Warning!

If explicit language offends you I suggest reading something else. 


Contents:

  1. Author’s Note
  2. A Catholic Kid’s Lexical Acquisition
  3. Pardon My French German: Old History Modern History
  4. It’s OK, By God
  5. Profanity in Written Works (serious, legitimate bloggers need not apply)
  6. People swear, including Christians
  7. Tell Geoffrey or George They Lack Vocabulary
  8. Swear Today Offend Tomorrow

 

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Author’s Note 

This article began as rebuff to a recently read blog post proselytizing that “serious, legitimate bloggers” should never use swearing in their blogs.In perusing this rebuff, the result was a fascinating journey into the sources and history of English-language swearing, and I am using that adventure to reject what I consider poor, if not necessarily bad advice.

Swearing can intensify dialogue, written or spoken, but can also shock or give offence when read or heard.

This is not to say I am inclined to swearing in all works, quite the opposite. Like someone using multiple exclamation marks in the belief it will enhance their point, I am opposed to swearing’s overuse. In television dramas for example, where the swearing often seems (unnecessarily) incessant, I am less likely to continue watching. Why? It becomes boring, doing little to enhance the character or characters. So before you even begin reading, my caveat for swearing is probably ‘less is more’.

For an academic oversight of swearing on television go here   and for Deadwood go here.

Also, I use the term swearing as an all-encompassing term, to include, interchangeably, religious profanities, through sexual and/or scatological vulgarities and any other word considered taboo; either now or historically. And while some religious people might eschew profanities (religious terms), they may have fewer reservations about offensive sexual terms that the sexually anxious would avoid.

Among Christian cultures, the line between those that swear a lot about mothers and whores and those that don’t looks quite like the line between those where Mary is a co-star with Jesus and those where she’s part of the supporting cast. If you can comfortably swear in a language it shows you have a deeper understanding of it…Manipulating the same word to mean different things depending on how you say it.”

A Catholic Kid’s Lexical Acquisition 

“If everyday language is like the earth’s crust and the soil we garden our lives in, strong language is like volcanoes and geysers erupting through it from the mantle below. Our social traditions determine which parts of the crust are the thin points. It’s not enough to feel strongly about something; it has to have a dominating societal power and control structure attached to it.” James Harbeck 

Perhaps this is what lies behind Chef Gordon Ramsay’s love of profanity.

During one of his shows in 2009 Ramsay reportedly swore every two-and-a-half seconds, 243 times with 312 expletives; producing 37 “obscenities” in one particular 95 second scene. The word ‘fuck’ featured more than 100 times in 40 minutes.

tumblr_n0ump0zdna1r36jpso1_400As a former chef, becoming an apprenticed chef was my first job out of school, I can understand the love of swearing; a heated vocabulary suits the pressure-cooked volcanic environment of a commercial kitchen during meal service.Tweet: I understand the love of swearing; a heated vocabulary suits the volcanic environment of a commercial kitchen https://ctt.ec/929m6+ Via @ROKFreelancer #Swearing The head chef dominates and controls the environment where a geyser of expletives can burst forth, gushing and receding without warning or explanation.

Despite his penchant for swearing, Ramsay is to some extent a religious figure with the Church of Scotland officially endorsing him as a “role model for Christian children.”

For the record, Ramsay is Scottish, I am not. Ramsay is Protestant, I am not.

“Words have no special meaning by themselves. They are just sounds that our ancestors figured should be associated with the feeling or object they wanted to address. Without the help of a surrounding sentence or intention, they are no more than these sounds.

Growing up in an antipodean, working-class Catholic family I was subject to some of the greatest cussing and blasphemous expletives ever to hit a young boy’s ears. A common outburst from my father was, for example, “Jesus Christ, for fuck sake…” followed with phrases like “…Bloody hell, what are you fucking doing, you shithead?” or “…what in God’s name were you fucking thinking?”

Now, being a devout Catholic – for an interesting take on how some religions react to swearing, take a look at this – my father would justify his taking of the Lord’s name in vain by arguing that he – my father – was not breaking the Third Commandment but rather was merely informing the Almighty that one of His flock of lambs was being admonished for a seemingly stupid, inexcusable, ungodly undertaking here on earth. Notwithstanding any justification, he undoubtedly used his weekly visits to the confessional to assuage God’s wrath.

The act of swearing became an ingrained component in our family’s daily conversations and more so during our Monday night gabfests when we would discuss and debate anything and everything. Back then, we had neither TV nor Internet to distract us from life and each other. Open, lively debate was a Monday night family ritual after listening to a family favourite – Life with Dexter – on the radio.

