A dialogue about language and identity
Meditations on media, society, and the philosophy of language
On March 3, 2014, a stream of troubling, breaking news about Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine was interrupted by another event, this time originating in the Vatican, which similarly reached prominence in journalistic organs. This event, however, was not a child abuse scandal, papal resignation, or other such event that typically brings the ancient Church into the headlines. It was, instead, no more than the fact that the Pope — the most visible scion of holiness in the West — swore.
Immediately, this must be qualified. As Bill Chappell of NPR clarifies, Pope Francis, whose native language is not Italian, made a pronunciation error in his address that led him to verbalize “caso” (“case,” “example”) as “cazzo,” a colloquial equivalent to the English “F-word.” And yet the gaffe was reported in such a manner that made it seem as if the Pope intentionally introduced vulgarity into his speech. …