— coarse, crude, expletives, blasphemous, profanities, obscenities.
You may call it swearing; I call it a sentence enhancer.
As in most cases there are two sides to this debate and attitudes have fluctuated wildly from either side throughout different ages. Early English writers, Chaucer to Shakespeare could be extremely colourful in their expressions while the Victorian era was characterised by extreme prudery and an overly sensitive reproach to any bawdy language.
Of the four levels of language; the formal, colloquial, slang, using the vulgate in day to day expression is generally not accepted as it indicates a lack of articulation or a loss of control.
Others maintain that normal language has lost its effectiveness and the only way to express strong sentiment is through the use of forceful intensifiers. The major factors should be context, situation and audience.
Aristotle claimed that “the light utterance of shameful words leads to shameful actions”.
Somehow the Victorian era constrained people making them much more squeamish and circumspect in language and s*xual matters. Euphemisms surged; the “legs” of a piano had to be renamed “limbs”, and “chicken breast” – white meat; “thighs” - dark meat, to avoid lewd, suggestive innuendo, arousing carnal thoughts.
When cogent subtle arguments give way to crude slanging matches of vulgar name calling, the issue becomes lost.
Swearing was seen as bad breeding. Even Oscar Wilde declared that “The expletive is the refuge of the semi-literate”.
Divergent views have it that people who swear are more honest. At least they leave us in no doubt of what they think. People who swear a lot, also tell the truth a lot. Raw, succinct, expressive, taboo: That’s why I love curse words. Dictionary.com
Mark Twain suggested: “under certain urgent or desperate circumstances, profanity offers a relief denied even to prayer”.
Shakespeare also had a more grounded acceptance of the vernacular when he has Hotspur, the Rambo of the North advise his wife Kate;
you swear like acomfit-maker’s wife….
And givest such sarcenet surety for thy oaths,……
Swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art,/A good mouth-filling oath, and leave ‘in sooth,’
A much debated topic is the suitability of Shakespeare’s language for general audiences. During his time he was considered a relatively clean writer when compared to Christopher Marlowe or Ben Jonson. Yet moves have been made to cleanse his works.
In 1605, King James I passed a Blasphemy Act:
It is enacted that if, at any time, any person do in any Stage-Play, Interlude, Shew, May-game or Pageant, jestingly or prophanely, speak or use the holy name of God, or of Jesus Christ,or of the Holy Ghost, or of the Trinity, which are not to be spoken but with fear and reverence, he or she shall forfeit for every such offence Ten Pounds.
Since most of Shakespeare’s Plays had already been published this meant any new editions needed serious censoring. Common words suddenly considered profane were; S”blood – God’s Blood, O Gods, Mary.
The Eighteenth-century Divine, the Rev Dr Bowdler, made the plays suitable “to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies” by excising or expurgating any rude bits. Bowdlerize derives from the name Thomas Bowdler , an editor in Victorian times who rewrote Shakespeare, removing all profanity and sexual references so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audiences of his day.
For more see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bowdler
In her book entitled Filthy Shakespeare, Pauline Kiernan contends that most of Shakespeare’s ribald language is hidden in outrageous puns that were easily picked up in his day such as Mistress Quickly = Quick-lay. As Hamlet proposes to lay his head on Ophelia’s lap, he questions whether she assumes “country matters”. Actors who say it slowly create a nuanced context.
From the 1960’s public swearing became more prevalent, even at the highest levels as the 1970 Nixon tapes revealed. In private even our most respected role models reveal their true feelings. There’s a theory that the Watergate tapes did more political damage in exposing Richard Nixon’s profanity than in exposing his corruption.
The surprising finding was that women began talking dirtier than ever from the 1960 as evidenced by the movie industry. Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, Jodie Foster, Jane Fonda and later Madonna were singled out as the most foul mouthed females. Women’s ratio of swearing changed from 10:1 in the early sixties to 2:1 by the nineties. The increased use of profanities by women has a lot to do with their changed role. They are more assertive, aggressive, and have more access to power. Swearing is very much a reaction to pressure - stress and women have more of that these days. Cursing by women is an indication that they wish to let us know they are on a level footing with men.
It became acceptable in narratives or dramatic situations in film to reveal character or create realistic situations as long it is not used gratuitously.
It is often used by people to “fit in”, assimilate or expressing solidarity with a sub-group. Sometimes even leaders use it to show us they are “one of us”. Bob Hawke, when Australia won the America’s Cup, stated on national television,“any boss who sacks a worker for taking a sickie today is a “bum”.
Swearing can indicate extreme distress or frustration. A 2009 Neuro-Report found that “swearing helps to relieve pain”. It is often the only way to express deep personal truths or show extreme and profound anger or frustration. British studies claim that “it is a rich emotional and creative language – a mechanism which makes us feel more resilient.” Well placed expletives can be extremely effective as an intensifier at times when nothing else can adequately express thought or feeling. As words are worn down by the spin of euphemism, by disconnection to reality and meaning they lose the power of communication so people resort to abusive swearing.
