Parental Advisory: Explicit, Unladylike S**t

It’s true. I swear a lot. It’s a fact that gets brought up frequently at random times by people who have spoken with me.

Apparently, I shouldn’t swear.

Why is this?

A) It makes me sound unintelligent
B) It makes me sound angry
C) It makes me sound trashy
D) It’s unladylike

Trick question. It’s actually all of the above, according to a number of people I’ve spoken to.

I understand that swearing is not appropriate in every situation. I make sure to censor myself when I am at work, around people I am not acqainted with, or around people I know are offended by my language. However, when I have been told that swearing makes me sound unintelligent, angry, trashy, or unladylike, it has not been because the person making these statements has been offended by my language. It seems to come from a place of concern about how I will be perceived if people hear me using vulgar language.

Fair enough. Certain segments of the society I live in have problems with women doing “unladylike” things…like wearing pants, having sex with multiple partners, drinking, swearing, etc. Women being looked down upon for engaging in what some deem unacceptable behavior is not an uncommon experience. It’s an easy way to police women and keep them in line.

I know that that, quite frankly, is bullshit, and when people express their concern about what people will think about me because I swear, I tend to laugh it off.

Then I met a girl a few days ago who is a few years younger than myself. She didn’t talk much, but when she did finally open her mouth, some of the first words she spoke were what some people would consider vulgar. I was shocked by this, and when I thought back on this later, I was surprised that I felt this way.

I swear. My friends swear. I listen to music that comes with parental advisory labels. In none of these situations am I ever shocked by or give a second thought to the “vulgar” language. But when a girl in her teens swore the first time I met her, I froze.

I was thinking about this. I don’t have a problem with women swearing, so did my reaction have to do with this girl’s age? If so, does that mean I buy into the idea that young girls are innocent, and that violating that sense of innocence somehow violates the essence of their girlhood?

I hope not. The idea of the innocent, virtuous woman plays into patriarchal ideas that women needing to be protected by men, the only people who can stand guard over all that is good about womanhood. It takes away women’s agency. And that’s certainly not how I want to think about young women who use words in the same way that I do.

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90 Responses

  1. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac August 18, 2010 at 6:15 pm |

    A friend quit swearing while her children were small (and asked me to watch my language around them) because she said she didn’t want to hear them swear at her – and she couldn’t expect them to not use words that they heard her use.

    I think that’s a perfectly reasonable judgement call for a parent to make with regard to children too young to really be able to judge appropriately when swear-words can and can’t be used.

    There is an odd distinction, too, between swearing-for-emphasis (which is habitual among virtually every adult I know) and swearing at someone. The former doesn’t bug me, regardless of age or gender: I don’t care for being sworn at, though.

    And I share the mother’s feeling (from the first paragraph) that “children shouldn’t swear”. I have no idea at what point it turns into “young people are going to swear all the time” . There doesn’t seem to be a rule about it. Except I suppose that I tend to regard casual use of swear-words as one linguistic signal that the conversation is now among peers – and a teenager isn’t my peer, so I would think it inappropriate for a teenager to decide to initiate swearing: ie, if I don’t swear, they shouldn’t.

    Who makes these rules? I have no idea. I feel obscurely yet quite strongly that this is the way it is, but I don’t know why.

  2. Watch the Toes
    Watch the Toes August 18, 2010 at 6:56 pm |

    You know, your reaction might have nothing to do with gender or age, but more due to the fact that this person was quiet. When a person is acting quiet, there’s this mystery about them, this uncertainty about what they’re like and what they’re thinking. So when first thing a quiet person says to me involves cuss words, it catches my attention. Not in a bad way, mind you – I cuss like a sailor myself so when a quiet person launches some @$%! bombs, I usually giggle. But it’s also jarring because it’s tearing down my preconceived notions of that person. And maybe that’s what happened with you and this young woman. So maybe the issue is more about preconceived notions than about social conduct, which is also a huge topic. I think we all have them at least some of the times, but if we’re open-minded enough to let our preconceived notions get torn down when the person shows us otherwise, then I think it’s all good.

