Have you ever watched Inside The Actor’s Studio with James Lipton? It’s a very simple format of a one on one interview between the host (Lipton) and a guest actor. It’s a great show which goes beyond just being another example of the question and answer session as it is steered to waters that are very rarely explored by an interviewer, and that brings me to the topic today.
One of the questions the guests are routinely asked is ‘What is your favourite curse word?’
Swearing is an odd topic for an insightful interview surely? Swearing is something that, as kids, we’re taught we should never do and as adults is seen as being vulgar and low minded yet there it is as one of the cornerstones of an incredibly well respected interview format.
We all swear to some level or another. Even those people who say they don’t, do, I’m sure. Swearing is, at the most basic level, and exclamation mark. It’s added emphasis to something else. It’s just that the exclamation mark of swearing is a list of words that have been deemed ‘naughty’.
Firstly, who decided that these things were naughty? Why is it that saying ‘I need a poop’ can be accepted when uttered by a five year old yet ‘I need a shit’ isn’t? Speaking as the old FART I am, I can recall I time back in the dim and distant past, the 1980’s, where if someone uttered the word crap on the radio, there was an immediate apology, yet today, although not language that is appearing at every syllable, that word has become less negatively powerful.
Now does this highlight a descent into a more vulgar lexicon, a lowering of standards, or just that the way that language is used is changing?
When I was doing my A-Levels, one of the books I studied in English Literature was The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. It’s a funny read with comedy and satire all over the show and it’s making comment on social structure and cohesion from the time it was written, but it’s not the sort of book you just pick up and crack on with. It’s written in Old English and as such takes a little getting used to. A great many of the words in the book are the same but there are loads which were a great deal different way back when.
This shows that our language changes over time so there may be a time in the future when all manner of expletives now become rather mundane words.
But swearing is often viewed as a relatively negative thing because it tends to accompany high emotion. Anger becomes much more effusive with the occasional sprinkling of curse words. They flare in our mind with said anger and can be blasted around like a jet of water from a high pressure hose just to help make the point, an exclamation mark.
But how do you feel when you read a swear word?
The spoken word is one thing, the engaging of anger before control for example, but when you read a swear word, there was planning in that word. There was real thought in it’s use. It was deployed with deliberate care so has the power to become more uncomfortable as a consequence. When I write stories I try to make sure that if I have to use a swear word, then it’s needed to fit the character and the context of the story. Swearing used too often lessens the effect and it just becomes punctuation to fill the spaces between words and that just waters everything down.
I’ve been told by people that swearing is proof of a lazy vocabulary, that if someone has to resort to swearing, then they’re showing that they have a somehow weaker mind. I don’t agree. The great Billy Connolly gave a great quote to cover this exact point when he said “A lot of people say that it’s a lack of vocabulary that makes you swear. Rubbish. I know thousands of words but I still prefer ‘f—.'”
Swearing is just another tool in the box we all have to use to get our point across to the world at large. There are times where certain words don’t fit the spaces that we need them to so we don’t use them but there should never be a complete shunning of swearing. After all, all those words we’re not supposed to use are so much fun.