Remarque, in his novel All Quiet on the Western Front concludes:
The soldier is on friendlier terms than other men with his stomach and intestines. Three – quarters of his vocabulary is derived from these regions, and they give intimate flavor to expression of his greatest joy as well as of his deepest indignation. It is impossible to express oneself in any other way so clearly and pithily. Our families and our teachers will be shocked when we go home, but there it is the universal language.
Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University claims swearing makes you stronger. The benefits, known to anyone who has moved home, climbed a mountain, or pushed a broken-down car, have finally been confirmed.
Scientist and author, Emma Byrne maintains swearing is good for you and outlines the fascinating science behind swearing: how it affects us both physically and emotionally, and how it is more natural and beneficial than we are led to believe.
Everyone has been actually cursing a whole lot more due to the pandemic. According to The Wall Street Journal. A study from Storyful found we’ve said “fuck”, “shit”, and “asshole” (or related variations, naturally) a whopping 41% more on Facebook, and 27% more on Twitter. It seems we are living in perfect conditions for profanity — and it’s down to a few things, Anne Marie Chaker writes.
In Love Actually. , Bill Nighy’s character exclaims — and please pardon my language — “Oh! Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!”.
As Mel Brooks said, “I’ve been accused of vulgarity. I say that’s bullshit.”
Prince Philip would concur. Well-known for his sailor’s lingo, as a 94-year-old he was caught on camera at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain telling a photographer “just take the f—ing picture.” The Queen was probably amused. Valerie Morton, SMH Sept. 26, 2016
“I was just double checking that Minchin never used the word “f*ck.” He often does. He didn’t this time. He didn’t have to – the grotesque nature of the circumstances doesn’t need to be punctuated by obscenity”. Kristina Keneally on Tim Minchins’ song “Come Home, (Cardinal Pell).
Richard Ackland writes:
Squeamish news anchors and current affairs gurus throughout the western hemisphere were having difficulty translating into drawing-room English the hastily departed Anthony Scaramucci’s locker-room claim that, unlike Steve Bannon, “I’m not trying to suck my own cock”. Analysts and pundits wrote off this feat as an onanistic impossibility.
Context is everything: if someone your equal swears at you it can be inclusive acceptance, however if a stranger or superior does it, it could be perceived as offensive and abusive.
Whenever you complain about something it is important to use measured language. Extreme or intemperate language can weaken your case, while temperate language implies a sounder, measured or controlled response rather than an emotional reaction.
For some reason, perhaps because they are a leveller and puncture pompous or pretentious people, vulgarity or bodily functions are often the focus of humour.
In 1976, the “f” word was first included in the Oxford Dictionary. One lexicographer claimed it originated with the first person ever to hit his thumb with a hammer.
According to Barbara Lawrence, this most tabooed s*xual word likely comes from the German “ficken” - to strike with its origin from the Latin “ftuere - fustis”, *the Celtic, “buc”, a point to pierce. All of them signalling a sadistic aggressive attitude of male sexual conquest. The brutality of this word together with its equivalents (screw, bang, lay…) carry undeniably dominant, painful and sadistic implications, whereas “making love” suggests more mutual and fulfilling experiences.
“Sexual pleasure in a woman is a kind of magic spell” according to Simone de Beauvoir, it commands complete abandon; if the moment opposes the magic of caresses the spell is broken.”
Nikki Gemmell continues:
“How easy it is to dissolve that spell. The female path to organism is such a fragile, delicate one, so easily lost. Our organisms are shy little things to coax out, insisting on concentration and focus and then of course complete abandonment; such a tricky combination”.
As Alice Munro said:
,“Sex seems to me all surrender - not the woman’s to the man, but to the person - to the body.” It takes time to surrender; to enter the sacred, exhilarating zone when we’re jolted into life, combusted into light. The best sex involves a sense of connecting on the deepest level, with two people who are utterly in the moment
All good sex aids self-esteem for both parties.
As all aspects of life, Sex can be personally fulfilling or damaging to us. Good experiences can enhance our self-esteem but exploitive manipulative or coercive experiences can be demeaning, degrading and lead to self loathing. Coming to accept our sexuality can be the most humanising experience we encounter.
Lawrence believes obscene words can be denigrating to women, serving the purpose of reducing our procreative function to a mechanical act, trivialising its most sacred purpose indicating an underlying contempt for women. These arrogantly self-involved tabooed words - “skirt, broad, chick, pussy, piece” devalue women to a mere piece of a human being.
The most severely tabooed female descriptor, “a piece of tail”, “piece of ass”, suggest no significant difference between the female channel through which we are all conceived and born, and the anal outlet common to both sexes - a distinction that pornographers have always enjoyed obscuring.
W.B. Yeats ponders this dichotomy when Lady Jane questions the Bishop with “why has love pitched its mansion at the place of excrement?”
We need to call out this denial of women’s biological identity, their individuality and humanness by these pejoratives. Words matter. Values are conditioned by the language we use.
The obverse side of the coin avers that four letter words are taboo and nothing succeeds as well as challenging a taboo. Swearing may be obscene, but not as obscene as a euphemism for an injustice, hypocrisy or the abuse of power. Four letter words like, damn, f*ck or c*nt” are effective because of their guttural power rather than what they represent.
