[WARNING: This post may offend. Reader beware…]
Are swear words ever acceptable? Just wondering.
This morning, on my favourite news programme BBC Radio 4’s Today, host Jim Naughtie had to fake a coughing fit after accidentally miss-annoucing an upcoming interview. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had his surname temporarily miss-appropriated, replaced with a rather ancient name for female genitalia. Poor man. He must have got that quite a lot a school…
Of course, the Twittersphere was alive with consternation, opprobrium and not a little guffawing. Even now, as I write, “Naughtie” and “Jeremy Hunt” are trending. They have been all day. Everyone it seems has something to say on the matter.
I have to say, I find the subject of profanity quite fascinating. It’s part of my general fascination with language and the way we use it. I never cease to be amazed at the way meaning can be contorted within the English language; the way that one word or phrase can easily be transformed to mean something entirely different.
Take the word in question. The infamous ‘C’ word is seen as far more offensive than the ‘F’ word. It remains one of the only words you cannot say on British TV or Radio – it is never, ever acceptable. Which is strange, because Chaucer uses it in his Canterbury Tales. It is, after all, just a word for a part of someone’s anatomy. I find it rather strange that ‘Dick” is a mildly offensive word (more acceptable in conversation than the more accurate ‘penis’), while…
Now here’s the issue. I don’t know whether I can even get away with writing the offending word here. It doesn’t bother me, but it might bother some of my readers. Do I fight against the implicit misogynistic attitude of the ban? Stand up for free speech? Or kowtow to the sensitivities of others; the social mores of our age….?
Nah Fuck it. The word is Cunt. And if you have a problem with that, you are reading the wrong blogpost.
I think it is deeply, deeply misogynist that cunt is considered such an offensive word. But more than that, it is absurd. You might as well have a problem with the word ‘orifice’.
But the fact that the word is considered so offensive is indicative of a wider trend in profanity. So many of our inappropriate, offensive words are about sex. It seems so odd to me: we spend so much of our lives throwing around as insults words and phrases that, at their most literal, represent things we would actually quite like done to us.
[An example: I have a secret desire to respond to the epithet “Well Fuck you then” with the phrase “I wish you would…” I just haven’t found the appropriate context yet]
It’s not that I particularly approve of ‘bad’ language – I’ve never been someone who swears a lot – it just fascinates me. There are times when a good exclamation is perfectly appropriate, and there are even studies that suggest that swearing helps relieve the perception of pain. So a good “Fuck!” when hitting yourself with a hammer will do you some good. I personally fall into profanity when in a bad mood – when I’ve done something stupid, or am angry about a person or situation. In such moments you’ll hear a whole string of blue words emanating from my general direction.
There is a rhythm to profanity that you often miss in real life. You hear folk who throw the ‘F’ word into every sentence, even every other syllable, and there is something poetic as well as demented in it. It creates a dum-te-dum-te-dum meter that normal communication seems to lack.
I love the film “In Bruges“. That really is profanity as poetry. It is the most gloriously inappropriate language you can imagine, told with lyricism and creativity. It is schoolboy humour told with a playwrights skill. I can understand why people dislike it, would be offended by it, but to me that is the point: it separates the sheep from the goats; those who are prepared to look for beauty within and beyond language from those who are simply offended by it.
Yes, language can be violent. Sexually explicit language especially. I abhor violence in all its forms, including people who swear to intimidate and control. But that is the use of the language, not the language itself.
It is never going to be pleasant to be called a cocksucker, but it can be enjoyable having one’s cock sucked. Strange that, isn’t it?
I laughed when I heard Jim Naughtie’s coughing fit this morning. And I smiled wryly as an apology was made. It really isn’t an issue for me. It was a simple psychological slip, and the word itself is one I would love to see redeemed.
Right, just to pile injury onto offence, I’ll leave you with my favourite “In Bruges” exchange. It’s a little blue. You’ve been warned:
“Ken: Harry, let’s face it. And I’m not being funny. I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now, and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Harry: [furious] Leave my kids fucking out of it! What have they done? You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!
Ken: I retract that bit about your cunt fucking kids.
Harry: Insult my fucking kids? That’s going overboard, mate!
Ken: I retracted it, didn’t I?“