Grandad warned me gravely in the truck on the way over. He said that his neighbor, "Red", one of the retired officers with whom he worked at L.A.P.D., sometimes used very bad language, but that I was never to talk that way. My grandfather was a man of steel in many ways - an MP in the Second World War, twenty years of police work in Los Angeles, a U.S. Deputy Marshall, and finally a district court judge in northern California. He'd seen the very worst of humanity, and yet I don't ever remember him swearing. Perhaps he was used to watching his language around the grandchildren. He died in 1978, one of the last best men of the Old Republic.
Little did Grandad know, the language in my own home and school, in the films I watched and the books I read, was far worse than anything I ever heard from his neighbor.
Colonel Washington has observed that the men of his regiment are very profane and reprobate. He takes this opportunity to inform them of his great displeasure at such practices and assures them that if they do not leave them off, they shall be severely punished. The officers are desired, if they hear any man swear or make use of an oath or execration, to order the offender twenty-five lashes immediately, without court-martial. For the second offense, he will be more severely punished.
That's right, twenty-five lashes for swearing, without court-martial, under Colonel Washington's command. They say the past is another country, and that's certainly how it looks from here.
The ancients understood that there is great power in words, especially the spoken word. Much superstition developed around this power, but the power itself cannot be denied. For Christians, the Holy Name repels demons and opens the soul to the grace. Exorcists report that tormented spirits always spew the vilest obscenities before leaving their victims. There is power in words.
Western nominalism was, in part, an attempt to escape that power. Today, many use filthy and blasphemous language in defiance of that power, as if to prove that such power did not exist, though hardly anyone claims it does anymore. Rebellion continues long after the enemy is routed.