Censorship is no longer in vogue. According to Anthony Ackroyd, the No. 1 ticket holder is the American Lenny Bruce, who pioneered the role of stand-up comedian as social revolutionary. His verbal attacks nearly half a century ago on institutions many held sacred - capitalism, religion, sexual mores, the US government - were incendiary to those claiming to represent American values.
Bruce’s taboo-breaking led him to a five-year legal odyssey that included six obscenity trials in four cities, 35 lawyers and 30 judges, and 3500 pages of transcript. In 1966, broken emotionally and financially by his legal battles, 40-year-old Bruce was found dead from a morphine overdose in the toilet of his Hollywood Hills home.
Bruce always protested the real obscenity was war, not sex. The only way of making a body dirty, was to kill it.
“Hiroshima was dirty.”
In 1972 George Carlin recorded the classic routine, the seven words you can never say on television. Pacifica Foundation broadcast a version on radio, and was sued by the US Federal Communications Commission, which, in 1978, won a US Supreme Court landmark decision giving it power to regulate profanity.
Today you can hear Carlin’s seven words on the telly, although they are sanitised in newspaper copy. Here they are in ascending numerical order:
shit, piss, f*ck, cocksucker, motherf*cker, tits.
We’ve come a long way since Graham Kennedy was kicked off the small screen for imitating a crow call.
Ginia Bellafante, described the subject of one of her recent columns this way: “A son of prominent architects and a graduate of Yale Divinity School, Father Merz nevertheless has a tendency to speak as if God has been hanging out with George Carlin and the Scriptures can be summarized using the seven words you can’t say on TV.” Frank Bruni
Richard Glover claims context, is everything: “If bad language is used in a way that’s aggressive and boorish we’ll get complaints; if it’s genuinely witty and used for a reason, generally people will give it a tick.”
Just before production of Life Of Brian, Mary Whitehouse - Christian morality campaigner succeeded in prosecuting an editor for publishing a poem deemed to be blasphemous. According to the cultural historian Robert Hewison the case forced a re-definition of the crime of blasphemy as “irreverence, scurrility, profanity, vilification, or licentious abuse of the Christian religion”. It was almost the perfect summation of the Pythons’ upcoming project, but legal advice cleared the team to proceed.
When the film opened in the US the first objection was from rabbis offended that a John Cleese character wore a prayer shawl. Lutherans, Catholics, Protestants, Calvinists and other Christian denominations protested outside cinemas, prompting Eric Idle’s boast that Python had succeeded in at last uniting them. Whitehouse and her lot mobilised forces in Britain and the film was banned in several towns, including some without cinemas.
The Chaser team’s Julian Morrow says challenging the law isn’t essential, but can have merit, “especially when the core values of a liberal democracy are being undermined”.
“Our stuff is at the frivolous end of that spectrum, but I think what Liberal Party spin doctors call ‘Chaser-style stunts’ have a legitimately illegitimate role to play.”
The Chaser is in a lineage, extending back to ancient Greece, of comic stirrers who disrupt our passive acceptance of entrenched authority in all. - writes Anthony Ackroyd. June 28, 2008 SMH.
Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson #
The ABC’s Four Corners, received various complaints about its documentary on Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson in 2016. The complainant found the following statement by Lawler, offensive and disgusting:
“I’ll be characterised as that scumbag, crook, fraudster and, at the very best, somebody who’s been bewitched by an evil harridan, namely Kathy; that I’m cunt-struck and that I have been utterly, um, taken in by somebody who is a serious crook.
But ACMA has ruled the ABC did not breach the ABC Code of Practice, saying that given the language warning at the start of the program, and the fact that it was aired after 8.30pm, there was no breach of the code.
“The program contained several instances of coarse language, specifically the words ‘bullshit’, ‘bloody’, ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt-struck’, which were used by Mr Lawler,” the report notes.
“The ACMA notes that the terms ‘bullshit’ and ‘bloody’ and are in common usage in contemporary Australian vernacular. Here the terms were used by Mr Lawler either as an exclamation or intensifier in response to the reporter’s question as to whether he is attempting to cover up his own wrongdoing (‘that’s bullshit’) and as a description of his current situation (‘it’s a bloody nightmare’).”
“The word ‘fuck’ was used within this context as a colloquial exclamation or intensifier. In this case, Mr Lawler used the term twice. Once when speaking with Ms Jackson about their relationship and the other in a recorded conversation with his friend and mentor, Mr David Rofe, a retired QC. The use of the word was neither aggressive nor frequent in context.”
“The coarse language used by Mr Lawler in the program was not directed at another person in a way that was intended to insult or offend that person. Rather, the coarse language was used in a colloquial sense either as an exclamation or intensifier to convey his views on allegations made against him and Ms Jackson, his affection and concern for his partner and friend, and his view of his current situation.
“These factors, at least to some degree, moderate against likely offence.”
Each person has the right to use language to best reflect their worldview and to avoid situations where their comfort is respected. Suit your language to your audience.
You, the recipient, have the right to choose your situations. If you don’t like their language, change the channel or your friends.