crazy world is it better to say "Praise the Lord" as if it were a four letter curse word? In fact, considering that the Septuagint (not to mention Jesus and the Apostles) said "The Lord" (ho kurios) in place of the sacred name of God (YHWH/Jehovah), smashing my finger and shouting "Praise the Lord" is a pretty flagrant violation of the third commandment; more or less the same thing as shouting "Jesus Christ!"

Me, I've got the angry maniacal laugh to fall back on. When I'm really, really mad, I'm not even tempted to curse, I just start laughing giddily and saying, "Yes! I was hoping the hard drive would crash!" My wife always leaves the room, as she finds me "scary" at such times. Still, it plugs that euphemism hole. And being of the generation where no one is really offended by "sucks," that's no problem either. I wouldn't use it from the pulpit, but etymologically, there's nothing offensive about it; it's just a shortening of the ages-old expression "sucks mud" or "sucks dirt." Heck, Wally and the Beav said that. I'm also of the school of thought that if it's in the KJV, it's pretty much fair game. Hence, "pissed off" is a Christian swear word, right? Just like caffeine is a Christian drug.

But there is still one gaping euphemism hole--the subject of my euphemission, with which I beg your help. It's that compound word which, were it appearing in a comic book, might look like this: bad@$$. If seeing that offended you, go find something better to get worked up about. Maybe the slaughter of Christians in the Sudan, the raping of our planet's resources, or the fact that you have friends and neighbors who are headed for hell. So, if you're still with me, I need suggestions. I know of no synonym that could be applied to Joab son of Zeruiah or King Jehu of Israel. Or John Wayne.

One could always just say "B.A.," but that's cheating. Plus, people will ask what it stands for. Besides, even apart from being a traditional curse word, there's something uneducated and lowbrow about it. No, better to come up with a new term altogether. But what? Thesauri are no help here: hard-nosed person, tough guy, unflinching individual? Really--would you describe Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, or Connor Freaking McMannus as a "tough guy?" Talk about damning with faint praise... There's much more to the B.A. label than just being tough. There's an attitude and a persona involved. Plus, what about women? How do we describe that quality in Jean D'Arc ? Tough girl? Tough chick? Give me a break.

Other alleged synonyms like villain, baddy, and the nominal form of heavy miiiight work if the individual is, in fact, a villain. But most B.A.s defy such labels. Was Benaiah a bad guy? (If you don't know who Benaiah is, go read 2 Samuel and I Kings. ) Sort of. But sort of a good guy. He was a conflicted, sword-wielding, lion-slaying, heroic man. And a bona fide...whatever we're calling it.

So give me your input.
Here are some guidelines: the word must work both as a noun and an adjective (e.g. Robert DeNiro is a real BA. In Sleepers, he played a BA priest). The term must be gender-neutral. (If it can't apply to Eowyn as she stabs the Nazg├╗l in the face, then what good is it?) And finally, as a helpful series of litmus tests, the term must apply to the following people (both real and fictional): Teddy Roosevelt, Batman, Rosa Parks, Indiana Jones, Samuel Jackson, St. Peter, Lara Croft, Ehud, Elijah, Jael, Jason Bourne, Mr. Miyagi, Yul Brinner, Il Duce, and that crazy lady from Die Hard 3 who never spoke.

Thank you for contributing to the project.

-Z

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20 reader comments:

VRM said...

Learn to do it in a foreign language. American's don't really know how to swear anyway...our language pales in comparison with others. Next time you are over check out our Russian slang dictionary. Then you can do it from the pulpit and only two of us will know.

JB said...

Your angry maniacal laugh IS very scary.

Kit Carlson said...

How about One Real Bad Mother ... oh wait, that's not the direction you want to head, is it?"

E. said...

One of my FB friends said he finds that "Dirty Birds" works. I'm still thinking...

E. said...

Is this really a "bad" word? Like, if KJV words are okay, and "jackass" is in there, then how is "badass" a bad word? (This question coming to you from someone who got in trouble for saying @$$ in second grade, but I think in combination with a modifier like "jack" or "bad" perhaps the last part loses its stigma???)

JB said...

I think Valerie's right--another language is the key. After she made that remark, I thought of the perfect Spanish word: FRESCO. It means very bold/forward and can be used as an adjective and a noun!

JB said...

(And, of course, can apply to a woman--just change it to FRESCA)

mikewittmer said...

I think I have heard your laugh, or at least I can imagine you doing it. When I hit my finger or stub my toe, I don't say any words, but just make a bunch of unintelligible sounds. Perhaps I'm swearing in tongues?

ZSB said...

Fresca is a caffeine free clear pop! Laaaame. But what about gavacho???

JB said...

Yes, there is the unfortunate connection to a soft drink. I still think it's a cool word, though. Especially if you say it with a Spanish accent. "Man, that guy is FRES-co!"

Gabacho is a cool-sounding word, but doesn't have the right meaning. (Unless we just assigned it a new definition...)

Jenderson said...

All of my alternatives are ridiculous, and probably wouldn't be taken well from the pulpit.... But I am waiting to hear what you settle on....

David Marvin said...

In Russian, "kozhyol" has a similar in meaning to badass, but it has more of a negative connotation. Come to think of it, most words in Russian have a negative connotation or at least sound like it!

David Marvin said...

Oooo... I just found another Russian word that might work: "chuvak". I never knew this one, but it is a little less negative than the last one. It sort of has the connotation of "dude". A "krutoy chuvak" is "one tough dude". The word sounds similar to Chewbacca. We all know that he was one tough dude and pretty much a badass, except for when he was in the garbage smasher in the first movie.

ZSB said...

Yeah, remember when Chewy got uncuffed and just started choking the snot out of Lando? That guy is a stone cold fresco.

Meh. Doesn't work.

Luke DeMott said...

I like bad maba jamba (sp).

Mike said...

he's a bad motor scooter (???), that's one bad dude, he's a rambo, that's john wayne right there, he's a pimp, or my all time favorite spoken as white as possible "He is one terribly scary fellow".

PS I am glad you are coming to grips with your pulpit potty moth

mike

JB said...

I think it's hopeless.

E. said...

You know, if you'd just become emergent you wouldn't have this problem.

Ted said...

Hey Zach,

First, my apologies for not reading your blog in a few days. I was busy having my bad@$$ script read by Clooney's bad@$$ agent, as well as doing other bad@$$ things on my blog. But I digress.

Have you thought about this: When I was in high school, we would often substitute the word "Pesci" (as in Joe Pesci, from Goodfellas) in situations where bad@$$ would typically be used. The logic being that Joe Pesci was a bad@$$ in Goodfellas, and his name also sounded sort of adjectivy anyway. Ex: Those steak kebabs are Pesci. That movie was Pesci. Your performance in the football game on Friday night was Pesci.

Also, I think someone did this in a movie or TV show...so we can't claim absolute originality. But I remember it working, and I remember not feeling lame about doing it.

Or, as E said, you could just become emergent...and start cussing while also drinking a Guiness in the pulpit. Well, this is getting long (that's what she said.)

Ted

ZSB said...

Pesci. I like that. Have you ever heard Joe Pesci's album, Vincent Laguardia Gambini? He's definitely BA material...and not just in Goodfellas. Casino. Raging Bull. The Good Shepherd. Hmmm...