Tuesday, 13 July 2010

On Swearing

A couple of times, recently, I got told off for swearing. It wasn't actually swearing though - I'd used the word "wanker" - so in the parlance of the anti-swearing brigade that should be called "bad language" I suppose.

I have to admit I always found people who go "tut tut" or "language please", or suck their teeth on hearing a swear word slightly comical. "Wash your mouth out with soap", they say, and I just want to say "oh do get out more".

Because that is exactly the point -the very people who are "ever so sensitive" when it comes to swearing - and do I detect a slight Northern bias there - blithely overlook the sordidness of a Friday night culture in all its obscene glory - mooning blokes, obscenely dressed women, drunken behaviour of the most objectionable and shameless sort etc etc. -but say "Fuck", and they react like lace-capped spinsters in a Victorian village.
Indeed I find there is something weirdly camp in their utter shockedness, their hurt and pained looks, and their slightly pitying but ultimately forgiving look.

Coming back to the Northern topic, I wonder if there is something in Methodist circles that explicitly forbids swearing. I suppose there must be, but I don't understand the reason. "Don't use the name of the Lord in vain" - yes from a religious point that makes sense (this also exists in Catholicism) and I do understand that religious people don't want to listen to "In God's name..." or "For Christ's sake". But that is something entirely different from saying "shit", or "fuck".
Maybe it is a way of expressing to the world how refined you are. That you take offence at coarse language. I think that comes closer to the truth, and also explains the slightly comical- old-maidish impression those people make. One feels a bit sorry for them because their ruse of fake sophistication didn't work.

What I'm not so keen on, though, is their assumption that everybody shares those values, may just have temporarily forgotten, and therefore needs "reminding", and if that doesn't help, a firm telling-off. It' sno longer common practice to go round telling people what's what in your books, and assume other will take kindly to your viewpoint.

My own background for example (Southern, Catholic, middle-class) does not negatively sanction swearing/bad language. I don't therefore quite see why I should adhere to "standards" that are neither commonly accepted nor at all aspirational.
I presume they would say: I feel offended by swearing and bad language. Well, apart from thinking, it's more a case of petulant prissyness, everybody in a multi-cultural society has to put up with a degree of "offense". Muslim people feel offended by the way we dress here, but they don't go round telling people off. Upper-class people and the aristocracy have always sworn, so has the working-class. It's just the "refoined" bit in the lower echelons in the middle that thinks they have to teach the world good manners. And good manners in their books, is using "nice" language.

It's a pity that they end up with a comedy vocabulary "Pardon my French" and "You naughty little so-and-so" they say.
Maybe it's time to realise that not everybody shares either your background, nor your values. And that the times where you could claim cultural superiority, lead the way, and show people the errors of THEIR ways are definitely over. Soap, please!


  1. I'm with you on this one (hurrah!). I'm especially fond of using that-word-you-used-to-describe-the-referee-the-other-day-that-one-wouldn't-mention-on-a-family-blog. Sometimes (most often when you're being cut up by a white Transit van), no other word will do. Difficult when you've got a 5-year-old in the back of the car. For, however much one is in favour of freedom of expression, one equally doesn't want the phone call from school: 'we're a bit concerned about some of Oliver's vocabulary...'

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  3. My spell checker had gone to sleep on the previous post so I shall resubmit. (Spelling I am a stickler for...)

    You make truly great points. It's only the Mrs Bouquet's of this world who feel the need to educate others to the 'correct' way of behaving.

    Strangely, I really find it hard to hear swearwords in Finnish or Swedish, mainly I guess because they were my childhood languages. But I wouldn't dream of telling anyone off for swearing.

    Helena xx

  4. So much war, death disease and cruelty is routinely ignored. And yet people get all active and upset when someone gives a 'fuck'.

  5. Living here in the Netherlands is particularly frustrating in this respect. The Dutch have adopted a couple of key English-language swear words, most notably "fuck." My objection is, however, is that not only do they pronounce it with a peculiar inflection, they just don't have the right feeling for the word.

    As Mark Twain purportedly said to his wife, "You have the vocabulary, my dear, but not the rhythm."

    By the way, apropos podcast from Harvard Business Review here: http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2010/07/the-subtleties-of-strategic-sw.html

  6. Here in the U.S. we have the stuffy Midwest and uptight Evangelicals telling us what we should or shouldn't say--or do--lest we go to hell. I find that to be completely insulting. In fact, it bugs the shit out of me!

  7. Righteous indignation ... balderdash!

    Yes, it's a superiority thing, that's without a doubt IMHO.

    Don't misunderstand me I would try not to swear in front of children because there is plenty of time for them to catch it in later life, and I really don't swear much at all, but when I do let slip the occasional 'fuck of frustration', I don't appreciate being frowned on.

    I'll have to start swearing in Welsh and that'll confuse the hell out of the household company.


  8. I grew up in a household where many things were frowned on - drinking, swearing and äähhhmmm...yes....There was no discussion or debate about it, just blanket disapproval. TV programmes with sex scenes, lots of bad language - change the channel. Learning to use the f,s, b and even c words expressively is to me a rite of passage, even if that sounds a little pathetic. Plus it's so old-fashioned not to use the 4 letters at all, and I really can't relate to people who disapprove, the prissiness makes me cringe.

  9. Grew up Roman Catholic so, of course, no swearing allowed!

    But I don't get offended by hearing someone swear, especially when well warranted!

    So. Wanker is a swear word?

  10. I have joined a book club of mums from school, they are also on my facebook ... I swear a lot!
    In print and in person, my kids swear.. they are only words they are good kids, straight A students and nice boys.. but they swear. I can see the disapproving looks ... yet ...
    Some of them are shagging others husbands, another family is under investigation for fraud and well I am sure one woman is actually a man.. so they can all fuck off with their judgments.. I am cool with mine xx
    Loved this post by the way

  11. Turkey's For Life17 July 2010 at 20:25

    I was always taught that if you swore, it meant you had a bad command of the English language. I strongly disagree with that! What better phrase to use than 'For fuck's sake,' when things aren't working out quite as they should. That's a perfect command of the English language! :)