On Swearing

93What is swearing?  First, let us loosely define it; it is the “bad” or “dirty” words or expressions that we use, usually when we are angry or upset, but can just as easily be heard when we are suddenly surprised or happy about something.

From a very young age we are taught by our parents and by those who educate us that swearing is “bad”, is “wrong”, that it is not good or polite to swear, and that we should always try to not swear. Try as we may, however, most of us swear throughout our whole lives, don’t we? Of course we do!

Growing up, when it came to swearing, my use of it was certainly no exception. My parents taught me, from as early as I can remember, that I should not swear–not ever! Being a child, I tried to obey, but most of the time couldn’t stop myself. I had to notice, however, that even though my parents warned against it, they themselves often swore! I don’t think I ever asked them why. As I matured into a teenager, trying to not swear was like trying to not sneeze! And around my friends, it seemed that if I didn’t swear, I wasn’t considered “normal”. It just seemed like the thing to do around them. If my parents were within ear-shot, however, I certainly bit my tongue! I think most kids do that.

I was all too worried of my parents criticism, so I did try to temper my swearing vocabulary. Rather than using the core “dirty” words, I would substitute them with ones more innocent sounding, like “Oh fiddlecakes!”, or “Fudge!”. But, to be honest, when I did that, especially as a teenager, I didn’t feel as though I had fully expressed how I was feeling, to myself or to my friends (who or course were thinking that I wasn’t normal!). I felt most fully expressed when I was able to let loose and use the real swear word! I think most people have had much the same experience.

Somewhere along the line I’ve heard it said that only “uneducated” people swear. Well, I know that isn’t true. I’ve met far too many very well educated people who swear quite liberally, although I have to admit that the better-educated people tend to more often use the substitution words (like “Fiddlecakes”) like I mentioned above. However, I would guess that most of these people would, like me, still agree that, “There is no substitution for the real swear words!”.

I would like to suggest that swearing is not something bad or dirty, but that it is, in fact, a natural and even necessary part of our language. In fact, as far as I know, it is a potent part of every language in the world! Why? Because we need to swear to best express the way we are feeling at the moment, and we use — choose — the best words or expressions to get those feelings out. To me, substituting real swear words with ones more benign is like trying to drive in a nail with a shoe or the back-end of a wrench, instead of using the proper, most truly effective method, which with the blunt side of a hammer (but a wrench really does work better than a shoe, which I have tried!). Using the actual swear words is like being able to let out a great big belch instead of just a little burp; only the full belch truly satisfies the moment! Simply put, full swearing seems to most effectively, most completely, release the fullness and emotional intensity of the moment.

I think that what the so-called “educated” people have unconsciously learned is the fine “Art” of swearing. This explains why, for years and years, my father mystified me when he swore. When he did it, it didn’t sound like swearing! Now, however, years later, I realize that he was simply able to use swearing in his language and expressions in a carefully chosen and “socially appropriate” fashion, in much the same way that a painter uses different colours to paint their pictures. His swearing, then, was not rude or vulgar, but even if it was, it seemed to fit appropriately into the situation he was expressing, because he had somehow learned this “Art of Swearing” that I am suggesting here. Herein, I think, lies the “educated” persons true ability regarding their use of swear words; their having unconsciously acquired the ability to swear in a way that is “socially appropriate” for the given situation.

For some reason, we don’t teach this “Art of Swearing” to our children!? Swearing continues to remain a “taboo” in our culture and most others. Yet there exists no logical reason that I can think of to put off accepting it and teaching the appropriate usage of it. The Bible, of course, exhorts us to not use the “Lord’s name in vain”, but other than that, who says that it is “wrong” to swear? Can it truly be “wrong” when it is obviously such an integral part of our language, something that gives us the only way to fully and specifically express our deepest feelings and emotions? Something to think about.

One thought on “On Swearing

  1. What’s wonderful for me, as a woman, is to feel comfortable being able to swear like a man. Is swearing “unladylike”? What the hell does that mean, actually? I appreciate your idea, Tim, that swearing is one very potent way to get to the heart of our inner emotional landscape. It is, indeed!

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