I’ve been thinking a lot about swearing lately. Is it a bad thing or a good thing? Maybe it depends on context. Take the word “fuck”, for example. As a verb, to fuck either means to have sexual intercourse with someone, or to damage or ruin something. As noun, it simply means an act of sexual intercourse. As an exclamation, it is used to express annoyance, contempt, or impatience.
Okay, so it looks like swearing is largely negative. I think we can agree that to damage or ruin something is a negative act. But what about its sexual meaning? I guess that begs the question: is sex bad? “Fuck”, in my understanding, is a simple four-letter word that can express an entire spectrum of meanings–from Fuck!, Fuck you!, This is fucking horrible!, This is fucking awesome!, We fucked, They fucked up, to motherfucker…etc etc.
“Fuck” can pretty much mean anything–and I think the way we feel about it, like the way we feel about sex, is complicated. We shun it, criticize it, stigmatize it as a negative act. We teach our children not to swear. We bleep out swear words on TV. Swearing is considered rude. But at the same time, we worship it. We generate humour from it. We express our feelings with it. We feel good when we swear.
It’s just like sex. We think it’s dirty, and we shouldn’t feel good. We can’t have too much of it or we’re perverted (or, if you’re a woman, you’ll be considered a slut). At the same time, sex is good! Sex feels good, why shouldn’t we have more of it and enjoy it? Sex is a good, and happy thing.
So it’s complicated. I think to myself: is swearing really bad? I swear occasionally to make a point, or the words just naturally emerge from my emotional outburst–is it really a big deal to swear? It’s certainly a big deal when we werekids–our parents told us not to swear. I remember the word “shit” used to be such a novelty when I was younger, and then I went to high school, and then “fuck” was the golden ticket to the principal’s office. And then I went to university, and nobody gave a fuck.
Of course, there are less poignant versions of these swear words–like crap, or screw. Somehow they’re not as offensive, though they mean the same thing. Is there a pyramid of profanities ranked according to their severity??
What is with swearing????? For the longest time, I kept asking myself that question. What is with swearing!? Is it really that bad? Can it be just something part of our culture? But everything has a reason–right?
And then the answer came to me, as all answers and epiphanies do–unexpectedly. My good friend recently went to Fantasy Con in Britain, and had the opportunity to listen to Patrick Rothfuss–the author of Name of the Wind–about his worldbuilding process for his novel. He mentioned swear words, and how swear words are a reflection of our culture.
OF COURSE!!! I can’t believe I totally missed that!
If you look at the English swear words: fuck, shit (the two most common ones) and the myriad of other ones like bitch, cunt, faggot…the list goes on. But each word encapsulates a cultural attitude. “Fuck” occupies the entire spectrum and represents various things at once, because it reflects the way we view sex. We adore it, we feel guilty and insecure about it, we want it, and we don’t want it. “Shit”, well, human excrement is dirty and unsanitary, and it is obviously a negative comparison. “Bitch” and “cunt” are essentially misogynistic (although there are male equivalents such as “dick”, but you’ve got to admit that the swearing spectrum is littered with female-hating yo-mama’s). “Faggot” reflects our society’s homophobia.
Basically–by looking at how we swear, we can understand what we look down upon as a society, or what we fear and feel repulsed by as a society.
So once again…is swearing a bad thing? It certainly isn’t a good thing, although it can be emotionally or linguistically expressive.
I suppose it’s bad, because if you think about it–to continue to swear means the continuous participation and acquiesce of our culture’s negativity that is directed unfairly towards certain groups or individuals. But it’s so deeply ingrained into our culture that it’ll be simply too annoying if we have to think about it all the time. I mean, I will do my best to not swear as much from now on, now that I’ve reached this conclusion, but sometimes things just come out and I can’t help it–and I’m not going to be like, “Hey! You are perpetuating the negative stereotypes and cultural representations by swearing, so you should stop!” to anyone who happens to utter the F word. I’ll just be a pain in the ass.
So it’s funny, I don’t know what I’m going to do with this information, lol. Just try to swear a bit less, maybe, everyone? At the least, avoid swear words that have a specific direction (such as bitch, or faggot) and stick with the universal ones (like fuck or shit)?
What kind of blog post is this!?