A very wise man once told me “If you have to swear to make a point, you don’t have a point to make.” I largely subscribe to this, but with one exception. He meant I shouldn’t swear if I’m arguing a point, whereas I base it more on the necessity. If the only way you can try and win an argument is by swearing, then you’re on pretty shonky ground, but if you can swear well on top of a solid point, then that’s a different matter.
I like swearing. It’s fun. It’s also very useful in some cases; few adjectives in the English language have the immediacy or illustrative power as a well placed “fuck.” Few things communicate the lack of quality in a situation than a precisely utilised “shit” or for the more encompassing needs, “shithouse.”
Then of course, there’s the ever-elusive See You Next Tuesday. Now, this I do draw a line on – the colloquial nature of modern English has seen the inclusion of profanity on a more casual basis where it barely raises an eyebrow, but this little one-letter-off-from-“aunt” still retains its power to shock and offend like no other word out there. Many will react in horror to the sound of it, and indeed, even in our own ratings system, the inclusion of this word will automatically restrict a film to an MA15+ rating. I admit I occasionally use it, but I usually reserve it for an ultimate offence. Few words sum up the vitriol you can feel towards a person than referring to them as that which rhymes with runt.
The issue comes up on the judgements of your character if you are one who is generous with the four-letter words of our vernacular. Many see those who swear constantly as mean, coarse and unrefined, but I daresay it’s entirely contextual.
Those who screech out these words across a public space fit the bill; there’s a certain lack of propriety to them. Those who punctuate every sentence of every piece of speech are much the same.
But I love words, and my admiration for them extends to those black sheep of the language. The ever-evolving state of English means that as time goes on, words lose their power but not necessarily their function.
Rhett may have not given a damn and caused the prudes to walk out in 1939, but Winston Wolf would like you to clean the fucking car and it’s nothing but charming.
Used right, swearing is just an extension of the meaning we convey in the words we speak. It’s an immediately recognisable intention, because the words are so adaptive. While “fuck” may have been the worst word that you can say and step four says we shouldn’t say it anymore, it’s incredibly versatile. A cartoon floating around the Internet sums it up pretty well, but all at once, “fuck” can be offensive, degrading, illustrative, affectionate, emphatic, succinct or even poignant.
I’m not saying that we should let loose our tongues on a free-for-all of profanity, but today I heard an acquaintance admonish her teenage son for swearing when he tripped over. I know for a fact that she swears as casually as most sophisticated, reasonable people are wont to do.
There’s a certain hypocrisy to forbidding children to swear, given that most people I know will do it, and that most children will grow up to utilise the language in the same way. I would argue that it’s better to teach children how to swear whilst discouraging them from letting it replace other more functional words. I also understand that, no matter your own practises, seeing a child swear is often shocking. From the mouths of babes should not some things be said. Furthermore, I thought it odd that this particular woman would admonish her son, given that he’s about 15. One of the great moments indicators of parent-child equality is when they’re able to converse on the same level, including using the same amount of reasonable language.
Those who claim that swearing is disrespectful may have a point, and again, its entirely context-dependent. But I would argue that I both feel and give more respect for the people that I can converse with comfortably, on my own level, which is usually pretty colloquial.
What is it about social mores that lead us to exhibit a certain type of behaviour as the ideal, even when it is so very rarely followed up on by the society as a whole? We even advertised our entire country’s worth by asking, “Where the bloody hell are ya?” which barely raises an eyebrow on our sunburnt shores, but caused such offence overseas.
I understand why bad language offends, and I too am offended by it if it’s used offensively. But it’s a minority who do misuse our risky words whereas the majority use them as they do any other word – as part of the language with which we express ourselves, convey our thoughts and feelings, and communicate with the people around us. Our four letter friends don’t need to be bandied about at every instance, and nor does anyone have to use them. But I feel it’s time to acknowledge that everybody swears once in a while, and demonising the words that live within us when they’re so common in our culture is ridiculous.
Also, I believe that our vocabularies have evolved with enough complexity that it’s impractical to categorise swearing as either offensive or acceptable. It’s more than that. They are both at once, and there are other points along the scale where they occur at different times and the same time. Language is intricate and complex, and swearing is part of language.
Agree with me, disagree with me, disregard this or accept this – but it’s how I see it, and, for me at the very least, this is how it is. And besides, I’d say that most people would rather hear any combination or transformation of “fuck” than they would the word “moist” these days.