  3. Amanda
    Amanda August 18, 2010 at 7:19 pm |

    I swear a lot, but when people swear even as much as I do, I tend to get a little surprised, a little taken aback– I think its, in large part, just because most people don’t swear like I do, and I’m not used to hearing it. Similar how I tend to use people’s names when I talk to them, but get a little jarred when someone uses mine.

    Still swearing on a first meeting is unusual, and something I try to avoid, at least for the first hour or so.

  4. SnowdropExplodes
    SnowdropExplodes August 18, 2010 at 7:26 pm |

    The thought I have about your reaction runs along these lines:

    I make sure to censor myself when I am at work, around people I am not acqainted with, or around people I know are offended by my language.

    It’s the first time you met her, so perhaps you felt yourself to be a person with whom she was not sufficiently acquainted. That might mean that the fact she was okay with swearing in front of you raised subconscious issues about her having appropriate boundaries?

    (Of course, I don’t know if you’d already used that sort of language yourself in the situation, which would obviously signal to her that it was okay.)

  5. Karen
    Karen August 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm |

    I would have been taken aback by anyone I’d just met swearing a lot. I’m considerably older than the modal Feminista — I’m 47 — and swearing a lot always sounds tacky to me. It’s uncreative, for one thing.

  6. Personal failure
    Personal failure August 18, 2010 at 7:44 pm |

    uncreative? How creative is unobscene speech generally? I am a very creative swearer, and I am offended that you, without knowing me or my swearing, would characterize it as uncreative.
    Karen: I would have been taken aback by anyone I’d just met swearing a lot.I’m considerably older than the modal Feminista — I’m 47 — and swearing a lot always sounds tacky to me.It’s uncreative, for one thing.  

    Karen: I would have been taken aback by anyone I’d just met swearing a lot.I’m considerably older than the modal Feminista — I’m 47 — and swearing a lot always sounds tacky to me.It’s uncreative, for one thing.  

    Karen: I would have been taken aback by anyone I’d just met swearing a lot.I’m considerably older than the modal Feminista — I’m 47 — and swearing a lot always sounds tacky to me.It’s uncreative, for one thing.  

  7. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp August 18, 2010 at 7:50 pm |

    Karen, what’s uncreative about swearing? Is it magically creative if I call someone “obnoxious” instead of “a shithead”? Swear words are just words we’ve collectively decided are naughty. They can be used in predictable or unpredictable ways.

  8. Joseph
    Joseph August 18, 2010 at 7:55 pm |

    Stephen Fry on swearing:

  9. jules
    jules August 18, 2010 at 7:56 pm |

    I would wonder what ages we are talking about exactly — you said she was young, but that could mean any number of things. If a 12 year old swears at/to me, I would find that bizarre (I am 23, so not exactly “old,” but old enough that 12 year olds see me as an adult). I don’t actually have any moral issues with people of any ages using swear words (assuming we are talking about words that don’t come from a misogynistic/homophobic/ableist/etc place) — they are just words, after all — but most kids know very well that there is a language you use around other kids, and a completely separate language used for adults, so I’m just SURPRISED, not offended.

    It endlessly amuses me that kids are told not to swear, but when I do it, people are always telling me it makes me sound “immature.” Well, shit. If kids are “disrespectful” for swearing and adults are “immature,” then why does swearing exist??

    I’ve also heard the “uncreative” thing. Do tell, Karen: what would be a more “creative” mode of speaking? I prefer to say what I mean and mean what I say rather than dress my language up “creatively” so no one can understand me without an advanced literary degree — but hey, maybe that’s just me being tacky/trashy.

