Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Guilty Pleasure of Swearing

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I have just come in from the garden, on a distinct high from a frenzy of snail attacks.  These have become a regular early morning thing this year as I am determined not to let the little b........s consume one more succulent leaf of my vegetables.  I have tried all the usual methods of defeating these useless, slimy and insidious animals in the past, including vast quantities of snail bait, traps consisting of saucers of beer, dropping them into pails of salt water, surrounding them with egg shells and stamping on them. I've been considering surrounding my entire patch with broken glass but have reluctantly shelved this idea because of my small grandchildren. Without a doubt I've elicited the greatest pleasure from stamping on them - accompanied by language which I would blush to utter in the presence of people and which would make my mother turn in her grave. My parents' worst swear words were "Damn, blast" and when extremely provoked, "Bugger".  As the next generation I have used these but graduated mostly to "Oh, sh...t", although I wince at the connotations. I use the current worst one, "F....k"  only extremely sparingly and in the most tolerant of company or (sometimes excitingly) in the bedroom. I do consider myself pretty well brought-up, so I have never sworn in the Delivery Room, even though, in my day, there was no such thing as an epidural: we were expected to suffer in lady-like silence, sometimes for days, and this we did, merely groaning/yelling in as repressed a fashion as we could to indicate pain. There was some research done recently in the UK (demonstrated on camera by a nicely-built, tall and handsome young doctor), which showed that our pain threshold increases remarkably if we are allowed to swear out way through it.  (Duh - you don't need to tell women that). I was gob-smacked though, at the amount of F words in the film: "The Wolf of Wall Street".  After all, the constant use of the word didn't seem to have any kind of therapeutic effect on the manic cast of traders but it did become very wearing on the ears of the cinema audience.  Still a brilliantly made film - if about 40 minutes too long. And most of those minutes were the awful orgies if you ask me.  Imagine having the licence to use 'that word' so relentlessly that you no longer get a thrill out of it. Sad.


  1. I was once tutoring a young man whose vocabulary seemed to consist of ten words and the F word. It got tiresome very fast. So I asked him, "Do you know exactly how many times you have used some variation of the word fuck?" He looked at me startled. "No, but I guess you do." I raised and eyebrow and replied, "47" with great authority even though I had made the number up on the spot. He never said it again in my presence, bless his heart.

  2. I think in certain more sophisticated circles it is quite common to use the F word nowadays. I have no problem whatsoever with it and honestly kind of like being around people who use the word a lot but they are fewer and fewer as I get older, which is really kind of sad. I like to think fuck but certain people get so offended by the word that it just seems easier to not say it for the most part. Why do I like to say it? I suppose there is a certain kind of "I am my own person" and I can defy conventions I don't agree with if I want to. The thing is if I say "fuck" then I have to suffer the wrath of more proper people. Such is life.

    1. Wow. Even to see it in print is uncomfortable for me. I must be way less broad minded than I thought. Good for you though. I am all for defying conventions.

  3. Like Ralphie's father in the Christmas Story, I have "worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his [my] true medium, a master." It very well may be the only field in human endeavors in which I have attained some level of competence. (Said to be attained by 10,000 hours of practice).

    One of the interesting facets of swearing is that it is controlled in a different area of the brain than Broca's area, the center of language within our brains. My father had a devastating stroke that rendered his ability to speak almost useless, yet he could swear with perfect diction.

    Despite being something of a poet laureate in the art, I find the usage of the f-word in literature often trite. The usage in literature however seems less offensive than its use in film. If one reads the f-word, it remains a private experience between the reader and the author. However in films the use of the word is a publicly shared experience in all of its glory. In films, the word seems to have two modes of usage. Often it makes one obligatory seemingly cameo appearance, I say seemingly, because there is nothing cameo about it. It has been mounted in the film like a hood ornament and polished up for this one moment of shock. Alas, that boat sailed in the late 60s. My own belief is that this singular use is simply added to assure a more mature rating (PG-13 instead of PG in the US, or a 10 M or 13 M in South Africa) thus rendering it an economic tool rather than an expression of cinematic artistry. The other mode seems to be when it is used extremely often, giving me pause regarding my own usage of the word. Yes, I suppose it gives a certain aura of reality, no one expects gangsters to speak politely, yet it becomes as Olga notes tiresome rather quickly.

    My own personal thoughts of the f-word and other sexual obscenities is that at best it is an unusual curse. "F--- you" or "get f---ed" seems to be condemnation by pleasure--an odd thing to wish upon those you dislike. I also find it unfortunate that an act that I consider to be sacred has been reduced to an obscenity much on the order of seventh grade toilet humor. What is obscene about the expression of love or the creation of life? It is one of our specie's weirdicities...that which is most Holy becomes profane.

    Although I frequently employ the tactic, I find some amusement in the use of dashes instead of actually spelling out the word in written communications. What is the reader going to read? That said however, compare:

    F--- you

    Fuck you.

    There is a difference is there not? As you say, there is a discomforting aspect to seeing the word.

    One last thought. It has been my experience that when men use obscenities, it is often nothing more than habit or a poor vocabulary. Take it with a grain of salt. Ahhhh, but when a woman uses the f-word...take note. She usually damn well means it.

    1. Sextant, you really should copy and paste this brilliant analysis as a post on your own site. Superb.