Swear words of all kinds built and enriched our vocabulary; as kids me and my older siblings acquired rather than learned these lexical additives. None of us took offense unless, of course, the tone of delivery clearly inferred it. And if it wasn’t acquired through our conversations it was acquired in part, from surreptitiously reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, hidden away by our mother in her bedside cabinet.

And there’s Abby, who says she was told that when she was little, “an impressionable toddler,” one of the first phrases she uttered was “Goddamn dog;” a phrase she learned from her grandma who “used to throw it around on the regular when their geriatric poodle would jump on the back of the couch.”

Today, research indicates that children around one or two years-of-age know several swear words, while school-age children of have a vocabulary of up to 42 taboo words.

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I retain a vivid memory of a particularly expletive-filled time when, after my father was unable to attend Mass the previous Sunday because of being ill, our parish priest came knocking. No, God’s ambassador wasn’t there to wish his parishioner a speedy recovery but rather, to ask if my father had his weekly donation for the collection basket.

My dad exploded and while I’m pretty fucking certain I heard the priest utter a few ungodly epithets as he left our house empty-handed I am also bloody certain my father had to perform the Stations of the Cross ten-fold as penance, along with having to recite the Hail Mary backwards in Latin, before the priest would even consider God’s absolution complete.

That incident, closely followed by my falling into a local creek while on my way to my First Communion, is where religious piety and I parted company.

Instead of our priest saying something profound like, “Well my boy, it’s all in God’s plan,” or “Perhaps God was wondering if you could swim,” – which is a pretty senseless comment because if God really is omniscient he would have already seen me swimming at our local pool – I was admonished for my clumsiness and stupidity for attempting to cross the creek by walking across a sewer pipe in lieu of using the footbridge. Shit, did I curse and swear that day; goddamn it, “Father Whatshisname is a fucking prick.” Even the Devil was blushing, I swear.

Years later, long after my youthful introduction to its power, I now fully realize swearing, verbal or written, has no literal usage, rather it is figurative. Being ‘fucked out of your money’ for example, has nothing to do with sex; neither does ‘fuck me’ indicate an invitation to copulate.

While the actual functions of swearing remain largely unknown, it is a functional, vocabulary-additive; swearing and insulting are the highest art of our language.

“Full of nuance, subtlety and at the same time – force. Full of paralinguistic features, body and eye language. If you can swear like an Englishman, you could feel at home with the language.”

And for those learning English as a second language, swearing, cursing, and insulting is important:Tweet: For those learning English as a second language, swearing, cursing, and insulting is important https://ctt.ec/wH14_+ Via @ROKFreelancer #ESL #Swearing “They are important subjects. Swearing (and politeness) are the core of discourse analysis and are very serious subjects in their own right…students need to know about these things…

Additionally, swearing may unite people., according to history professor John Spurr.

“Wherever men were gathered together, at work, trade or play, in the army or at university, profane swearing was likely. “Several volleys of execrable oaths oftentime resounded from all sides of the room”, complained Thomas Turner in 1760 after a typical meeting of East Hoathly vestry. It was said that Thames bargemen had only ever heard the name of their saviour as part of a profane oath. Ale certainly loosened tongues and inhibitions. In court Richard Macham of Leyton in Essex was pathetically described as “a drunkard, a swearer and a slanderer; sometimes he is overseen with drink and by provocation he doth use unlawful oaths.”

Further, our brain processes swearwords differently from other language, which is important given that swearing, or cursing, is “best described as a form of linguistic activity utilizing taboo words to convey the expression of strong emotions.”

Harvard University experimental cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker’s book The Stuff of Thought breaks profanity into five categories:

  • Dysphemistic swearing – Exact opposite of euphemism. Forces listener to think about negative or provocative matter. Using the wrong euphemism has a dysphemistic effect. (Example: He fucks her!)
  • Abusive swearing – for abuse or intimidation or insulting of others (Example: You motherfucking son of a bitch! Fuck you asshole)
  • Idiomatic swearing – swearing without really referring to the matter.. Just using the words to arouse interest, to show off, and express to peers that the setting is informal. (Example: Fuck, man.)
  • Emphatic swearing – to emphasize something with swearing. (Example: It was so fucking big!)
  • Cathartic swearing – when something bad happens like coffee spilling, people curse. One evolutionary theory asserts it is meant to tell the audience that you’re undergoing a negative emotion. (Example: Aww, fuck!, Damn this coffee).

Nonetheless, there has always been resistance to swearing.

