I know I am guilty of using words that I shouldn’t. Many of my articles, posts, comments etc. are peppered with (usually mild) profanities which tend to roll off the virtual tongue quite easily – or at least they do if you are, as I am, surrounded by lippy young people who fire off swear words if they so much as misplace a sandwich or find a hair extension out of place. As such, their use does have a nasty habit of becoming second nature. And I know that’s no excuse…
There are many people out there – and not just older folks – who find swearing objectionable, and you can’t blame them. Mostly they have been brought up to believe that swearing and cursing are disrespectful to the majority of people. My parents put across, to me, the diktat that the use of swear words merely demonstrated one’s ignorance and lack of vocabulary (mind you, that all went out of the window when one of them stepped on a live wasp or slammed their finger in a car door.)
Two categories – religious, and vulgar
As far as I can see it, swearwords in our modern age fall into two categories: 1) religious cursing, and 2) vulgarisms.
Religious cursing is very sensitive for many people and it’s something I try to avoid – don’t you? But what about words like “damn,” damned,” or “damning?” Despite those appearing largely innocuous these days, should someone wish to take it to the limit, there could be a religious connotation here.
And that doesn’t even begin to infiltrate what some people write using terms that may offend a whole host of religions from Christian to Judaism to Islam to who knows how many more. So is it appropriate to use religiously orientated swear words in our writing? In my humble opinion, absolutely no way.
OK, how about the serious vulgarisms?
Here’s where we enter relatively uncharted waters. I remember once asking my father where he thought the word f*ck came from, and he – as a veteran of WW2 – trotted out the explanation that it’s an acronym standing for “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.” Nice one. But is it true? According to Wikipedia, the origins of the F-word are vague… so I doubt that my Pop’s answer was correct, convenient though it may have seemed at the time. Snopes.com seems to agree with me on that one.
And then there is the ultimate vulgarism (or at least so most of us think) – c*nt. Where does this awful, horrible word come from? Wikipedia, bless them, have explored this one to a helpful extent and say, “the earliest citation of this usage in the 1972 Oxford English Dictionary, c 1230, refers to the London street known as Gropecunt Lane. Scholar Germaine Greer has said that “it is one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock.”
Maybe it’s the connotation, but maybe, too, it’s the sound of the word. Germaine was right. Would you use this word in any of your writing? OK, but there are lesser swearwords that express our thoughts so well, and they don’t resonate with quite the same impact.
Does swearing actually have a legitimate place in our writing?
So, do we – as people charged with reflecting realistically this modern culture in our writing – pronounce judgment and exclude swearing as naughty, smutty, dirty and undesirable? Should we adopt the nanny-like stance of television drama in which even evil villains, murderers, drug dealers, etc. only say a mere “bloody” here and a “sh*t” there?
I’d love to know how you guys feel about this, so please jot down your comments here.
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