I am not one for swearing a lot. In fact, there are some words that I am just not comfortable using.
I do swear occasionally but I have to be driven to it either through frustration, mishap or anger. Even then, there are swear words that I am prepared to use and others that I am not. You can probably guess at what those words are – they follow a well-recognised, commonly accepted order of offensiveness. (Even now, I am loath to use such words).
Yet why is that? Why do I shy away from using certain language? Why are some words less agreeable than others? They are, after all, only words.
Am I just being a bit of a prude? Or am I, as I’d like to think, more in touch with the sensitivities of others?
In terms of its acceptability, there are levels of swearing, both in terms of the amount and in terms of the magnitude.
If the swearing is too much, too often, too inappropriate it can come across as uncouth and brash. It can in these circumstances become abrasive and irritating. It takes over the discourse and distracts from the real message. I could never be accused of swearing too much!
When I do swear I recognise the gravitas of the words I am saying. Swear words have varying levels of repugnance. Some are thought to be worse than others. I always try to be aware of who is present and this will impact on my actual choice of swear words. Certain words are just not permissible in polite society!
I am often struck by people’s swearing and their decision to add a swear word into a sentence because they feel it contributes something extra to what they are saying. When it’s done well it can be very effective. A classic example of this is often found with late-night comedians. They will add some swearing to give extra impetus to their jokes. Strangely and rather cleverly the swearing can quite often turn an average joke into something hilarious. Yet there is a fine balance between getting it right and over-doing it. Of course, the good comedian always knows his or her audience.
The laziest type of swearing is when the swear word becomes automatic and intertwined. For example, when “the dog” becomes “the bloody dog”. The swearing becomes habitual and, in effect, unnecessary. It loses its impact. Quite often, the speaker is unaware that they have included the additional swear word. It has just become their way of referring to things.
The use of language is something that tends to just flow. Most of the time we don’t think very carefully about the words we are using. They are just an expression of what we are thinking. Swearing is a way of speaking. Either the words are in our every-day vocabulary or they are not.
Swearing is very much influenced by our environment. The more we mix with people who swear the more acceptable it will become and the more likely we are to join in with that use of language. Peer pressure, social conformity, popular acceptance – it’s that sense of belonging. We may feel that it is what we have to do in order to be a part of something or to be fully integrated and accepted.
I was brought up in an environment where swearing didn’t really happen – certainly not in the home. I’m sure it must have occurred but, as far as I can remember, swear words were never uttered in front of the children or, at least, I cannot recollect ever having heard them.
Now that I have left home, my parents are seemingly less fastidious about their use of language. My parents do now occasionally swear – though always in the mildest of capacities.
“The television programmes are pretty crap these days.”
“The way things are going, I think we’re all buggered.”
It does come as a shock to me when I hear it. It just doesn’t sit comfortably. I’m sure they too feel the same because, before actually swearing, I can sometimes get a sense that they are deciding on whether or not to. It is not a natural use of language for them. Either that or they have become so habitualised into not swearing that it has become alien to them
Why the change? Why has swearing suddenly become more acceptable to them? I have no idea. Perhaps they don’t think it matters quite so much; perhaps they feel that it keeps them in touch with the younger generation more; perhaps they’re so used to hearing it in the media that it has become more acceptable to them; perhaps it’s actually their normal way of speaking and that, for many years, they were forcibly showing control and restraint when raising the children.
Admittedly, I swear more inside my head then I actually do speaking it. Not only that, I will also use words in my head that I would never utter aloud. Does this show a level of self-consciousness or, given that some people do find swearing unacceptable, impolite or rude, am I just being respectful to others?
It may just relate to my upbringing. I was always taught that swearing is wrong so it may be that lingering sense of guilt that curtails my use of expletives.
I am only comfortable when swearing occurs in the presence of the same gender. Men can swear with other men; women swear with other women. But that should be the extent of it. Men should not swear in front of women and women should not swear in front of men. Swearing in front of the opposite sex just grates. Is that a bit of an old-fashioned attitude? Is that just me or do other people feel the same?
Swearing’s primary purpose should be to add impact. Timing is key – those comedians again! Whether it’s to add emphasis or to vent emotions it should be used sparingly so that when it is brought into play its full effect is realised. Quality versus quantity; selectiveness versus indiscriminateness.