The first time I swore, I was 11 years old. My best friend convinced me I was a goody-two-shoes and I should debase the way I spoke. She encouraged me to practice at her house when no one else was home. Everyone needs friends like this 🙂 It was surprisingly difficult. I ended up venting in my journal, calling people preposterous names on the page. But in real life? No chance.
Despite my dad having been an actual sailor for a while, he never swore, and neither did my mom. I also grew up in a religious household where exclaiming things like “Jesus Christ!” was unacceptable. I had a lot of friends who weren’t allowed to say “Oh my God” so I never got in that habit. I can’t remember the first time I heard the F Word. It was probably on a late-night, uncensored CBC movie. It didn’t make much of an impact because people I knew didn’t speak that way – it was a Hollywood thing.
I was convinced I had outgrown the children’s section of the library when I was 11, too. I started my journey into the adult section by reading shelves of Agatha Christies. Then I made my way into the Adult Content. Needless to say, my salty language vocabulary expanded immensely. I just didn’t feel the need to use it. I was the go-to person for my friends when they wanted to know what an outrageous word meant!
Over the next few years, more and more of the kids at school used trashy language as much as possible in the school yard and whenever they were together. They would stop it in the classroom or at home. How many times did you actually want to get in trouble? At community gatherings, adults would spend a lot of time complaining about the Youth of Today and Their Bad Language. The cursing was rarely directed against the adults. It was more of a “youth culture” thing.
You would think that since I grew up on the east coast, we’d all swear like longshoremen. But as an adult, I have always worked in libraries where the staff are (of course) a highly literate bunch. We can have high-minded conversations any day of the week and express ourselves eloquently without the use of profanity. In fact, we have to because there are always customers around.
Being a fan of right good language usage (!), the most important value is being expressive. If I want to show anger or contempt, I will use many techniques from my Bag of Tricks before I resort to swearing:
- Minimizing contact
- Being icily polite
- Casting a withering look
- Rehearsing a speech in my mind
- Telling you the facts of the situation
Explaining how I feelNope, I don’t do this!
- About newsmakers: ranting about their decisions, use of power, etc.
I am much more likely to use colourful language if I am flooded with relief. For example, if I am driving and another car nearly hits me in traffic, I might say, “Fuck, that was close!” whether or not anyone is in the car with me.
As a parent, I went through the usual stages of:
- deciding what words to use for body parts and elimination
- trying to minimize toilet language like “poo poo head” (a losing battle)
- clamping down on insults, such as calling someone else “stupid”
- educating about offensive terms (such as national or ethnic origin, religious beliefs, etc.)
- learning what offends particular people we know
- talking about political correctness
- laughing about Shakespearean insults and the like (the Brian Jacques Redwall books were great for this!)
By the time my kid, Link, was 16, my rule was that we could swear, but not at people. So one of us would say, “That concert was fucking amazing!” or even “I’m so fucking mad!” but not “She’s a fucking bitch!” or “Fuck off!”
I bet you guessed that since we had permission to speak this way, we rarely felt a need to. Link, now 20, swears more often than I do, but always appropriately to the context. Parenting success!
There is one circumstance in which I think it’s inexcusable not to swear. If you are quoting or mimicking someone from a book or a movie, you need to speak or write as they do.
“I am not interested in emotional fuckwittage. Goodbye.” – Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary (this lovely term revived in honour of the 3rd Bridget Jones book, published this week!)
How about you? How expressive is your language?