Profanity can sometimes bring a person closer to Christ.

Understanding how this might be the case requires understanding the purpose of language and the appropriate standard for judging right and wrong.

Language is a tool that can be used to evoke a range of emotions. Society attaches meaning to words, and we employ particular words to communicate ideas, feelings, etc. There is nothing inherently evil in a word; meaning is completely tied to social context.

Society gives some words with similar meanings varying degrees of severity. For example, what’s really the difference between someone exclaiming, “Darn!” rather than “Damn!”? Society has simply attached a harsher connotation to the latter.

We have given certain words especially severe connotations such that their usage is intended to shock or offend. But that which is shocking or offensive is not necessarily wrong. If something shocks or offends us into doing good (or not doing bad), isn’t that a good thing? Moroni seems to think so. In Moroni 7:16-17, he lays out a very simple standard: If something persuades us to do good, it is from Christ. This standard allows us to get beyond knee-jerk judgments of right and wrong, and encourages a more thoughtful approach to language usage.

Two examples help illustrate this point.

I remember reading a short story in a literature class at BYU that used the “F” word in a way that very aptly and honestly described the negative consequences of casual sex. The usage both shocked and offended, but the story was a powerful and effective message in affirming the Law of Chastity.

Another time, Eugene England explained to me his reason for using the word “shit” in an article he was writing about the Holocaust. “No other word accurately and appropriately conveyed the emotion I was trying to describe.”

Many usages of profanity are offensive in ways that do not lead a person to do good, and we rightfully eschew such usage. But perhaps we can better express ourselves and better understand the expressions of others if we understand language as a tool and evaluate its merit on more than mere initial effect.