Swearing Is A-Okay

(is that how you correctly write ‘a-okay’? Should it be ‘ay-okay’ or something?)


See that? It was a ‘word’. These ‘words’ consist of ‘letters’, individual characters whose natures, combinations and numbers create different ‘words’, which display different ‘meanings’, ideas formed inside human brains. The purpose of these ‘letters’ and ‘words’ is to rationalise the complex electrical signals in our brains into a set of recognisable shapes, called a ‘language’, so as to allow for the easy codification and development of our ideas, and to provide a means with which others may interpret and react to our ideas. Given this relatively altruistic and practical goal, why in the name of buggery is swearing a problem?

I talked about the nature and annoying necessity of language earlier, and this post about swearing will follow a similar vein: language has become invaluable in our society, so why should we exclude some of the aspects of it based on superficial cultural taboos, when the very idea of language is one grounded in practical purpose and actual usefulness?

Hank Green said here that swears and non-swears are ‘physiologically different’, as the former are stored in the Limbic system, a deeply emotional part of the brain, while the latter are more recent constructs, stored in the left hemisphere. While I agree that the two kinds of words are fundamentally different, I don’t feel that we should exclude one set of words from being socially acceptable because of this.

Essentially, swear words express extreme emotional reactions, not inherently destructive ones, and so there is no logical reason for them to be taboo; my A2 English coursework currently focuses on the idea of passion versus destruction, and the argument that they are both strong emotional responses and so cannot be truly divided, focusing on works such as Sylvia Plath’s, where there is a very fine line between her love for her children and her broader destructive insanity.

Society’s marginalisation of swear words has pushed us to be a colder, more objective society: capitalist economics runs the world, in its form as a mathematical representation of the distribution of often very, and occasionally literal, human resources of our planet; political success is not measured in ideological righteousness or party management, but unquestionable election figures; books are ‘bestsellers’ if they include a load of Twilight fan-fiction, not necessarily because they offer any new ideas or sophisticated theories.

Look here for a great example of this: Hell, the epitome of selfishness, violence and general bad-deed doing in the Universe (whether it tangibly exists or not is irrelevant from a theoretical point of view) is not viewed as being the awesome example of darkness and Sin that it is, but as a word that kids shouldn’t say around adults. Of course, its status as a swear word is probably derived form these literally Hellish associations, but the simplistic dismissal of ‘Hell’ as a byword for ‘infernal suckitude’ still saddens me: we are not encouraged to think creatively about why Hell is so bad, and the nature of this awfulness, but that is simply is bad, and we shouldn’t bother considering it in any more detail.

I am also aware of the slight irony in saying that we are encouraged to think about Hell simply by linking to an intelligent piece of discussion about that very topic of apparent simplicity. Sorry, but Hell was too good an example of these swears not to use.

I accept that over-using swear words, like high-volumed metal and heroin, will result in their impact being lost, as we become desensitised to them. However, this doesn’t mean we should exclude them entirely: they are a means of expressing our opinions, and so I feel entitled, even obliged, to use every bloody swear in the book if I feel so inclined. I stay away from using the ‘big two’ swears (the basis of Battlestar Galactica’s ‘Frak’ and the ancestor of Chaucer’s ‘Queynte’) so as not to upset people, because as much as I dislike social taboos I am still part of them, but I’m fine with rolling out an arsenal of ‘minor’ curses, from bitch-tits to arsehole.

And I’m not suggesting that we teach infants to swear, but I am suggesting that we teach them there is more to these words than being slapped for using them; these words reflect the most emotional and complex parts of our psyches, and are clearly the most powerful pieces of language we have to express the infinite incoherency and passion of the human mind: what does ‘bitch-tits’ literally mean? Who cares, because it connects with you on a deeper level, as a means of expressing an idea more forceful and complex than conventional language ever could.

I find it ironic, therefore, that the most sophisticated bits of language we as a species have formulated are so often dismissed as being objectively ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’; if nothing else, it’s an injustice to the complexity of these words. So don’t scream expletives at your parents upon reading this, but please consider that if all words are there to be analysed in depth, why not the best fraking words of them all?


Me on the suckitude of language

Hank Green on Swearing

Dysfunctional Literacy on Hell


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