  10. Mizz Alice
    Mizz Alice August 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm |

    Swearing is part of my vocabulary, it’s part of the way I talk, it’s part of how I express myself. I do try to have a little “respect” for others who may be offended by it. Like this comment, I am refraining. But people who have little respect for me, well, I let it go unless its work related.

    For me, my “disgusting mouth” has helped me weed out friends who I would not really care to know. If someone can’t handle my vulgar personality, then I don’t really care to be close with them, and my close friends value my vulgarity and cherish it as a part of who I am.

    I like it this way since I have to deal with a lot more people in a more formal way on a daily basis, so I prefer to keep the close people around me who understand and appreciate me.

    If I meet someone with the same potty mouth as me, especially a female (men are included though since there are so many who refrain from swearing because I’m female), I get excited and hope that their not just a bitch, but someone with a crafty-awesome way to express themselves without the constraints put on them from outside viewers.

  11. Watch the Toes
    Watch the Toes August 18, 2010 at 8:36 pm |

    Mizz Alice: For me, my “disgusting mouth” has helped me weed out friends who I would not really care to know. If someone can’t handle my vulgar personality, then I don’t really care to be close with them, and my close friends value my vulgarity and cherish it as a part of who I am… If I meet someone with the same potty mouth as me, especially a female (men are included though since there are so many who refrain from swearing because I’m female), I get excited and hope that their not just a bitch, but someone with a crafty-awesome way to express themselves without the constraints put on them from outside viewers.  

    Holy shit! :-) I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who in (small) part choses my friends not only based on how at ease they are with my cussing, but also based on their ease of cussing as well. While at first that may make me sound juvenile, I think subconsciously for me, when someone’s at ease with cussing, it signals two things:

    1. You and I probably share a similar bluntness and coarseness about us that makes me comfortable around you.
    2. Someone who cusses a lot tends to be someone who’s not going to be censored by society, someone who’s a bit of a rebel at heart. And I sure as hell respect that.

    So fuckin’ ‘aye, Mizz, fuckin’ ‘aye.

  12. Elena
    Elena August 18, 2010 at 8:46 pm |

    There are 500,000 words in the English language – give or take.

    A reasonably educated person uses about 20,000.

    When someone only seems to be able to express themselves with the same 20 or so, (and especially one in particular in all parts of speech) they seem limited and trite.

    And let’s face it – it is easier to be creative with 20,000 words than it is with just 1, 5, 10 of 20 choice vulgarities. Do you limit yourself like this in other areas of your life? Just wondering.

  13. Naamah
    Naamah August 18, 2010 at 8:49 pm |

    Oh, Karen. Saying swearing is uncreative is throwing down an awfully tempting glove.

    As anyone who has known me for even five minutes can tell you, I swear extremely creatively, and I consider it a very important form of expression with unique rules and principles all its own.

    SOME people swear uncreatively. This has nothing to do with their use of actual swearwords.

    Eliminating swearwords from your vocabulary CAN teach you to reach for more creative substitutes. Then, however, it is possible your use of swearwords will never come into its own, and you never will appreciate the depth and richness of profanity, which can be a beautiful thing.

    There is nothing inherently lesser about swearwords that makes them boring or uncreative or tacky.

    Swearing is important. Being allowed to swear is important.

    There is a difference between “swearing at” someone (“Go fuck yourself.”), and “swearing near” someone (“This fucking car won’t start.”). Censoring of others’ language, especially “swearing near” language, is a way of controlling them. Culturally, children are told not to swear by their parents, subordinates are told not to swear around their bosses, etc., etc. Women are told not to swear at all. It’s the language of power; the power to swear is an important power. Who is and is not allowed to swear without censure is an important dynamic to look at in any given social situation, because it often highlights interesting lines and divisions of power.

    That is why being told swearing is unladylike is fucking vile, and why I have resisted that with every fiber of my being. The effort to classify some types of language as “off-limits” based on gender is pretty transparently sexist at its core, and it pisses me off.

