Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Why swearing is both big and clever

I fucking love swearing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those vile yobs who feel the need to curse and swear constantly in my day-to-day life, like a particularly foul-mouthed sailor; but when writing I find a good, well-placed swear really can bring a piece alive.

The reason I mention this is that Fiar, writer of the excellent humorblogging.com, recently sent me a link to an article on the Problogger blog, entitled 'Dropping the F-Bomb: Blogging With Naughty Words', which he thought I might find interesting. He was right.

The piece itself was a fairly even-handed (if rather patronising) treatment of the subject, but upon reading the comments section I soon found my blood beginning to boil, and it took all my will and self-control to prevent myself pounding my monitor to pieces with my bare fists, while screaming 'CUUUUUUUUNNNNNTTTTTTS' at the top of my voice.

The reason for my rather vitriolic reaction was the smug, sanctimonious tone struck by some of the holier-than-thou, self-appointed defenders of morality in response to the article. No cliché was left unused.

'Swearing shows that the writer has a limited vocabulary!' some screamed, in a staggering display of limited thought. How can having MORE words at your disposal be limiting your vocabulary, exactly? As a (sort of) writer, words are my tools. Every single one of them, dirty or not. I'd argue that those who exclude certain words from their lexicon are the ones displaying a limited vocabulary, by the very act of limiting their vocabulary. Surely?

'Using swear words is lazy!' others cried, lazily. 'It takes zero writing talent!' they bleated. I could not disagree more. When writing The Astonishing Adventures of Lord Likely, my fiction blog chronicling the life of a Victorian aristocrat who drinks, swears and humps his way through various misadventures, I have to be quite creative when swearing. I update the blog three times a week on average, and trying to keep the swearing fresh and imaginative is quite a challenge, I can tell you. Thus I delight in twisting and turning the curses into new, unusual shapes; conjoining them like sweary Siamese twins, or turning rude adjectives into crude verbs. It takes quite a lot of work behind the scenes. I mean, do you know how difficult it is to come up with a fresh euphemism for masturbation on a weekly basis? I can't just bash it out in a few seconds, I have to pound away for a good, long while until I'm completely satisfied.

'Swearing drives readers and advertisers away!' the naysayers wailed. Well, advertisers can fuck off, frankly. I may have a few Google Ads on Lord Likely's site, but I'm not in this solely for the money. I'm not that appallingly shallow. If I was, I certainly wouldn't be writing a fiction blog about a drunk lord - I'd be writing about how to monetize your blog, or some such guff. No, I'm in it to write, to create and to (try) and entertain. And if the way I write does turn some readers away, then to be honest they won't be missed. My writing just isn't for them, and I do not propose I start pandering to them.

Incredibly, one commenter even went as far as to claim that 'it [swearing] just shouldn’t be in literature of any type'. After reading that, I picked myself up off the floor and dashed outside, to check that there weren't masses of fascist policeman patrolling the streets. There weren't. It seems I do still live in a free country after all. Thank fuck for that.

I personally swear for many reasons. Swear words are incredibly useful words to use to demonstrate extreme shock or anger. If I write a piece about someone being punched in the face by a twenty-stone gangster, the exclamation, 'Crikey!', whilst being all lovely, fluffly and completely non-offensive, will not have the same impact as 'Fuck! What the fuck did you do that for, you asshole?' Indeed, the former would seem completely unsuitable and out of place. It's all about the context, and using the right tools for the job. Swear words exist for a reason, you know.

I confess that I do sometimes use swear words for the simple reason that I find them fucking funny. Especially the good old British swears, like 'wanker' or 'bollocks'. If the timing is right, you can make a good punchline ten times as funny by simply slipping in a 'twat', so to speak. I honestly believe that when deployed correctly, swearing adds a certain cadence and rhythm to your prose that somehow makes the whole thing seem much funnier.

Observe this clip of two of the Kings of Cuss, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, in the guise of their foul-mouthed alter-egos, Derek and Clive. There is no video on this clip - just a still of the duo - but listen to it. Listen to the supreme use of swearing. Listen to the rhythm, and the pace of it all. Listen to how they build upon the swearing, until it reaches a glorious, crude crescendo. It's a genius display of first-rate cussing.

As I said at the top of this page, I fucking love swearing. I respect that some people are offended by such language, and if that is the case, move on, pass it by. Just don't start telling me what I am or who you think I am by using such curses.

Because that'll just piss me right off.

- Fanton.

Agree, or fucking well disagree? Think swearing is shitting well brilliant, or do you think it is demonstrative of someone being a complete cock-end? Spew up your thoughts in the comments section, and bloody well say your piece.


