Saturday, 24 March 2012

Swearing Has Lost Its Fucking Appeal

The other day I had to ban my 10-year old son from using the headset on his Xbox. I also confiscated all the age inappropriate games I let him play. Why? Because I woke up to hear him using language that wouldn't be out of place at a football match. Why do I let him play such games? Because when I was 10 there was nothing more entertaining than watching age inappropriate films (we had no 18 certificate games, or bananas, and all this was fields) to discover that the hype was, frankly, a load of old bollocks.

I remember years ago being told that swearing was a sign of a poor vocabulary. I was probably not much older than my son at the time, and scratched my head at this suggestion. I preferred reading to watching TV, and felt I had a pretty good vocabulary. I remember keeping a dictionary nearby because of words like "aquiline" and "stentorian" being used in some books I was reading. At no point did I think my vocabulary suffered because I'd read the words "fuck", "cunt", or even just "bastard".

But I used those words, out loud. It was almost like using them was a badge of honour in the school playground, and it's one of the reasons I generally tolerate my son using swear words at home: I know they all do it at school. I really don't mind if we're playing some game and he calls me a bastard for pulling some surprise move on him. I don't mind if he thinks the film we're watching is shit. But I still drill into him that there are people - grandparents, teachers, uncles and aunts - who will be very very disappointed if they heard him using such language. Because it's not what children should do.

Bullshit.

What does a broad vocabulary really teach you? It teaches you that the English language is both unnecessarily complicated and convoluted. It teaches you that a vociferous approach to avoiding profanity might endear you to the highbrow elements of society, while simultaneously marking yer as a posh fucker t'everyone else. Because in English, everything is apparently black and white, just how it's written down.

Swearing is cool. It's probably one of the reasons I don't do it so much any more. I'm 41. It's impossible to be cool in your 40s, even if you're an actor or something, and you're told you're cool. Cool is for youth, and in your 40s you are well beyond your youth. In your 40s you can be relevant, or important, or acceptable. So by the time you reach a certain age, swearing cannot ever be cool. And for anyone suggesting it never is cool, I say this: you're basing that assertion on your own upbringing. You were told swearing isn't cool. You were told it's a sign of a poor upbringing, or low intelligence, or, as stated above, a poor vocabulary.

Take regional accents. Across the UK there are places where "You cunt" is completely acceptable in daily use. I say this as a native of Derbyshire, and here's an example.

Person A: "Ah reckon ah could gerrover a 12 foot wall we 1 rate good jump."
Person B: "No. You cunt."

To translate into standard English:

Person A: "I reckon I could get over a 12 foot wall with one really good jump."
Person B: "No. You couldn't."

The more language adapts, the more it accommodates swearing as a by-product of every day life.It accommodates it so much it loses its meaning. If you heard someone say "I was just driving down the road and this bloke reversed out of his drive straight into the side of me!" you could easily be greeted with "Shit!", "Fuck!", "Bastard!", "Cunt!", "Bollocks!", "Wanker!", or "Doh!" and it will convey the same message to you: "That's terrible. The person must have been irresponsibly disregarding the nature of the situation they put you both in!"

But who's going to say "That's terrible. The person must have been irresponsibly disregarding the nature of the situation they put you both in!" when a simple casual expletive will suffice? Stephen Fry, perhaps. And even he likes a good swear.

It's got to the point now where I probably swear less than I ever have as an adult. I use foul language largely to express how very fucking pissed off I am at something or other, or to accentuate my desire to achieve something in a particularly positive or negative manner. But I still swear the least when I'm in front of children. They need to learn the words that can show them as articulate and studious, because even the lowest brow will still frown upon unnecessary expletives from a child. It goes back to their own childhood, and that's a motherfucking fact.

The next time you're in a crowded shopping centre or public space, have a good listen to the language you can hear from anyone in a group who is under 21. The chances are that with their cultural or generational slang you won't understand much of it, but I bet you there are a lot less fuckings and cunts than there were 10 or 20 years ago. It's sick. Where once it was wicked.

Right. I'm off for a fucking good swear at the Montreal Canadiens and their sick plays on the ice. Ya get me?




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