Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why I Object to Swearing

"Profanity is the attempt of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully."

I love words. I'm pretentious enough to enjoy calling myself a wordsmith. I like the way a collection of carefully chosen words, when printed, can move people to tears, or anger, or change lives. There are some very beautiful words in the English language which convey meaning both with their sound and their associations: effervescent, tributary, elegant.

But there are also some very ugly words used to shock and offend, to convey the meanness or toughness of the speaker, or to be controversial. Most of them have four letters, and I can smugly say that I know that I have never uttered most of them.*

I have a policy of removing from my friends list anyone who swears on Facebook. I am personally offended by swearing, and I don't need to be brought down by switching on my computer to catch up with news of friends and family, and being confronted with vulgarity. There are several reasons why I object to swearing:

1. It is intended to shock and offend.
Anyone using these words must, therefore, be someone who is insensitive to the feelings of those around them, or doesn't care about the effect their words have on others. I prefer not to be friends with such people. Their language says a lot about them, and I do judge them by it.

2. It is poor use of language.
The words used generally refer to sexual behaviour, private parts or faeces. In most cases, these are not relevant to what is being said. I accept that maybe these words do have a context in which it is acceptable for them to be used–when describing the behaviour or things they relate to (although I personally would choose alternative words)–but this is not generally everyday conversation. Using words such as the F-word, or the S-word to describe the weather, or a sports match, is using them seriously out of the correct context.

3. It is less effective than using more appropriate words.
Swearing does not add to our understanding of what is being said. When describing, for example, poor service and food in a restaurant, saying "the food was *!$~@ and the waitress ~@+$%&!" is far less effective and descriptive than saying "the food was cold and undercooked, and the waitress was lazy and offhand."

4. It's unnecessary.
People have asked me what I say when I need an expletive to express my pain, outrage or otherwise vent my frustration. I have thought about this, and in theory I welcome it as an opportunity to get creative and have my choice of expletive say something about me. I have chosen to use "Belgium" (which was the ultimate in offensive swear words in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) or "Smeg" (which was the expletive of choice in Red Dwarf) because I am a sci-fi geek. (That's the theory. In the heat of the moment I generally say something very dull, like "Poo" or "Rats".)

5. I want my children to be good people.
I don't want my children to grow up being foul mouthed, common and unpleasant, so I'd really rather they didn't hear these words, or see them on the computer screen. I don't want them thinking it's OK to choose to use offensive and base language when we have the richest language with the biggest vocabulary in the world and so many better words to choose from. So I switch off the television if there is swearing on the programme we are watching, and I have been known to remonstrate with people on the street who use swear words within earshot of my kids. (My kids haven't yet thanked me for doing so, but maybe someday they'll understand.)

Really it is all summed up in the quote given above. Those who swear do so because they lack the intellect to use language correctly, and because they want to appear intimidating and offend those around them. It doesn't uplift or help anyone, and so I choose not to use profane language.*

(*Except entirely accidentally on the phone about a week ago when I tripped over my tongue trying to say something else. Mortified.)


  1. Applauding. Well said! I've been dabating about unfriending certain family members.

  2. Um, hi... just popped in from the Writers' Office on Facebook, and I really think you should check the definition of smeg - you might choose not to use it anymore.

  3. I understand and appreciate why you choose not to swear, but I wonder if some people swear not because they are intentionally rude or insensitive, but because they have not read the right books or talked to the right people to learn how language can be more elevated and expressive. While you have the right to de-friend whomever you please on facebook, and you certainly do not need to seek out the company of people who offend you, for some you may be the friend or writer who shows them how to speak or write in a better way.

  4. I think the offensive word is "Smegma" You can get "Smeg" freezers.



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