Chris C said...

Ugh! I read the essay at problogger and it blows. It's so condescending.

Chris C said...

Crap forgot to add...

I love how all the commenters say that swearing is kids stuff and that it is not 'grown-up' to talk like that.

How did the kids learn to talk that way then? From the grown-ups.

Grumpus said...

It's all well and good for people to have their fancy-dancy ideals for the English language, but what's the first thing that springs to mind (or tongue) when disaster is at hand?

And the pallid versions viewed as being "acceptable" are still the shadows of more potent language. Jiminy Cricket, oh fudge, darn it, fiddlesticks, etc.
Better to sound vulgar with a great cathartic roar of "motherfuck!" than like some sort of wussy-ass twatmuffler dancing about uttering "Oh, Cheese Whiz!" when you drop a brick on your foot.

absolutelytrue said...

Fuck yeah.

Aren't PG movies pathetic? No fucking swearing, that's why.

Mild mannered bloggers are also quite boring.

Scaryduck said...

Wait, what? Lord Likely's fiction?

Fuck me stupid.

Fanton said...

Hey, Chris! You're right, of course. It's not as if kids invented swearing, or learnt it from Mickey Mouse or anything. Although Steamboat Willy does sound rather rude, now I think about it.

Grumpus, I agree. Dropping a brick on one's foot would call for something slightly stronger than 'whoops-a-daisy!' That's what swears are for.

absoluteltrue, not all PG movies are lame. Ghostbusters, for example, slipped a 'shit' in among all the ghostly fun. I think that might be why it's one of my favourite films.

Scaryduck, I know, I know. Fucking unbelievable, isn't it?

Roufa Tav Gosou & Mimi Lass said...

The excrement really hit the air-conditioning here.

Our friend Monica, when she drops a brick on her foot, or stubs her toe, she swears in German. Academic education...

Lord Andrew of Goulding said...

The glorious "This Cunt Came Up To Me" remains one of my favorite Derek & Clive tracks, especially the lines:

"Who you calling "cunt", cunt?
You stupid fucking cunt!"

FYI, I've written a brief intro to the glorious Derek & Clive at my review site.



mandrill said...

Huzzah! Thank fuck someone said it, swearing is great, and what people don't seem to realise is that Swearwords like cunt, fuck and bollocks are ancient. Good old Anglo-saxon terms used commonly to describe the various bodily functions and their associated organs.
Another thing that people don't seem to see is that through frequent use of the these words, we disarm them. They are just words after all. Nobody gives a damn about damn and heck anymore but not all that long ago they were considered just as bad as some of the worst ones we've got today.
The English language is a beautiful and varied beast, capable of expressing all the multitudinous variety which completes the human experience. To try and deny that these experiences exist by effectively stripping them from the language you use makes you less than human in my eyes.

Well said sir, I heartily agree.

BrentD said...

Although I haven't always been the most clean-mouthed person in person, on my blog I try:

Not to be boring
Not to swear.

No matter if you swear or not, it takes work to avoid being trite. There are lots of hack-worthy examples of both approaches.

Having said that, Andy you take profanity to the level of art. You would have made a good marine.

At least your mouth would have.

Fanton said...

Roufa, German swearing is, naturally, some of the most efficient, I find.

Lord Andrew, I do so love Derek and Clive. Whilst many comedy snobs maintain that the series is the nadir of both Cook and Moore's careers, I still find it fucking funny.

Mandrill, thank you for the kind words. I agree with your sentiments entirely, and feel that we share a lot of common ground on this most intriguing of subjects.

You twat.

Brent, don't get me wrong! I have no objections to people not using swearing if they don't want to, or if it's not necessary. All I object to is those who take the moral high-ground when I choose to let fly some swears.

I've never felt your excellent blog (Ominous Comma, link-fans!) needed to be littered with expletives, and it's no less excellent for lacking them.

Right, I'm off for a wank.

See you!

theoffendedblogger said...

That Derek and Clive bit is bloody brilliant. I feel the same way, a well placed curse word, especially an British or Irish one in my opinion, makes for a better and more lively read.

Throw in a creative euphamism for masturbating, and you've got yourself a fecking literary masterpiece! :)

Anonymous said...

Everyone has a different concept of morality. I am much more offended by the accusation that swearing makes one uneducated. I was raised in a house where possibly the most reviled word was "ain't" since that is traditionally a word associated with being uneducated.

Anonymous said...

All of you need to grow up

Lolsworth said...

Swearing is fucking awesome and if you don't like it you're a fucking cunt.

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