Word of the Day: obscene, profane, and vulgar

Today’s words are all adjectives and they all have similar meanings, but each word has a different quality.

The word obscene suggests something that is offensive to decency or morality and which is abominable, disgusting, or repulsive. For me the Jerry Springer Show comes to mind as the perfect example of something that is obscene par excellence.  However, the word can also be used to describe something that is in greater excess than it ought to be. For example: obscene wealth. A great example of an obscene word is cocksucker, one of the late George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. It’s nicely offensive isn’t it? And it’s certainly indecent and possibly immoral.

Moving on to profane, then. This word in its noun form: profanity, is often used to encapsulate all “bad” and “dirty” words, but the word profane itself has religious connotations. It’s the antonym of the word sacred. Something that is profane is characterized by an irreverence or contempt for God or sacred principles or things. I’ve never been particularly religious, but to me, the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church – pretty much everything they do – but particularly their picketing the funerals of soldiers and marines killed in action. Well, to me that’s just profane. They are the antithesis of everything decent and honest and good in this world.

Finally, the word vulgar pretty much describes much of the content of MTV these days. Vulgarity is characterized by a complete ignorance of or a total lack of good breeding and taste. (See: Jersey Shore) It’s inelegant, unrefined, ribald, low. In Shakespeare’s time, the word vulgar meant “common,” in a Kate Middleton-ish kind of way. Basically not royalty. Even farther back the word vulgar meant “vernacular.”  At one time there was huge controversy over the first bible written in a vernacular (non-Latin) language. It was called the “Vulgate” bible.  Interesting, huh?

Until next time…

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