Friday, 22 January 2010


Officially, I disapprove of bad language.

Swearing, cursing, blaspheming. It annoys me when other people use it, and it annoys me when I find myself using it.

Why? Because swearing is, to me, a failure of self.

It means you have reached a point where you are experiencing something which you cannot articulate - you have gone beyond the limits of your vocabulary, and landed in the midst of expletives.

I am an intelligent man, and proud of my linguistic skills. Swearing dents that pride.

That does not mean I do not swear. I swore when I found out my Grandmother's cancer was terminal. I swore when I accidentally shot a methanol cannon inside my shed. I swore when I found out my school's closure was certain, and I swore, quite loudly, when I was mid-air in my Mini.

But, notice please, I know when I swear. There are other occasions, naturally, but I am aware of them all (though my unreliable memory means many will stay lost in history).

Many people do not know when they are swearing. I know people whose casual speech contains at least one profanity for every two or three "normal" words, especially when relating stories and events.

There are times, though when swearing has a knowing function. When the language of the gutter serves a higher purpose.

The harsh, angularity of taboo phrases makes them stand out of normal speech, gives them a weight beyond mere letters. Carefully-selected profanity can be a precision tool.

My father, who was a church elder, once found himself giving a sermon when his church lacked a permanent minister. At the time, a famine was fading from the headlines, even though there was not enough being done to help the victims.

My father stood up in the pulpit, and addressed the congregation;
"Every day, around the world, hundreds, thousands of children starve to death, and you lot just don't give a FUCK!

"What's even worse is the fact that you are sitting there now, more shocked at my language than at countless, needless deaths."

He went on to harangue the congregation about the distorted priorities of modern, middle-class theists, more concerned about being seen to be doing things the right way than about doing the right thing.

His sermon worked, it was memorable, and galvanised that church into some much-needed self-evaluation.

But it wouldn't work every time. A curse a week would quickly result in the congregation checking their watches, wondering when he's going to get it out of his system. It would lose its impact, which is exactly what happens with the casual user.

That begs a question - what do you say in those moments where normal language fails the civilised speaker? What words remain that possess the impact of a few choice Anglo-Saxon monosyllables?

I'm buggered if I know...


  1. I sometimes swear using the elements (HYDROGEN SULFATE!!!!), but usually only in my head or when alone...

  2. Your father's words were brilliant. I'm glad they had the desired results.

    I also find excessive vulgarity annoying. It has a place in language and when used sparingly can be used to great effect.

    That said, i still probably cuss too often!

  3. Agreed. The well placed expletive can give greater meaning and punctuation to an idea. It also can deliver a delicious irony to a statement, for instance, "I'm late for damned church again!" In my family every church is now prefaced with "damn" even though we don't go.