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Vulgarity is the quality of being common, coarse, or unrefined. This judgement may refer to language, visual art, social classes, or social climbers.[1] John Bayley claims it can never be self-referential because, to be aware of vulgarity is to display a degree of sophistication which thereby elevates the subject above the vulgar.[2]

From the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, "vulgar" simply described the common language or vernacular of a country. From the mid-seventeenth century onward, it began to take on a pejorative aspect: "having a common and offensively mean character, coarsely commonplace; lacking in refinement or good taste; uncultured; ill bred". In the Victorian age, vulgarity broadly described many sorts of activity, such as pushing to get on a bus, wearing ostentatious clothing, and other similarly subtle aspects of behavior. In a George Eliot novel, one character could be vulgar for talking about money, a second because he criticizes the first for doing so, and a third for being fooled by the excessive refinement of the second.[3]

In language, the effort to avoid vulgarity could leave characters at a loss for words. In George Meredith's Beauchamp's Career, an heiress does not wish to make the commonplace statement that she is "engaged", nor "betrothed", "affianced", or "plighted". Though such words are not vulgarity in the vulgar sense, they nonetheless could stigmatize the user as a member of a socially inferior class. Even favored euphemisms such as toilet eventually become stigmatized like the words they replace, and currently favored words serve as a sort of "cultural capital".[4]


Vulgarity, or vulgar speech or language, can refer to language which is offensive or obscene, synonymous with the 'general' meaning of profanity.

The word most associated with the verbal form of vulgarity is "cursing." However, there are many subsections of vulgar words. In the book, "Cursing in America" by Timothy Jay, Jay makes a classification of the "dirty words" because it "allows people interested in language to define the different types of reference or meaning that dirty words employ. One can see that what is considered taboo or obscene revolves around a few dimensions of human experience that there is a logic behind dirty word usage."[5] One of the most commonly used vulgar terms in the English language is fuck.[6]


Curse words, or cursing, have been recognized by religious organizations as being able to cause actual mental and physical harm. More recently such words have separated itself from their religious meanings, and it is doubtful that those who use curse words imagine the words will bring actual mental or physical harm. Both parties are aware that the cursing is simply an expression, and the one receiving the curse words or phrase are aware they are being targeted.[7]


Religious curses may include "Damn you", "God damn you", "To hell with you". Cursing also includes non-religious words, like "F*ck you", "Eat sh*t and die". "I hope you break your neck", and "You should rot in jail".


Profanity are words that are considered hateful or contemptuous, especially in regard to religion.

For a word or phrase to be profane it must not be religious or function outside the duties of religious belief. To be profane means for the word or phrase to be ignorant or hateful towards the rules of religions. Examples of profanity are words or a phrase not meant to belittle Gods, their religions, but situated on the ignorance and indifference to such points.[8]


Censorship has been in existence for centuries, the first known case of censorship was against Socrates in 399 B.C. when he was accused of "corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens." However, since the means of communications and how far and wide words were able to spread were very minimal, censorship was not a commonly known notion. However, the need for a more substantial, assertive, and stronger censorship erected around the 15th century; Around the same time as when the printing press was invented. The printing press was a machine that was, "creating reproductions for mass consumption"[9] which increased how many people would be reading the, now easily mass-produced, journals, books, and anything created by the printing presses. With the increased production rate and reach of these documents around the world, which means that a lot of people will be exposed to the writings, thus become affected by their content. This created the need for a way to regulate what was being published. An older view of censorship, "as a benevolent task in the best interest of the public, is still upheld in many countries"[10] means an agency is controlling what gets to be publicized. This view expects that all the content that the agency deems fit for the viewing to the public will be publicized, as long as it is for the benefit of its people.


  1. ^ Susan David Bernstein, Elsie Browning Michie (2009). Victorian vulgarity: taste in verbal and visual culture. Ashgate publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-6405-5. 
  2. ^ John Bayley (1964). "Vulgarity". The British Journal of Aesthetics. 4 (4): 298–304. doi:10.1093/bjaesthetics/4.4.298. 
  3. ^ Susan David Bernstein, Elsie Browning Michie (2009). Victorian vulgarity: taste in verbal and visual culture. Ashgate publishing. pp. 1–10. ISBN 978-0-7546-6405-5. 
  4. ^ Susan David Bernstein, Elsie Browning Michie (2009). Victorian vulgarity: taste in verbal and visual culture. Ashgate publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-7546-6405-5. 
  5. ^ Jay, Timothy (1992). Cursing in America. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 9. ISBN 9781556194528. 
  6. ^ Blomquist, Robert F. "The F-Word: A Jurisprudential Taxonomy of American Morals (In a Nutshell)." Santa Clara L. Rev. 40 (1999): 65.
  7. ^ Jay, Timothy (1992). Cursing in America. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 2. ISBN 9781556194528. 
  8. ^ Jay, Timothy (1992). Cursing in America. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. 3. ISBN 9781556194528. 
  9. ^ "Printing press - New World Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2016-11-21. 
  10. ^ "The Long History of Censorship". Retrieved 2016-11-21.