Pardon My French German: Old History Modern History 

Kate Wiles, writing in New Statesman says:

“Fuck. Shit. Cunt. Our favourite four-letter words have a fascinating history. Rather than being written in manuscripts by monks, we find them used by normal people and preserved in surprising places like place names, personal names, and animal names and they reveal more about our medieval past than just attitudes towards sex and body parts.”

swearing-23iw5c6Long before fuck was ever considered profane or even an emotional expression ranging from surprise or delight to anger, frustration or pain, Melissa Mohr, who has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Stanford University, specializing in Medieval and Renaissance literature, and author of Holy Sh*t : A Brief History of Swearing, says it was found in people’s names; John le Fucker (1278), Henry Fuckbeggar (1286), Simon Fuckbutter (1290).  However, some scholars believe they are  “misspellings or closely related to Germanic words meaning “to hit” or “to strike”. If so, then, “Henry (Fuckbeggar) would then be known for walloping beggars, not sleeping with them.”

The first ‘real’ use of the f-word is thought to occur in a poem – Flen, flyys, and freris meaning fleas, flies, and friars, a satire of the Carmelite friars of Cambridge, England – partly written in cipher from around 1475, which complains that some monks are damned because they “fuccant” women around the monastery.”

Words that are obscene today appear everywhere in the Middle Ages (5-15 centuries) and at the time, while swearing was punishable by imprisonment, excising of the tongue, or death, many of the words we consider obscene today were not generally deemed offensive. They were found in street names (Gropecuntlane, Shitwellway, Fuckinggrove), personal names (Gunoka Cuntless, Godwin Clawcunt, Thomas Turd), the names of common plants and animals (a heron was a shiterow; the medlar was the open-arse tree), in literary texts and medical treatises (“in women the neck of the bladder is short and is made fast to the cunt”), and in translations of the Bible (“the Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt [on] the part of the body by which turds are shat out”).

Laws passed during the reigns of James I (1603–1625) and George III (1760–1820) criminalised swearing and “drew careful distinctions between swearing and cursing, imposed fines or the stocks, and banded the penalties according to social rank.”

John Spurr says that “Then as now, some individuals sought to shock by transgressing against the pieties of the age” and that swearing, “was to parade one’s worldliness and social standing.” He says Samuel Pepys (d1703) was thrilled to hear a gallant – someone rather concerned with their dress and appearance – just arrived from France, swear when disturbed while playing a croquet shot.

“Here was a real-life model for all those Frenchified fops and libertines on the Restoration stage, such as the Monsieur de Paris, a character in a play by William Wycherley (d1716) who constantly swore and vowed in English and in French. The gallants who filled their speech with oaths and a French dressing of profanity were young, dissolute and obnoxious.”

Often, when people swear today – as if to minimise any forthcoming shock or offence – it is common to apologise for its use with a phrase like “pardon my French” but, according to the Oxford Dictionaries Blog, many of our swear words sound German, not French.

“English is a language whose vocabulary is the composite of a surprising range of influences. We have pillaged words from Latin, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Old Norse, Spanish, Italian, Hindi, and more besides to make English what it is today. But the story of English is above all the story of two languages that were thrown together almost one thousand years ago and have vied with one another for possession of our vocabulary ever since. These languages are Old English and Old French; the event that bound them was the Norman Conquest [in 1066]… [creating] a two-tiered society, divided upon linguistic grounds. The peasants, who served, spoke a West Germanic language, Old English, the ancestor of both modern English and modern German. The nobles, who ruled, spoke Old French, a Gallo-Roman dialect descended from Latin and spoken in northern France, the ancestor of modern French. Here, then, is the answer as to why our swear words sound so much like German ones; it is precisely because this language is ‘vulgar’ (a word derived from Latin and meaning ‘of the crowd’).”

And while the etymologies of many swear words are long, Mohr tells us that swearing as a modern form of communication began with people’s “embrace of linguistic delicacy and extreme avoidance of taboo” during the 18th and 19th centuries.”

This, she says, bestowed “great power on those words that broached taboo topics directly, freely revealing what middle-class society was trying so desperately to conceal” and thus “[u]nder these conditions of repression, obscene words finally came fully into their own…to be used in nonliteral ways… [becoming] not just words that shocked and offended but words with which people could swear.”

In the Middle Ages, people were terrified that too much oath-swearing would bring about the decline of the legal system, of government, and eventually of society itself. By the 17th century swearing could only be prosecuted when God, Lord, Jesus or Christ were used “plainly and lightly and in the sense of an affirmation or negation,” whereas a curse was more easily prosecuted, “punishable” with or without these words.

“Judges, clergy and commentators all stressed the dangers to society of such swearing. This was a sin that ran the length of the community. Children learned to swear from their parents, apprentices from their masters, common folk from their betters. Swearing was an infection, a contagion, or a flood. It was a sin that would damn the swearer’s soul and might well provoke more immediate punishment from on high: every preacher seemed to know personally some unfortunate wretch who had been struck dead with a profane oath on their lips.”

