Mind Your Language

Today’s topic is “people who swear in public”.

Firstly, let me say this. I swear. Quite a lot. Although I was conditioned not to blaspheme back when I had a (secretly) religious boyfriend (which is a whole other story), there’s not much I don’t say and even those religion-themed phrases are slowly creeping back in. I swear when I’m cross or angry or upset, and like many, many people I also swear in general conversation.

I try to keep it in check though; you know the score – not in front of the boss, family, children and elderly people. And whilst I am happy to have David witness me cursing to high heaven (although certain words I would only utter in front of precious few – i.e. the bar-bars who without doubt will be saying worse, and Owain, who will respect my honesty I’m sure) I’m not happy to hear other people do it. Here are the two examples which have annoyed me most recently:

Bournemouth beach. Sometime in April/May when it was super duper sunny. The beach was absolutely packed, full of families with children, and a group of young men settled down behind us and punctuated every other sentence with f**k and other inappropriate language. Aside from my distaste of groups of young, chavvy, shirtless (it’s never the fit ones) men talking about being on the lash at 11am in the morning I was incensed that they didn’t give a second thought to the happy families playing around them. I was not the only one casting angry glances in their direction. And I was not the only one who made that the extent of my intervention. Loudly complaining to David about “how disgusting it is that they think it’s okay to use that language on a beach surrounded by children” does not allow me to take the moral high ground, although it did make me feel better. Really, if I was that bothered about it, I should have said something. My only defence is that I was not the parent of any of those children.

Yesterday, David and I spent the day at Alton Towers. If I may momentarily hijack my own thread, I’d just like to tell you all what a fantastic day it was. Queues were minimal (we walked straight on to Rita, twice), the sun was shining and the journey to and from was quick and stress-free. After a long day of fun, hayfever and overheating we were pretty shattered as we got on the monorail. We ended up in a carriage with a group of four other young people, and a family. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. This time I can’t say I even made my standard passive-agressive overly loud exclamations, maybe because I was sat next to them. But it did made me think – hence this post. It’s so unnecessary.

I can’t quite work out the formula for what makes my swearing okay, and their’s not. Afterall, I probably made a similarly punctuated comment about how hot I was once we got back to the car. Maybe it’s the public/private division which I (mostly) maintain. Maybe it’s just about a bit of respect for your surroundings. And although I’ve been banging on about my “just think of the children” argument, let’s not forget that *I* don’t want to hear it either. That might make me kind of lame or old fashioned but I don’t. I feel like it stands out when you hear someone swearing and you can’t hear anything else. It puts a dampener on a lovely, relaxing sunny afternoon on the beach with your eyes shut listening to the waves… and blokes swearing. Which, I have to be honest, it usually is. Most of the occasions I can think of involve groups of young men. Although chavvy young women have a lot to answer for too, I normally can’t work out what they are actually saying in between all the screeching (why do they DO that?!).

And this makes it all the more disappointing. It’s my generation that clearly don’t give a….

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One Response to Mind Your Language

  1. archaism says:

    Often, especially when writing creatively, my students will ask if they are allowed to swear. I always say, “Yes,” but then hit them with a bunch of prerequisites that mean that the majority of the time there doesn’t tend to end up with any swearing in the piece. (Here are those prerequisites and my general thoughts.)

    Swearing has its place in language, and there was a reason why it came about. It is used often (too often, really), and so I think it can be a little overprotective to ignore it. Much of the time, the strength of an expletive is caused by its being taboo. Within writing, I think that calling upon the strength of an expletive to make something powerful undermines the strength of the prose – if you have to swear to make it work, you’re not writing hard enough.

    An exception to this rule occurs if it is a character swearing – because quite often that might be the right thing to do. That being said, if a character is more blue mouthed than a Cockney cabbie, it might be a strain on the reader. I swear twice in The Trees. Well, not I, but my characters.

    A free magazine I used to read (I forget which) always used to censor its expletives by *st*r*sk*ng the vowels. Its reasoning was that everybody knows its a swear word, and everybody knows what it is, so its actually much more subversive to censor it. I’m not sure if I directly agree, but I like the logic.

    My bottom line is this. Regarding my thoughts above – my greatest advocacy for the avoidance of public swearing is that it betrays inelegant speech and thought.

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