Ephesians 4:29 says "Don't let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth..." Is the usage of slang words like "gosh" and "gee" unwholesome, or is it profanity (Exodus 20:7)? Brother, please help me understand these issues so that I can help myself and other disciples around me. Especially with the second question, because many disciples, including me, use these words. -- Arius Dathi (Johannesburg)

I do appreciate your question, and I share your concern about unwholesome talk. I distinguish between profanity and coarseness. Profanity is always wrong; coarseness may be more relatively defined, depending on who you are with at the time. I will not repeat profane words, and my wife and I will not even allow our children to use coarse language either, though the latter is very common in the world and even in the church.

There are many, many phrases in English which I think are vulgar ("I don't give a ____," "Shoot," etc). They are often transparent circumlocutions or euphemisms for worldly, profane speech. Eventually, in the evolution of a language, once coarse or even profane phrases may lose their original sense and even become acceptable dictionary entries. (Not that we look to the world for what we may and may not say, of course!) One example of this: the names of the days of the week, which were named after pagan deities: the sun god, the moon god, Ty, Woden, Thor, Frigg, and Saturn!

Yet the phrases I would like to comment on are some things we say that have definite religious connotations. None of these words is "profane" in the common sense of that word. Included are the two words you specifically asked about. Where I have not been sure, I have consulted the OED (Oxford English Dictionary).

I realize that for many people, the religious connotations of these words have all but been lost. And yet to many ears, these words are reminiscent of their original forms. I remember my grandmother correcting me when I said "Gee." I truly did not understand what was wrong with that, though I changed my speech. That may have been in the '60s, and yes, the times, they are a-changing, but we are responsible for every careless word that comes out of our mouths. Even today I would hesitate to use any of the following expressions:

Gosh - from God
Golly - from God
Gee - prob. from Jesus
Darn - from damn
Dang - from damn
What the ___ - from hell
Holy - implies God, one of the "saints," etc.
Egad(s) - from ye God(s) - a hangover from paganism
Heavens, Heavens to ___ - mentions heaven
Jesus, Bejesus - a clear taking of the Lord's name in vain
Christ, Jesus Christ - a clear taking of the Lord's name in vain
God - a clear taking of the Lord's name in vain
For God's/Christ's/Jesus' sake - nearly always a taking of the Lord's name in vain
Ever-living - refers to God, "who alone is immortal"

I hope this is helpful. I think we are close to the realm of opinion matters (Romans 14-15) when we draw up lists of words to be avoided. "Each one should be convinced in his own mind." In the meantime, bear with those whose tongues may not have been fully "Christianized" -- it will come! Keep yourself righteous -- but not self-righteous. And remember, there may be children listening!

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