Why are "damn" and "hell" profane words?

Well…mildly profane ones. Especially “damn”, “damned”, or “damn it!”.

Until the early 1970’s, I believe you could never say such words on US television (except in some religious contexts). Also, when Clark Gable said “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” as Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, the producers were fined $5,000 dollars! That pretty much kept the word out of American films for another 20 or so years.


Also, at least at the elementary level, our teachers didn’t let us use those words either. And in some older books I’ll even see “d—ed” or “h—” in print.

I suppose both might be slightly strong words due to their religious meaning - but so many other like words weren’t censored. Since Shakespeare surely used such words with impunity (“Out, out damned spot”), I imagine that it was a later set of attitudes that caused these words to become "dirty
". Is it a puritan legacy? Did Queen Victoria faint at the mention of Hell? Did or do British people get so fussy over such words (Aussies sure don’t seem to care), or is this an entirely AMerican problem?

I don’t think it’s the words themselves, but the way the words are used. They are used as invectives aimed toward other people.

Profane means not holy. The words might not be obscene, or pejorative, or involve cursing, or swearing, but they are certainly profane.


“The road to truth is long, and lined the entire way with annoying bastards.” ~ Jablonski ~

Nowadays they’re considered mild, but in their day - back at a time when people believed in hell, burnt witches, etc - wishing someone to go to hell or be damned was serious stuff. Even in the 40s-50s, such words weren’t used in cinema. Today, the hero in Gone With the Wind would say “listen bitch, I don’t give a a fuck” and no-one would care.

You’ll also find in old books that in many cases writers don’t dare spell out “God” in its entirety, putting “G-d” instead.

I think it’s because it falls under the umbrella of “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” When you say “Damn him (or it),” the subject of the sentence is automatically assumed to be God, since presumably He is the only one with the power to damn. As for Hell, I would assume it could also be looked at in the same way – as in the usage of “To Hell with it” (since, again, the implied subject of the sentence would be God, since He had the power to send something/one to Hell. Used otherwise, it would be glorifying Hell itself, which would also be frowned upon.

My mother was always a stickler for proper usage of language. When I was a child, she pointed out that the meaning of this commandment was that it was wrong to use God’s name lightly. So, even though we were taught not to use the so-called 7 dirty words, the biblical prosription was on using the Lord’s name in vain. Thus, it could be argued that it was far more profane to say “Oh My God, would you look at that!”, “Jesus, you scared me”, or even “Lordy, Lordy, it sure is hot today.”

(Biblical Scholar.)