Salty Language and Landmines


I was looking up the etymology of the term “salty language.” According to one source, the terms salt and salacious (stimulating lustful thoughts or behavior) share a common Latin source (won’t bother on the related theories as to why that is).

I had always assumed it had a maritime source.caution-land-mine1 Sailors  are often known for foul, bawdy language. The term “talk like a sailor” means that very thing, and sailors are often said to utilize “salty language” (as a bit of a euphemism). I was in the Navy for a few years, and I can support the stereotype. In fact, it rubbed off on me, and even 25 years later, when driving by myself in Philippine traffic (a HUGE stressor), that language sometimes returns.

But I have been curious by the amazing tolerance to this sort of salty language being exhibited by Evangelical Christians in the last few months. Not trying to be prudish here. If you find Mark Driscoll’s “salty language” appropriate for a pastor… go to his church (he is famous after all… and that makes it okay, perhaps?)

But I have been more concerned about the political campaigns in the Philippines and the US. Prominent candidates have embraced foul language as not just part of their past, but seemingly as part of their political persona. Now I am not going to say much about them… I don’t see either individual as placing themselves under the authority of Christ (though I suppose I could be wrong).

But I have been astounded by the gleeful tolerance that Evangelical Christians in both countries have exhibited, as well as active support and defense for these individuals. Here in the Philippines, I had to unfriend a pastor— not because of his support for this foul-mouthed politician (I think I would lose about half of my Filipino pastor friends if I did that), but because he, pretty much literally, turned his FB page into a political advertisement factory for this politician. I got deluged with his ridiculous “spin machine.” Some defenses for that particular politician by local pastors crossed the line into fantasy where the seemingly indefensible gets reinterpreted as benign. But statements were not benign. The reinterpretation was an intentional, I believe, attempt by these pastors to deceive.

In the US, a similar candidate (in some ways) has gotten a lot of notice for foul, degrading, misogynistic language. People act shocked, as if that had not been part of his long-standing language and behavior. But amazing attempts by some of my Evangelical FB friends to excuse or minimize the words is of concern to me. Some promote the idea that “the other candidate is really worse” (As much as I dislike the other major candidate, I think we have passed the point where we can say this with a straight face). One put a post on that suggested that the ONLY bad thing about this candidate is that he “says mean things.” I suppose revelling in infidelity and sexual harassment is “mean,” but it is more than that… and ignores other glaring problems with both character and behavior. That is basically a problem with language… it reveals deeper issues. Excusing language is simply inadequate.

In the end, words mean something. Years ago, I was an engineer for a defense contractor. Despite working on navigational equipment, rather than weapons of war, I still got tired of the movement, pushed by Princess Diana at the time, to end landmines. I actually wrote a “letter to the editor” of our local paper and got it published in support of landmines. My argument was something to the effect that it is ridiculous to attack landmines and other items of war whose normal purposes are defensive in nature, while ignoring the bigger issue of weapons used for offensive use (guns, missiles, and such). The point is actually sound… up to a point. However, just because one thing is bad or even worse, is no justification for something else that is still really really bad.

Living in Southeast Asia, I have had to face the problem of applying such logic. Southeast Asia still has so much unexploded ordinance— particularly landmines. So many have been killed and maimed by landmines… many of them non-combatants, and many after the end of formal hostilities. Visiting Vietnam earlier this year, I was surprised at how many people, my age or older, were missing a leg. I don’t think that observation is irrelevant. They are also a concern in places such as nearby Cambodia and Myanmar.

So, since I did say that in a newspaper,  ‘published’ expressing that view, must I hold onto that view forever? No. Some think that a politician changing his or her mind is a sign of wishy-washyness or of political expediency— as if learning and growing as a person is a moral defect. But change and growth must be properly acknowledged. My words were not just words, they expressed things that truly I believed in and valued. (Words really aren’t JUST words.) But since I have definitely changed my view on landmines, if someone expressed anger about my past views, I need to give a better response than “I am sorry if I have offended some people.” I pretty have to say and demonstrate:

  • I was wrong
  • I have changed
  • My future language and actions will demonstrate who I now am, not who I was.

I suppose an apology is nice… especially for a politician… but I am not sure what one is apologizing for. Is one apologizing for who one was? Is one apologizing (only) for what one said?  Is one apologizing for the other person’s over-sensitivity?

Christians ARE supposed to use Salty Language. We are told to be “salt of the earth.”

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. -Matthew 5:13

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.   -James 1:26

Obviously, I am not suggesting a puritanical hypocrisy… pretending with words to hide the problems inside. I am also not suggesting transparency… justifying our bad words and behavior on our inner failings. I am suggesting SINCERITY. We stand by what is right and good, and seek to both internalize it and externalize it.

Frankly, language is powerful and dangerous. And Christians who support ___________, despite the horrible things they say, perhaps in support of the political “home team,” are truly entering a dangerous minefield.

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