By the end of the 19th century, swearing evolved into something like its current form: “Obscene words,” Mohr told the Boston Globe in 2013, “were used nonliterally, for emotional emphasis, and blasphemy began to lose its punch. World War I opened the floodgates on the F-word, with the authors of a 1930 collection of British songs and slang claiming it was so commonplace among soldiers that it was merely “a warning that a noun was coming.”

It’s OK, By God 

According to Spurr, “Language will always betray the tensions of a changing society.”

During the long English Reformation swearing was one of the key concerns. “Protestants had clear theological reasons for uprooting oaths invoking the mass, the Virgin and Saints, or the body of Christ, and they took the persistence of such oaths as a sign of resistance or backsliding to Catholicism. In 1601 swearing was “of all other sins most rife in the land”, complained Arthur Dent, and he listed Catholic oaths as especially worrying, while in 1652 a Lancashire minister was concerned to hear a woman swear by our lady.”

Stephen Fry records the Max Carrados collection at Audible Studios, London
Stephen Fry: “The sort of dweeb person who think swearing in any was is a sign of a lack of education…is just fucking lunatic.”

In medieval English, a time when wars involved “disputes over religious doctrine and authority” the chief category of profanity, for example “By God!” was swearing to or at the name of God, Jesus or other religious figures in heated moments. It is from the religious aspects of swearing that we still today describe profanity as swearing or muttering oaths.” And this is not what swearing by or under God meant.

Citing Deuteronomy 6:13, “By his name alone you shall swear,” Mohr suggests God wants people to swear, but with qualification; you cannot break the Third Commandment and, as Jesus Christ is believed to be the Messiah, the image of an invisible God, this commandment is applied to the name of Jesus Christ as well.

“Swearing” in the Bible refers to oaths, promises before God that your words are true or that you will do what you say you will. God wants people to swear by his name – in the early parts of the Bible we can see echoes of a war Yahweh (the Abrahamic God) is fighting against other Near Eastern gods such as Baal and El. When you swear by Yahweh, you acknowledge that he is omniscient and omnipotent, able to hear your oath and punish you if you swear falsely. You implicitly acknowledge that he is the best, the only God. Vain swearing is forbidden by the third Commandment, for if you swear falsely and God doesn’t punish you, it implies weakness, through the same logic.

Medieval England was a largely oral culture with swearing, making a sincere oral testament, being a key gesture of commitment. Doing this “lightly” was considered sinful, and is considered the origin of the expression to take the Lord’s name in vain (translated from Biblical Hebrew for “emptily”); although today it might seem like a kind of obsessive piety.

Nonetheless, according to Mohr, many Catholic countries did not see swearing make a “full transition from religious oaths to sexual/excremental obscenities,” adding: “In Québec, Canada, for example, many of the very worst swearwords are religious in nature, including tabarnak (the tabernacle), câlice (chalice), and ciboire (the ciborium, a container for the Host).” As The Globe and Mail reported in 2009, it was not too long ago that Québec was still dominated by the Catholic Church “…and there isn’t a Québécois swear word worth its weight in shock value that isn’t also an object used in the Catholic mass.”

A similar pattern is found in Irish with much of its swearing still involving such curses as ‘Go hifreann leat’ (To hell with you!), ‘D’anam don diabhal’ (Your soul to the Devil!), and ‘loscadh is dó ort’ (Scorching and burning upon you!) drawing on” the power of God and the Devil.”

“By God’s bones!” including such variants as “by God’s wounds,” “God’s nails,” “by the blood of Christ,” was “The worst thing you could say in the Middle Ages.” According to Mohr, “These phrases were so offensive because they were thought to be able to rip apart the body of Christ as it sits at the right hand of God in heaven, in a perverse version of the Eucharist that creates God’s body on Earth.”

Once the Renaissance rolled into history, that period from the 14th to the 17th centuries and regarded as the cultural bridge between the Middle Ages and modern history and, by some, the source of ‘modern’ swearing, the power of oaths waned.

“17th- and 18th-century conversations were peppered with ‘sblood (“God’s blood”), zounds (“God’s wounds”), and a new one, ‘bloody’. Words that were simply direct in the Middle Ages started to take over as the new obscenities. The transition was rough, however – sometimes words were censored, and other times they still appeared in print, as when in 1616 George Chapman published a beautiful, expensive edition of Homer but in it attacked one of his critics as ‘an envious Windfucker’.”

And, according to Spurr, while tales of London low-life in the Elizabethan period (1558–1603) resound to ‘Mercy God’ and by the ‘Mary Mass’ a century on “some, indeed, swear by idols, as by the mass, by our Lady, by saints, beasts, birds, and other creatures; but the usual way of our profane ones in England is to swear by God, Christ, faith and the like.”

