Wednesday, June 15, 2005

One generation ago # 2 - swearing

Back in the late sixties and early seventies when I was a kid, Bloody was the second worst swearword, and Fuck was the worst: Cunt was totally off the radar. God or Jesus Christ were blasphemous, along with the associated Hell and Damn. If you said "Bleedin' heck" - admittedly not likely in those more genteel pre-Minder days - you would get a clout, as bleeding means bloody, which is swearing and heck means hell, which is blasphemous and together it makes Bloody Hell which was about as strong as day-to-day swearing went. Everybody knew all the derivations of euphemisms in a way that seems meaningless now - Darn from damn, Gor Blimey from god blind me : perhaps these still hold more currency in the US, given The Simpsons as a measure: Bart's parents scold him for comparatively mild oathing. Not to mention the hysteria when Janet Jackson got her tit out. Imagine if it was her brother MJ!

Anyway, back then the only times I heard my parents swear was when they called other drivers or politicians "shits": it was quite a strong insult then, I suppose it is now if a little out of fashion. Obviously they did swear, everyone did (maybe some of the hyper-repressed of Surrey where I grew up didn't) but they kept it from their kids. A challenge I am facing now: I actually enjoy calling someone a "B" or saying "Oh Sugar". I find it very satisfying is when I am with Daisy and we alternate Oh, SUGAR (after I say it first :-). If you hear me after I lose at pool, though, I am an accomplished swearer: when I was child, my swearword teachers were Sven Hasselt, William S Burroughs, and Harold Robbins. My favourite kind of swearing involves using that most flexible of words, fuck, in as many different consecutive guises (you fucking fuck fucker type of thing)

When the Sex Pistols swore at Bill Grundy (one of my personal favourite memories) they were part of a long honourable line of people prepared to challenge taboos by swearing in the media - Snoopy vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen [1966] celebrated "The Bloody Red Baron of Germany" ("Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty or more"), Supertramp with "Bloody Well Right" (from Crime Of The Century, Ken Tynan who was the first person to say "Fuck" on the television, Bob Geldof saying "give us yer fucking money" during Live Aid. Because it was a taboo, hearing (or even reading) swearing was huge fun for kids: when it left taboo-space and invaded civil society, that deep nervous taboo-breaking humour was eroded away until it disappeared.
I find the constant swearing on the television hugely annoying. Swearing is no longer serving it's purpose: the point of it was always emphasis. When it's got to the point where nothing else will do, you dig into your swear-bag and pull out the first fucker you find: what you are saying is "I don't care [if there's a taboo against swearing] or [YOU don't like it] because [I am PISSED OFF] [or shocked, or insert-emotion-here]". (Did you know Piss used to be swearing, as did Crap? Cock and Dick were, even Bum was borderline)

Now take taking-the-lords-name-in-vain - there's nothing like it to express extreme surprise. From Jesus Christ Almighty! (as they used to say) to Christ On A Rubber Crutch! (as I have been known to say) there's no equivalent for instant surprise in English. Fuck Me! tries but doesn't quite cut it, it always suggests a more reflective reaction ("Well, fuck me") rather than the instinctive CHRIST!

Being an atheist is a bit of a hindrance here. I'd like to have a way of expressing shocked surprise that doesn't involve invoking or offending a God I don't believe in. But now I'm not sure I am an atheist ever since I found out you can be a Buddhist and not believe in god. Unfortunately I make a very poor Buddhist as I am not even a vegetarian, although I do try to step over ants (I hate ants) and not kill bugs generally.

When you swear constantly, the effectiveness is lost: it's not funny any more, because there is no taboo being rattled, it's not shocking, and there's no element of emphasis as it's every-other-bloody-word. It's a load of B!


Anonymous said...

I was amused today to hear the blessed Jamie O, called, openly, by another Surrey person of forty plus, "that crude, bloated, foul-mouthed mockney poseur twat"; who had "even manged to sell his own grandmother to the pimps of commercial television advertising".
I really enjoyed that - not an F anywhere; and oh so true ...
Uncle R

stuart said...

Hey Rich

I didn't really have Jamie in mind: I never saw the school dinner thing, he must have toned it down a bit for that?

I was really thinking of G****n R****y, hun<->chef. Words fail me.

Have you adopted 'uncle' as a kind of honorific now??

stuart said...

Robin just reminded of an exclamation of surprise suitable for atheists :

Jesus H Corbett!