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RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Is Profanity or Apophasis the more valid tool for attempting to express the ineffable?

Asked by RealEyesRealizeRealLies (30943points) January 2nd, 2012

When one speaks profanity, is that not spoken in order to express feelings which cannot be so easily described with conventional means? Does Apophasis describe the indescribable any better than Profanity? Do either affectively communicate their intentions?

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12 Answers

Aethelflaed's avatar

Profanity. Profanity is usually pretty clear, while apophasis strives to be passive-aggressive.

linguaphile's avatar

I’ll take a stab at this… I’m not sure if either of them really fully express the ineffable. If I had to choose, I’d say profanity is more able to express the ineffable because it’s an emotion laden word- the word alone, no, but the emotion that comes out with the word, yes. But—I don’t think profanity can fully accomplish this completely. Can anything truly, fully describe the full extent of something ineffable?

So many concepts are so complex, and ineffable; can our language really get anywhere near success in explaining the concepts’ full state, all variables included? Do we have the language to touch on our full emotional range? I don’t think so.

An apophasis is a statement that is essentially self-contradictory in it’s goal to reveal through hiding. To me there’s a difference between intentional apophasis designed to manipulate the audience (almost like euphemisms) towards understanding, but an unintentional apophasis is just being dumb. I don’t see how apophases can describe anything beyond the contradiction that the speaker is presenting. Maybe it depends on what type of apophases you’re talking about?

When I think of the ineffable, I think of things that exist beyond what I can fully describe. So… maybe yeah saying, “Oh fuck” under my breath would cover that. Yeah, there are quite a number of situations that come to mind where saying, “Oh shit,” would suffice.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yesterday, I was on a mission to find Tent Town, a community of homeless people living in an enclosed area provided by the city for them to dwell. My imagination told me that the city had erected tents for them to live in an organized and clean environment. I wanted to believe the city was doing a good thing. I wanted to see positive change that with the proper promotion, could be used as a model for other cities.

It’s funny how the mind can set you up for a shock. What I found in reality was a far cry from what my mind had imagined. I believed that Tent Town might offer a level of dignity to the homeless above the common shelter experience. I was mistaken.

Upon discovering Tent Town, my small group of friends and I hurled Profanities and Apophasies at one another in an attempt to describe the ineffable. Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words.

As we drove up, one person said, “Oh fucking hell”. Another said “Dammmmmnnnn”, and another expressed the apophasis of “We’re not in Kansas anymore”.

Welcome to Tent Town. How would you describe such a thing found within the heart of your own modern downtown city. Keep in mind, that to get here, we’d just passed by the fanciest casinos in town with Bentley’s and Maybech’s in the parking lot. It was quite a contrast.

Tent Town looked to encompass about three acres of land. What I show here is but a small sample. You can see by the pictures that it is large enough to have segregated communities such as Sparta and Dignity Harbor. I don’t know why, but not one person was outside. It looked abandoned, but you can clearly see food on the tables. There were fires burning, ferrel cats running around, and a couple of dogs chained to shanties.

The last photo in the above link is not from Tent Town. It is from a local homeless shelter. They had dozens of rooms set up just like this. Though all of their rooms were filled, they still made an effort to provide shelter to anyone. Sleeping blankets were scattered throughout the entire building, even in the entrance way.

linguaphile's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies And here I was thinking of ineffable concepts such as trust, friendship, beauty, depth, etc…

In that case, a profanity or utter silence would have done it for me.

Apophases were probably used in this situation to try to use a very raw form of humor to immediately defuse the situation and psychologically deal with what you saw.

You’re an incredible person to try to help the homeless. Your photography could go a long way towards educating others of what is going on in this country with poverty (like a modern day Dorothea Lange?).

Paradox25's avatar

Words are indeed a poor substitution for thoughts and many times I find myself unable to express how I feel using just words. I think that with profanity there are obvious (and universal) stigmas attached to different versions of it that kind of already take the shortcuts for expressing how strongly we feel about something/someone without the complications. Like music, profanity seems to have its own universal language and meaning.

I don’t believe that apophases are the only way to hurl insults at others, especially if one is good with semantics and word games. Profanity is much easier to use in a pinch and definitely gets the point across especially if one is upset enough at the time of using it.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@linguaphile “Apophases were probably used in this situation to try to use a very raw form of humor to immediately defuse the situation and psychologically deal with what you saw.”

Yes I believe you are correct. And even so, it communicated the event description better than the profanities. For instance, the person that said: “Dammmnnnn” or “Oh fucking hell” could just as easily have broken a fingernail, or noticed their fly was open, oblivious to the visuals outside of the car window. But “We’re not in Kansas anymore” seemed best to illustrate the shocking contrast from the previous uppity casino environment to the visuals at Tent Town.

There is a free audio book about The Enlightened One. I can’t remember where I found it, but most memorable to me was an event after he had died. The King of the land approached one of The Enlightened One’s disciples to ask about what type of existence that The Enlightened One had transferred into. The Disciple answered the question with another question, an apophases, asking the King if he had any mathematicians who could calculate the number of sand grains on all the beaches of the world. The King answered “No. That would be an impossible task”. The Disciple replied that it would be just as impossible to describe the realm that The Enlightened One enjoyed after his physical death. The Disciple claimed that the only way for a human to come close to understanding that form of existence was to describe what it was not… rather than what it actually was.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Gadzooks, is not the reason why people use profanity is to add weight to their words, to get them to seem more forceful when they cannot find any other way to express it, or better words to use?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Not sure I get your meaning @Hyp… If the profanity is used standalone, then it can’t add weight to other words which aren’t spoken… if I’m reading you correctly.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Not sure I get your meaning @Hyp… If the profanity is used standalone, then it can’t add weight to other words which aren’t spoken… if I’m reading you correctly. Some profanity can be used standalone, but usually as a replacement for another word. If someone calls another ”ass”, he/she is basically saying the other person was an idiot or dote, but they did not use those words because they felt it had not the same gravity or effect as ass. If a woman is acting like a conceited twit, someone would just say ”bitch”, or use it in conjunction with other words. The other words, however, does not have need of profanity to qualify it. I can say to someone, ”You better leave expediently”, but another would think it had more weight if I said, ”Get the fuck out of here”; that somehow the profanity makes it more pertinent, or powerful.

lazydaisy's avatar

I think we only have really specific words for thing we understand, or at least think we do. There is that fringe of things we can’t understand until we have lived it; things you can’t pin specific words on. Profanity seems like a more emotional reaction. There aren’t the right words, but the situation carries weight. Maybe profanity is four letter empathy

linguaphile's avatar

Today the only word I could scream was, “No…” I think I said it 100 times today.

It’s not profanity, or an apophasis. What would it be?

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