“Swearing…became a marker to distinguish between those who were intent on a godly lifestyle and those who refused to be railroaded into a new linguistic austerity. Godly English Protestants became increasingly intolerant of any form of swearing outside the law courts, and some, Baptists and Quakers most notably, even refused to swear in court.”

Profanity in Written Works – (serious, legitimate bloggers need not apply) 

According to Mohr, the definitive 18th century expletive was ‘bloody’, “not quite an obscenity and not quite an oath,” but definitely a bad word that “shocked and offended the ears of polite society.” Bloody, she says, is still in frequent use in Britain and, coming from Down Under, I can also attest to her assertion that bloody is “the great Australian adjective.”

After many decades on this earth swearing still infuses my vocabulary, at least in conversation.Tweet: After many decades on this earth swearing still infuses my vocabulary. https://ctt.ec/5Oxf5+ Via @ROKFreelancer #Swearing #Writing #Blogging If someone has done a good job, and I mean they have excelled at it, I’m not averse at telling them, “Hey, awesome fucking job.”

Conversely, if the work is loathsome, “Hey, what the fuck do you call this shit?” And while, it is not something I’d write on a student’s paper, I have had chefs, news editors and, to a lesser degree, academic supervisors say similar things to me; pushing me to better work.  Further, it is not something I’d necessarily include in a feature or news story unless it was absolutely germane.

Now, this doesn’t mean I do not know when not to swear, I do. It also doesn’t mean I swear for no reason.  When I do swear, I do so for a reason; it aids effective communication, especially emotional communication.

But that is verbal communication, what about swearing in our written communications from articles to blogs?

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Whereas WordPress offers some advice I recently read a blog post saying “serious, legitimate bloggers” should never use swearing in their blogs, the inference being that if do, you are neither a serious nor legitimate blogger. The author posits:

“… It is a matter of good taste vs. no taste, respect vs. disrespect. Consideration vs. arrogance… [it] tells readers you have a limited vocabulary for expressing yourself… [it] does not improve or embellish the content…”

And he is not alone. Another wrote:

“I don’t care what you want to call it. It’s idiotic. I hate reading a blog post with a bunch of f-bombs (or any curse words for that matter). It’s like the author can’t think of another way to express themselves so they lower their standards to speak as neanderthals (sic).

“The story may be good but if the post contains a lot of profanity, I refuse to share it or like it, and it’s highly doubtful I will come back to that blog ever again.”

Like numerous others, she implies one’s use of swearing is a sign of the writer’s lack of an adequate vocabulary, and probable class or social standing. In a sense, these two bloggers (and there are many, many more) are calling such works obscene. To that I say, “What the fuck.”

Current research directs us to an opposite conclusion; although it is not categorical in the sense that, “just because verbally fluent people have the ability to cuss with the best of them, does not mean that they will do so.”

golf_swearingAs an aside, if Neanderthals could and did speak, if they did have a language – the scientific community jury is still hung on the evidence – then they too would have had taboo words within that language. Arguably, the one who mastered their use would have had a significantly greater vocabulary and be more able to express him or herself more succinctly than a Neanderthal who did not have such mastery.

The last aspect of her view is that no matter how well written or informative a post containing “a lot of profanity” might be, she will do nothing to promote it. Is this simply because it offends her linguistic sensibilities or is it because she lacks the courage to go out on a limb and use such language in a post, even if she, arguably, does not in her daily life?

As English comedian, actor, writer, presenter and activist Stephen Fry says:

“…the kind of person who says swearing is a sign of a poor vocabulary usually [has[ a pretty poor vocabulary themselves…The sort of dweeb person who think swearing in any way is a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just fucking lunatic.”

So, should we swear in our written work, including our blogs?

In short, why not?

the-duke

In our writing it’s not that we should swear, but when and to what extent;Tweet: In our writing it’s not that we should swear, but when and to what extent; https://ctt.ec/49dWa+ Via @ROKFreelancer #Swearing #Writing #Blogging there are times when we need to. As Mohr says, we all swear and, according to actor Brian Blessed, so does Queen Elizabeth whose husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, reportedly once told a photographer to “Just take the fucking picture.”

Catholic priests, Protestant vicars, and Pope Francis ave all sworn at one time or another. As Mohr told the Boston Globe:

“Everyone swears. People tend to think lower-class people swear more, and this is an old idea…The Victorians were convinced that the only people who swore were lower class, uneducated, horrible people. Modern studies do bear out that people in the lower working class…swear the most and use the worst words. But also there’s this idea historically that aristocratic people swear a lot, and that’s also borne out by modern studies…”

What about swearing’s use as a matter of no taste, of disrespect, of arrogance, coming from a writer of limited vocabulary, that fails to improve, or embellish?

