“Well, that was very silly!” The mild phrase startled me. It was years ago, I was in my early 20s and had recently become close with a woman who volunteered for the same charity I did. I admired her greatly: She was kind, had just started an interesting career and was fun to be around. But it was at that moment—when she described something as “silly” instead of using a term that was a little saltier—that it struck me. My new friend never swore.

People “behaved rather badly,” situations wereIt struck me: My new friend never swore “a bit of a shame.” Sometimes, my new friend was “really quite angry.” But she never, ever peppered her speech with profanities the way many of my friends did.

At first, her clean talking irritated me. Who was she trying to impress, I wondered? She must be putting on an act to speak in such exalted tones. After spending time with her, though, I began to realize the problem was all in my head: I admired her manners and her style. If I thought she was giving herself airs, maybe it was because I wished I was as well-mannered and pleasant to be around, much as I didn’t like admitting it to myself. I was jealous of my clean-talking friend and her refined way of speaking.

It’s not that I had a particularly coarse way of talking, but spurred by her example, I decided to clean up my act even more. I’d go without uttering a single swear word for a week, I decided, and see how I felt.

It turned out to be an eye-opener. “What a ... greedy person,” I found myself saying. “That was so ... deliberately hurtful.” Each time I was tempted to reach for a crude word, I searched for a substitute instead. Often, the new word I used was much more descriptive and illuminative than any obscenity I might have uttered.

Almost immediately, I began to feel like I was communicating on a higher level; I remember the word that kept popping into my head was mature. Without resorting to crude phrases or comments, I felt like a nicer person. I noticed that people seemed to respect me more; when I gave up swearing, people around me stopped using dirty phrases in my presence as well.

But it wasn’t easy. Forcing myself to look for a way to accurately describe a situation was a lot harder than reaching for an explicative—and a lot more descriptive. Was an unsatisfactory item broken, messy, unnecessary or defective? Was an unpleasant person brusque, abrasive, condescending or rude? Refusing to swear forced me to evaluate situations with more precision and decide exactly what it was I wished to say. Soon, I relished my newfound clarity as much as my more elevated mode of speech.

Researchers have found that about 0.7 percent of a typical American’s speech is made up of swear words. That might not sound like a lot, but given that an average person utters about 15,000 to 16,000 words each day, that adds up to a whopping 80 to 90 curses.

Saying so many coarse words has an effect on us over time. Obscenities are called dirty words for a reason: Using them sends a message that we don’t care enough about our speech to monitor what we say and choose cleaner options instead.

Many of us intuitively realize when we want to seem intelligent and successful, swearing is out of the question. Few people would swear during a job interview or a first date. In Judaism, important occasions aren’t reserved only for special moments; the Torah encourages us to take ourselves seriously and try to grow and reach our potential. Part of that is refining our speech and not allowing degrading expressions to drag us down.

Years ago, when I first started studyingI was shocked to find that the Hebrew language contains few swear words Hebrew, I was shocked to find that the Hebrew language contains few swear words. You can insult someone in Hebrew, but when an Israeli wants to swear, they often import words from other languages. The Hebrew language is a living, breathing tongue, but one that eschews obscenities.

It reflects a key Jewish truth that what we say matters. The Talmud speaks disapprovingly about people who use crude or vulgar language, but it goes beyond that. In Jewish thought, the way we interact with people and the comments we make shape us. If we speak and act kindly to people, we become kind. When we talk gently to others, we become gentle.

Three thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). The words we say shape us in both clear and subtle ways; engaging in crude speech drags down both the speaker and the listener. With vulgarity and swearing such a huge part of everyday speech, maybe it’s time to experiment with going obscenity-free. Consider giving up swearing for a week. It might not be easy, but the rewards—in clarity of thought and a more refined way of communicating—are well worth it.

Further Reading: The Torah on Dirty Words