Saturday, July 2, 2011

To swear or not to swear...

On a writers’ forum far, far away there was a little topic discussed and the little topic was all about whether one should use swear words when writing or whether one should not.

I’m not a fan of writers’ forums per se because writers are a snooty bunch who like to pick on each others writings, and that makes any other post on a writers’ forum a target for grammar correction, spell checking and other rather tedious things. Plus the discussions get a little too inane for an intellectual giant like myself in depth for someone who is only a mere technical writer.

I use the f-word a bit when I speak, not a lot but it happens especially when I talk to my friends, or perhaps rather people I feel comfortable around. In my defence I have to say that I don’t need to be fucking judged to me the f-word probably hasn’t got the same bad connotations it has to you unless you’re a useless son of a bitch who lacks so far in the fucking vocabulary department that you’re basically a retard of non-English speaking background like myself. I come from a background where the language seriously lacks those really juicy little gems like the f-word. There’s simply no Swedish equivalent.

In Sweden, back in my day that is, we had to make do with the equivalent of “hell”, “satan” and “devils” as our worst possible vocabulary choices. Seeing they’re all related to invoking things the anti-Christ or his general location one can’t help but wonder if not in the early days of Christianity those words weren’t chosen as swear words by those still pagan so they could seem to invoke the anti-Christ and therefore scare the crap out of their Christian brethren. Who knows? Who cares? Linguists and some writers, that’s who cares, and maybe those morbidly curious.

Anyway, having realized how pathetic and lame their own swear words are the Swedes started to seriously adopt some of the more serious English swear words in 1990s. I don’t blame them. How could I? I’m one of them and I did it too! I’d be the pot calling the fucking kettle black.

The only language that seems to have even lamer swear words than Swedish is German. The Germans have to make do with saying things like “donnerwetter” (thunderstorm) when they get really pissed. It just doesn’t cut the mustard. It has about the same zing to it as when my grandmother would say “iron nails” (she actually said “järnspikar” but I have to translate for you) when something went seriously wrong in her life.

There’s no doubt that the use of words that were once regarded as extremely bad is now more common. There seems to have been a growing acceptance of the use of these words. What was the linguistic equivalent of dropping the Hiroshima bomb in my grandmother’s day was more like more like an air raid in my parents’. The same these days is more like light artillery. I’m guessing that these words will have little left of the sting they once had by the time my daughter is adult. (The worst thing you can call someone if you’re my daughter’s age seems to be gay or lesbian. Like what? I was sitting here thinking we had tolerance for that kind of thing now!)

Is this good or bad, that the really bad swear words are losing their power? I don’t know nor do I really want to take sides.

A friend who’s a linguist said to me when I complained about the corporate trend to make new words like “managerizing” and “incentovizing” (those are not fucking words people!) and then go on to sprinkle every conversation with them so liberally they’re soon accepted, Well as he said to me, language is dynamic and it evolves all the time. It’s not a dead thing and it continues to evolve with the communication needs of the people using it. It’s hard to argue that point.

Even putting that argument aside there are times when no other words suffice. Like Billy Connolly said:

"People say to me, 'You only swear because of a lack in your own vocabulary' ... but this is nonsense. You show me the proper English equivalent of 'fuck off' and I'll happily use it. It certainly isn't 'go away'."

He’s right.


So, as much as dropping the f-word once too many in your musing can ruin it the opposite can also be true. Swear words can actually add to a piece of writing if one doesn’t go overboard and if it’s not a substitute for good writing. Good writing is not something I personally claim being able of producing so I swear. There you have it. Fuck you!

There are times when I write when taking out the swear words I would use if I was talking to friends makes a blog post sound less like I’m talking to you and more like stilted writing. My blog is the place I come to vomit my thoughts out into the ether as much as it’s a way to write things I don’t normally get to write. I like writing. I don’t have enough time to write creatively. This blog is my compromise and my outlet. Fuck you!

I got the distinct impression when I was going through the posts on that writers’ forum that the dislike of swear words is almost directly proportionate to age and so is the non-acceptance of txt-isms. It appears that the older we get the less able we are to keep up with the hip changes of our own language. Perhaps that’s just as bad because couldn’t we then as we get older be accused of being too lazy to keep our vocabulary up to date and extending it? I should think so.

(Which reminds me of a time when we caught the bus to school, we would have been all of 12 years old or close to it, and one of my friends said when asked to give up her seat for a passenger much more advanced in years. “How about we wear out one generation at the time and let the young ones remain seated?” Oh boy, did she ever get into to trouble over that one! But back to language…)

I think there are times when swearing in your writing is completely appropriate and that it can even add something extra. At the same times though I would be the first to admit that I swear because of sheer laziness and because I’m linguistically retarded.

Oh yeah, by the way. There is a Swedish f-word that’s almost equivalent to the English c-word (and with c-word I don’t mean “crap”) and I only just remembered that. It must be because of the dire ramifications of using that kind of language when I was a kid that I had completely put it out of my mind.

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