‘I don’t know what’s gotten into since you went off to uni,’ my mum said over the holidays. ‘You keep swearing.’
When I said I hadn’t sworn, she was quick to inform me that I had been saying ‘oh my god’. This isn’t something that many people I know think of as swearing – but as a result of religious beliefs, blasphemy can sometimes be interpreted as more offensive than words that are conventionally seen as profanity, such as ‘shit’.
Depending on background and personal views, people can have vastly different opinions on how inappropriate a swear word is. I have one friend who thinks the word ‘cunt’ should be reserved for arseholes that you hate, another who uses it affectionately for friends. And even though the term can be friendly, most people I know would be disgusted if someone used it to refer to someone’s genitals. Interestingly, it’s seen as more derogatory than similar words for penises, perhaps because of the association it has with “femininity” and the idea that femininity is degrading. It’s a highly controversial word – when one of my English language lecturers asked people to shout out the worst swear word they could think of, most people in the lecture hall were too shy to say it. (When he prompted us again, a few people were confident enough to shout ‘cunt’ – definitely an odd lecture in that respect).
But is there really any harm in swearing? Unless you’re using words that could actually hurt people (for example, sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic slurs, or references to sexual violence) as swear words, then probably not. There’s even some evidence that people who swear more are more creative, have a better control of language and a higher pain tolerance. Now while I use swear words in almost every conversation I have, I’m personally not convinced by the idea that people who swear are in any way more intelligent that those who don’t. In my opinion, though, swearing is a mostly harmless way of expressing emotions – but it’s still probably a good idea to avoid saying ‘fuck’ around easily offended grandparents.
Image: The Simpsons Movie