What the f*ck is wrong with swearing?

July 20, 2015
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This article contains language that may offend some readers.

Swearing – the serial offender. I do it. You do it. Hell, even royalty does it occasionally, and to great effect.

Those of us partial to dropping an expressive F-bomb every now and then see colourful language as just another way to communicate directly and efficiently. And those among us who feel differently should look away now, lest a plethora of bad words disgrace your delicate eyeballs.

Why does swearing offend?

If you think about it, taking offence is actually a choice. We choose to be offended by certain words by allowing them to have power. So while one person might object to overhearing the phrase “gosh darn”, someone else mightn’t bat an eyelid at uttering the word “motherfucker” on the bus.

Many previously derogatory words have been stripped of their power by the being reappropriated by the minority groups they were once hurled at. “Queer” was once an insult, and is now proudly embraced by many in the LGBTI community.

In Australia, the pejorative power of calling someone of Mediterranean descent a “wog” was significantly diminished by Nick Giannopoulos’ stage show Wogs Out Of Work and the follow-up television comedy hit Acropolis Now in the early ’90s.

Meanwhile, the word “nigger” retains its taboo status despite some factions of the African-American population having reclaimed it. More than just a rude curse, the term’s heavy history burdens it with a hateful connotation that’s hard to shake. So much so, that when President Obama uttered it in a recent Marc Maron podcast – in the context of a discussion about racism – he was heavily criticised (and it feels uncomfortable for a white Australian woman to even type the word in the context of an article about swearwords, such is its enduring power).

The classic four-letter word “c*nt” is the other forbidden profanity that seems to sit much higher on the offensive scale than others. Again, an argument exists that taking back this term will help remove the ugly authority it still holds. The feminist perspective questions why a word that means “vagina” should be known as being among the rudest words in the English language.

The C-word isn’t laden with oppressive historical context, nor is it weighted with the blasphemy of religious expletives that “take the Lord’s name in vain”. If we could shift our thinking and choose to view the word as empowering, we’d devalue any further attempts to intend it as vulgar.

Interestingly, although we walk around each day with the embodiment of the sweariest swearword right there between our legs, some morons view a swearing woman as more uncouth than a cursing man. Similarly, men of a certain generation persist in continuing the absurd tradition of refraining from swearing in female company, or apologising profusely if they accidentally let one slip.

We have some contemporary champions of female swearing, but gender equality will only truly be won when a woman can cuss it up with the boys without fear of them thinking less of her.

This is why swearing is good

Swearing is as old as time. The Romans left modern day swearwords for dead with their graphic - and very specific - terminology for body parts and sexual acts. It took a lot to offend people in medieval times when society even employed bad words to efficiently describe places, such as Gropecuntlane, where prostitutes could be found.

Science has also proven cursing is good for the soul, and swearing out loud actually reduces pain. You can’t bloody argue with that.

Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite blue word, “fuck”, is clearly one of the most flexible, expressive words in the English language.

Opinions will remain divided over the prickly topic of foul language, and even this seasoned potty mouth chooses carefully when and where to let rip, so as not to cause unnecessary offence.

But in defence of effectively expressive expletives, I must leave you with this: swearwords are just words, their meaning created and allocated by us. You can shit on them all you want, but there’s no fucking way you’ll ever stop me from loving them.

Phoebe Hartley

Phoebe makes films, eats dumplings and studies journalism. She tweets sporadically at @phoebehartley.

Image: Jonathan Rolande (https://housebuyfast.co.uk/), Flickr Creative Commons license