Sunday, 30 June 2013

Why living in America has made me love swearing (even more than I did before)

When I was little, someone (in retrospect possibly a schoolteacher) once told me that swearing indicates a limited vocabulary. I have always thought that is complete and utter bollocks. I wholeheartedly ascribe to the Stephen Fry school of thought on this matter and believe that the use of forbidden or taboo words or phrases are an integral part of the development of the English language I love so much.

I love swearing. I love the power certain words have and how applicable they can be to any situation. Fans of The Wire will recall the scene in which McNulty and Bunk examine an old murder scene, and the only word used in the 5 minute scene are all variations of fuck. It's genius television. Don't get me wrong, I was never told off at school for audibly swearing, and it's not like I don't know how to express myself using words that aren't offensive to other people, I just think that swearing is a big part of that personal expression. I also think there's a big difference between saying that someone is acting like a wanker and outrightly calling them a wanker. I'm not a big fan of direct insults in any form.

My mum rarely swears. When she does it's a bit of a shock to the system. She once told my little brother when he was a teenager that his behavior was 'completely fucking unacceptable'. You could have heard a flea jumping in our kitchen for a good ten minutes after that. The power her use of the word had was immense and none of us really knew how to react. I think we all trod on eggshells around her for a few weeks, knowing that for her to use the word must have meant that she was really angry.

I used to work with a woman who told her children that, yes, they might hear swear words every now and again, even from her, but they were grown up words and she'd let them know when they could use them. Which to her credit, she did (on their 18th birthdays but the sentiment is still there...!)

The evolution of swearing and profanity is fascinating, and there are plenty of excellent resources online which help understand where our modern swear words come from. Shakespeare is often cited as a writer who was a genius in inventing new and clever ways to convey meaning and insults without sweaaring, and seeing as I read his complete works in the summer holidays between Year 5 and Year 6 meant that I had a pretty scary vocabulary by the time I joined senior school anyway. Swearing became just a part of that. Reading Julie Burchill around the same time probably helped...

I'd be remiss if I didn't take a second to discuss the gendered nature of our current selection of profanity. When I was studying for my undergraduate degree, I took great delight in discussing why the word cunt should be reclaimed by my feminist sisters. Looking back, I think I enjoyed the discussions because the power the word has is still so immense certain people won't even say it aloud. The power of shock and awe is one thing I love about the word. It says a lot though that the most offensive thing someone can say is synonymous with vagina. Saying someone is a dick doesn't quite have the same ring to it.

Since living amongst Americans, I've noticed a high dependency on replacement swear words. I started thinking about the people I know who I also hear swearing on a regular basis, and it turns out they are either mainly English or Canadian (Pirate Sam and Mikey Longshot I'm looking at you here). Using shoot instead of shit, or frigging instead of fucking for example, are phrases I hear daily. It's really started to wind me up and I think I've worked out why. They think that by using these replacements they are conveying the same meaning of the word just without the intensity. I think this is bollocks.

The problem is that we all know the words they are attempting not to say. So by saying 'Your behavior is frigging unacceptable young man', we know they mean to convey the same meaning as my mum just without using the actual words. Part of me wants to scream 'Own your language choices Americans!' If you mean something is fucking awful then call it out for being fucking awful.

But I don't. I appreciate the fact that certain words are just not appropriate for certain situations, and if people can't express themselves without using a replacement, then fair enough. Knowing when and where to swear is vital. The effect on me however has been that when I'm back in Europe my language is fucking atrocious. And making up for lost time I bloody love it.

- The Future is Unwritten. Make the most of every single day.

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