What is swearing? First, let us loosely define it as 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 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, right!? Of course.
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 swore a lot! I don’t think I ever asked them why. As I matured into a teenager, trying not to swear was like trying not to sneeze! And around my friends, it seemed that if I didn’t swear, I wasn’t considered “normal”. It just seemed like the most natural thing to do around them. If my parents were within ear-shot, however, I certainly bit my tongue, as most kids still do.
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 darn!”, 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 words! 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 many very well educated people who swear quite liberally, although I have to admit they tend to more often use the substitution words, like “Darn” as I mentioned above. However, I would guess that most of these people would, like me, still agree that, “There is no substitution for real #!&#@ swear words!”.
I would like to suggest that swearing is not something bad, 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 exact 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 is with a hammer. Using the actual swear words is like being able to let out a great big belch instead of just a wee repressed burp; only the full belch truly satisfies the moment! Simply put, letting it all out most effectively, most completely, releases the full 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. His swearing didn’t actually sound 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 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 say’s 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 in the appropriate moment!? I think not! Something to consider.
One thought on “On Swearing”
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!