New York Times bestselling author Adam Mansbach, author of Go the Fuck to Sleep – “a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world” – argues the use of swear words is not uncreative and indolent.

“For as long as some people have fretted about expletives in literature, others have seen fit to laugh at them.…Yet the idea persists that the use of swear words by writers is fundamentally uncreative and indolent – that the lazy man’s “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” is “Fuck this shit…Writers don’t use expletives out of laziness or to shock. We use them because sometimes the four-letter word is the best one.”

I agree; in the sense that a writer needs to consider the purpose of the material and its prospective audience. If we are going swear, if a character is going to swear, there should be purpose behind it and the swear words used have to be the best words that help define the character. However, I suggest that defining that purpose is an author-driven action of which a reader can only assume.

And for bloggers, while it may not always work, “[c]ursing in a blog post or article can grab a reader’s attention quickly and make a sentence pop off the page…[ but]… understand [your] audience before [you] go out on a limb and alienate [your] readership with a simple “shit” or “fuck”.”

In fiction, swearing helps define and create your characters, including in children’s fiction. However, it should not be “gratuitous” according to Louise Jordon, author of How to Write for Children and Get Published, “but swearing that fits with the style of your story is acceptable in most fiction for older children.”

The FYCD (Fuck Yeah Character Development) website gives this advice:

“… let that son of a bitch loose. So long as it’s not distracting to the reader, i.e. “‘I fucking want some bitchass motherfucking Doritos you son of a cock-loving whore,’” don’t let an imaginary “swear limit” direct your first draft. Let the character speak naturally. Subsequent drafts (and also editors) will weed out anything that’s excessive.”

And Writers’ Digest has this to say:

“Humans get angry. They crave precise expression. There’s something about cursing or using vulgar language that acts as a release valve. Most of us have experienced a moment when a good old rule-breaking bad word just feels sublime rolling off the tongue, and so it is for fictional characters. Be true and honest to the voices of those characters. Moreover, if you want to write realistically about certain milieus, such as wharves, mines and battlefields, well-written raw talk can make your characters seem lifelike and more authentic.”

Hell, writers of speculative fiction ‘invent’ swear words.

And so too we should apply such guides to a personal blog where we diarise aspects our daily lives. If someone you are writing about, including yourself, swore, then say so. And where it fits, use the actual word or words. After all, if people reading your blog have become accustomed to you and your writings, they are quite likely accustomed to some of those characters around you, those about whom you write. Readers deserve to know if one of those people swore, uncharacteristically or otherwise.

Swearing can achieve numerous outcomes, as when used positively for joking or storytelling. Yet, if I was editing your posts (which I will do for a fee ) and it included swearing, I would ask, “Is this absolutely necessary?” and hope you are able to justify its inclusion.

People swear, including Christians 

People of all descriptions swear, including Christians.Tweet: People of all descriptions swear, including Christians. https://ctt.ec/7UZma+ Via @ROKFreelancer #Swearing #Christians #Blogging #Religion

Sadly though, perhaps out of religious pomposity – described here as “an arrogance like no other” – it is the Christian community who seemingly bark loudest against the use of swearing, attempting to encompass those crass enough to use profanity in a new linguistic austerity under  “[t]he long arc of religious influence [that] still controls some of the most important decisions facing our world today…” Yet they too swear and cuss – albeit behind a facade of otherwise transparent respectability – with such outpourings as:

Begorrah = By God Bejabbers = By Jesus
Bleeding / Blinking heck = Bloody Hell By George / golly / gosh / gum / Jove /  = By God
Cheese n’ Rice = Jesus Christ Christmas = Christ
Dad gum = God d–n Dagnabbit / Dagnammit = Damnation, God d–n it
Dang = Damn For crying out loud = For Christ’s sake
Gadzooks = God’s hooks (referring to the nails in Jesus on the cross) Gee whizz = Jesus
Gee willikers = Jesus or Jerusalem Gorblimey = God blind me
Jeepers Creepers = Jesus Christ Jeez = Jesus
Jeezy Creezy = Jesus Christ Jehoshaphat = Jesus
Jiminy Christmas = Jesus Christ Jumping Jehoshaphat = Jumping Jesus
Sacré bleu = “sacred blue” = Sang de Dieu (“God’s blood”) Suffering succotash = Suffering Saviour
Tarnation = Damnation Yumping Yiminy = Jumping Jesus

Along with “Freaking, Frickin, Fudging, Feck, Fig, and other “F-words…These words and similar can regularly be heard in Christian homes, work places, and even in churches.” http://www.preservedwords.com/cussing-pv.htm

Commenting on The Science of Swearing by Timothy Jay and Kristin Janschewitz, a Dr. Sharlene Peters wrote, “My father, a tee-totling (sic) christian (sic) could swear louder and longer than anyone I knew… without using a swear-word. I.e. “carn-sarn-nit,” “yellow-bellied-wood-pecker,” “son-of-a-biscuit-eater,” “crim-a-nelly,” on and on. Hmm. We knew he was swearing, he knew he was swearing.”

