**WARNING** Offensive language is used frequently in the following article (obviously).
What a wonderful fucking thing swearing is. As someone who has spent years studying and exploring the English language and admiring all of its intricacies and eccentricities, I still cannot resist using the arsenal of colourful expletives that have been gifted to me through years of playground interaction and time spent in video game lobbies. In fact, I regularly get called out on my use of language, I’ve been labelled a “potty mouth” more than once and most people are surprised by my talent for spouting offence considering my unassuming nature.
So, to look at why I love these disgustingly beautiful words so much, I guess we have to go back to the time when I was still learning what they were. I think this was when I was about four, and, through some coincidence, I was exposed to a South Park for a short time. Now, anyone who has seen South Park knows that swearing is like breathing to characters Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman; it’s second nature to them, and I definitely should not have been watching it. But what I did see taught me a lesson at that very tender age that I still hold true to this day.
Swearing is seriously damn cool.
After that first exposure, I went on to discover more and more swears, many of which punctuated my favourite movies, games and television shows (as you might have guessed, I did not live a childhood limited to watching Cartoon Network and PG movies). I remember watching Aliens when I was about 10 years old and being impressed rather than terrified, a crescendo of adrenaline-fuelled action all building up to Ellen Ripley’s final battle with the alien queen, so wonderfully underlined by her epic line “Get away from her you Bitch!” and similarly, how could I forget Arnold Schwartznegger’s epic description of the Predator as “One ugly motherfucker”. It was moments like these that cemented swearing as an eminently imitable and enjoyable experience.
I think, though, the most important moment in my love affair with swearing came when introduced to my stepfather, a rigid, at times irksome man he would (and still does) make a point of complaining at my use of foul language and herein lies the fuel that sustains my enduring passion for words like “fuck” and “asshole”. Swearing is, at its core, a wonderful form of rebellion. Going against established social norms and values of respectability and decorum, swearing offers an outlet with minimal damage to anyone or anything. It is a chance for me to go against the grain that I so religiously try to follow in my everyday life. I am not a smoker, I do not do drugs or drink alcohol, so through language swearing gives me the opportunity to let the halo drop just a little and reveal my darker nature.
Moving back to film, I will never forget when I first saw Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and had the pleasure of watching R. Lee Ermey spout some of the most offensively hilarious dialogue in the history of film. After my laughter died down and I became more reflective of what I had seen, I realised that these scenes were not only in the movie to provide a comedic angle but also for a more important purpose that has real-world ramifications too. Ermey’s character uses his tirades not only to make the audience laugh but to intimidate and frighten his recruits; to test their mettle and see how they react in deeply uncomfortable situations, a skill key for any soldier.
Swearing in real life is used in the same way, a person’s reaction to foul language can be a powerful indicator of their identity, shorthand for their likes and dislikes, their attitudes and opinions. Now that’s not to say a person should be judged based on one interaction alone, but it makes for a solid start. For example, when I meet someone, should they react overly negatively to my choice of words, it becomes an easy way for me to make a calculated guess regarding their attitudes and whether or not they align with my own. This makes meeting people and forming new relationships much easier, and better than spending hours speaking to someone only to find that we are incompatible.
By swearing, we break down the barriers between ourselves and others and remove any perceived social niceties that we force ourselves to follow. For some, swearing also denotes honesty and creates a sense of empathy between individuals who share in the use of such language. A great example of this is again found in our celebrity culture, with celebrities who swear often in interviews (such as Samuel L. Jackson or Gordon Ramsey) finding much more popularity than those who continue with their veneer of respectability.
Furthermore, on a linguistic level swear words can be used perfectly in a variety of different functions, as nouns, adjectives and more. Take fuck, for example, a beautiful homonym that can refer to sex, teasing, something good or bad, pain and much more. Something can be fucking great or fucking awful, it is fascinating for any word to become so versatile, a perfect fit in such a range of situations and capable of meeting different needs.
So whether it be to fit in, to get a laugh out of someone, to provide a sense of relief or expression or to be used as a tool that helps us to socialise, it seems clear that swearing, in all its various forms, is a pretty fucking cool thing to do.