Rather than an internalized sense of respectability, a code of values applicable to us all, the religious naysayers, strategically deploy ‘their’ respectability as a social role so they can  to contour society into ‘their’ version of what’ our ‘social transcript’ should be.

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The Reverend Michael Land says Christians should swear just as Jesus would have. Photo Source: telegraph.co.uk

Perhaps recognizing this false respectability an Anglican Vicar at the Norman-era, Anglican Church of St Mary the Virgin, in Burghill, Herefordshire, England, Reverend Michael Land (67), told his parishioners to swear, as Jesus would have.

In 2010 the then vicar said Christians needed to adopt swearing in their everyday language because it is how Jesus would have spoken.

“People view Jesus through tinted spectacles and place him on a pedestal.

“The reality is that he was poor, lacked any real education and did not fraternise with Pharisees or scholars.

“People today would probably be quite shocked at the language he used at that time.”

“The church must be more streetwise and use language most people use today.

“The church needs to modernise and that means keeping up with the trends in language.”

Having spent 28 years helping drug addicts and gang members in Walthamstow, Rev Land has no personal aversion to swearing himself, once telling a driver who unceremoniously pulled out in front of him, to “…learn to fucking drive.”

“…I did not remove my clerical collar, why should I? I did it then and I’d do it again, I’m not afraid to tell it how it is even if that means swearing. Just because I am a vicar I am not a soft touch.”

He added that the Church risked becoming out of touch with ordinary people if its clergy did not become “streetwise” and failed to use earthy language.

Media reporting of the vicar’s views prompted this imaginative response about how his sermons might sound like:

“. . . and darkness was upon the face of the deep;

and it was fucken (sic) crap.

And God said, “Let there be fucken (sic) light”; and there was light.

And God saw that the light was bloody good.

Tell Geoffrey or George They Lack Vocabulary 

Consider for a moment, telling Geoffrey Chaucer, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, John Steinbeck, Hubert Selby, Jr., Mark Twain, or Sonia Sanchez who, back in 1970, famously or infamously was one of the first to write the term motherfucker, that they lack sufficient vocabulary to express themselves in their work. And that if they were bloggers, the use of expletives neither makes them serious bloggers nor legitimizes their work.

sonia-sanchez
Sonia Sanchez: One of the first to use ‘motherfucker’ in their writing. Photo Source: flavorwire.com

Consider too, the opening lines of A Ramble in St. James’s Park by John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester (1647–1680).

‘Much wine had passed, with grave discourse

Of who fucks who, and who does worse’

Or, the opening lines of his A Satyr on Charles II

‘In th’ isle of Britain, long since famous grown

For breeding the best cunts in Christendom,’

The word ‘swive’ in the 16th line of this work – ‘Tis sure the sauciest prick that e’er did swive,’ – means ‘fuck’.

Yet again, consider this passage near the end of Jenni Fagan’s novel The Panopticon when a young girl seeks to befriend the main character, fifteen-year-old Anais, a veteran of the foster care system:

“So d’ye get tae leave soon and get a house?” She squints up at me.

“Hopefully.”

“Why hopefully?”

“Well, they want me tae stay on a few years, maybe until I’m eighteen.”

Alice is horrified. “Why?”

“Cos. I did some bad things.”

“Did you say some bad words?”

“Aye.”

“Like shit?”

“Dinnae say that!” I laugh at her.

“Like fuck?” she asks me, her eyes going round. “Did you say cunty-balls?”

“Uh-huh, stuff like that.”

“I bet you didnae mean it, though,” she says, and picks up a stone and throws it. “I can tell you didnae mean it. D’you want me tae tell them for you?”

“No, it’s okay,” I say.

She leans in against me.

The point is these and other writers have used swearing to considerable artistic effect. The words used were part of the language then in use throughout society – unlike the considerable swearing in Deadwood which uses contemporary swearing over historically correct language.

According to Mohr, during the late 17th century, playwrights had little issue with including ‘bloody’ in works “seen by genteel audiences” and that printers “had no problem spelling it out in their editions of those plays…”  Yet, societal values did shift and bloody became more offensive, being “printed as b——y or b—— and falls out of polite use, where it continues through the Victorian era.” Then, in 1914 we get George Bernard Shaw’s character Eliza Doolittle’s retort in Pygmalion: “…Not bloody likely…”

“When George Bernard Shaw wanted to create a scandal, but not too big a scandal…he had Eliza Doolittle exclaim in her newly perfect posh accent, “Walk! Not bloody likely! I am going in a taxi.” The first night’s audience greeted the word with “a few seconds of stunned disbelieving silence and then hysterical laughter for at least a minute and a quarter…Bloody became “the catchword of the season”…Had he scripted Eliza to say “Not fucking likely!” (which he very well could have in 1914) there in all likelihood would have been a real scandal, akin to that generated by shift in “Playboy of the Western World.”

Playboy of the Western World, first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on 26 January 1907, is a three-act play by Irish playwright John Millington Synge who was accused of blasphemous language by Irish Catholics. Stirred by Irish nationalists who viewed the play as an offence to public morals and an insult against Ireland , the play’s performance resulted in The Playboy Riots.

 Swear Today Offend Tomorrow 

As Spurr indicates about societal responses to swearing, “Slowly but surely attitudes change,” and that whereas “[t]he frisson of a profane oath in early modern England depended upon the parallel reverence for the solemn oath” the two. “drifted apart,” and “society’s tolerance of swearing grew” while “the nature of swearing changed.”

As a writer or blogger you are unlikely to set out with the intent of offending your readers. In today’s world, technology enables anyone with an Internet connection to write and post whatever they feel, with or without consideration. Yet, when you include swearing or other social taboo language in your work, it is likely to offend someone, at some point, and since nothing is lost on the Internet – it is supposedly there for time immemorial – that point in time may be years away. Unfortunately, you have little control over what may offend. And as social mores shift, what may seem inoffensive now has the potential to offend in the future.

According to Spurr, “What now counts as swearing is very different from what outraged people 400 years ago. Modern public opinion surveys report that religious expletives and terms, such as ‘damn’, ‘God’ or ‘Christ’, are generally considered to be acceptable. Racial and sexual terms are now seen as most offensive, whereas sexual language was hardly at issue in Tudor or Stuart England.”

Keith Allan, emeritus professor of linguistics at Melbourne’s Monash University and co-author of Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language says that although “some of our most storied and longest-lasting profanities have proven susceptible to a gradual weakening in the face of changing social norms and technology-aided taboo-sapping overuse” while  linguist John McWhorter, author of What Language Is: And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be tells us that “Damn, hell, shit, and fuck are not what an anthropologist observing us would classify as ‘taboo,’” that they are “salty” rather than profane “in what our modern culture is.” The inclusion of racial and disparaging slurs on one’s physical appearance is more likely to offend, both now and in the future. These are the ‘new’ swear words.

As Mohr told the Boston Globe:

“By the mid-18th century, [the N-word] was a derogatory word. But in order for something to be a swear word, the rest of the culture has to be shocked when they hear it. Obviously people who were addressed as the N-word never liked it, and were shocked and offended, but for a long time it was perfectly OK for other people to use that word and nobody got particularly upset in the rest of the culture. By the 20th century, you could say society developed a conscience in this way.”

Mohr confesses to finding it “very hard” to say ‘retarded’ and that  ‘fat,’ ‘crippled,’ “words that try to define people rather than saying, ‘He’s a disabled person,’ or that try to sum up someone in an epithet” are destined to become “the new taboos, at least in the immediate future, as the sexual ones continue to get less powerful.”

Whether or not you choose to swear in your writing is up to you. I have no difficulty in using it, providing its use is contextually significant in terms of my non-fiction, while in my fiction it develops a character or characters while aiding a reader’s understanding of those characters.

In written works from long before you and I were nothing more than a lustful twinkle in our parents’ eyes, “The oaths of the Tudor and Stuart centuries, the era of Shakespeare (1564–1616), still jump out at modern readers from plays, courtroom testimonies and countless other sources….” And while the words used to be different, the effect is not.

But in the end, the discovery of a swear word can be, well, titillating, as this reader’s comment to Adam Mansbach’s Ode to a Four-Letter Word exemplifies.

“I have a vivid memory of the first time I ever saw the f-word in print and it just so happened that it was in NY Magazine. I was reading on the subway and there it was in black and white and with no warning or apology. I felt a giddy little thrill, like I was back in second grade and had just overheard an adult swearing. I looked up to see if anyone might be reading over my shoulder and if perhaps, they had seen it too, but alas, I was alone in my excitement. I kept the magazine openly folded to that page for two days. Maybe that’s why we like the f-word so much. It makes us feel that giggly, giddy excitement we felt as kids. Or maybe it’s just because it happens to be the most versatile, punch-packing, emotive, dead-on, perfect word at times…
(Btw, the site would not let me post with the word written out in full. Irony or hypocrisy?)”

oOo

This journalist and writer is available for hire.

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