  14. Nahida
    Nahida August 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm |

    “The idea of the innocent, virtuous woman plays into patriarchal ideas that women needing to be protected by men, the only people who can stand guard over all that is good about womanhood.”

    While it may play into those ideas, I think it’s important to not dismiss these characteristics as unworthy of pursuit, but instead redefine them for the strong, independent, modern woman. Virtue, after all, is something that should be a standard for both men and women.

    P.S. The 19th Amendment was ratified today. =D Happy 90th anniversary everyone!

  15. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 18, 2010 at 9:22 pm |

    I would add:

    E) Men don’t like it.

    I heard the ladylike one once from a fellow attorney at a biglaw firm…because I called my computer a fucking piece of shit in an undertone that was clear I was speaking to myself when it locked up for the 9 millionth time. I think the responding vitriol convinced him that shit like that doesn’t fly around me. But that sort of policing…when every dude in the office swears constantly…just reinforces the glass ceiling.

    Re: Those that think swearing is uncreative

    Profanity consists of emotive words. Hard to be creative if you exclude emotive words. Also, shockingly…swearing does not automatically flip a switch where you are limited in your vocabulary to 20 or 30 words. I can use “bullshit” and a variety of other words at.the.same.time. *gasp*

  16. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm |

    Regardless of gender, I think I’d be horrified if I’d heard the same thing from a young man. I had the same response when my little sister started cursing. I’d have the same reaction if my own child began swearing. It wouldn’t have anything to do with protecting them as much as assuming that profanity is something that “only adults do” and that we all, to some degree or fashion, want to protect those who are young from that which is seen as vulgar.

    Does that remove their agency in the process? Perhaps, but I still don’t want to see a five year old cursing up a blue streak.

  17. Hot Tramp
    Hot Tramp August 18, 2010 at 9:54 pm |

    Kristen, don’t you know? The world is divided into poet laureates and potty-mouthed imbeciles. People who are really skilled with language don’t cuss! That’s how this works.

  18. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig August 18, 2010 at 10:14 pm |

    Hot tramp: People who are really skilled with language do swear- you just can’t call them on it, ’cause they’re tricky enough to use words you don’t understand. That said, you ever looked at Shakespeare or Chaucer? Those two were foulmouthed little shites.

  19. dirtybird
    dirtybird August 18, 2010 at 10:18 pm |

    @elena

    I’ve never met anyone whose entire vocabulary is limited to “1, 5, 10 of 20 choice vulgarities.” Dropping the fuck bomb now and then does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that someone doesn’t have a “reasonably educated” vocabulary of 20,000 words.

  20. Mizz Alice
    Mizz Alice August 18, 2010 at 10:24 pm |

    Watch the Toes,

    Phocken-A :D I don’t completely blacklist people who don’t like vulgarity, but I do know that its a lot easier and funner to share my time with others who I don’t need to worry about my behavior when I’m with them.

    I’ve been called blunt and abrasive, but I sure do value those qualities in others.

  21. isitisabel
    isitisabel August 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm |

    For me, the use of profanity is an extremely personal choice. I don’t judge others by their use or non-use of swear words, and I hope others don’t judge me when I do use swear words. However, I am not that naive, and I tend to follow similar guidelines (don’t swear when meeting new people, at work, etc).

    I would add one more objection I’ve heard about swearing: that frequent use of profanity cheapens the words so they have little real meaning when they might actually be called for. Personally, I don’t agree with this reasoning because again, profanity use is unique to each individual. For example, two friends of mine are polar opposites in their profanity use. One swears all the time, except when she is actually angry. The other never swears, choosing to use milder substitutions (a favorite of his is “drat!”). If the second friend was to swear in front of me, his use of the words would not be “cheapened” at all by my first friend’s constant use.

    I’ll also quickly add my two cents on the creativity issue. My group of friends and I love to mess around with swear words, combining them or adding other words (even inserting them in names). In other words, CREATIVE wordplay with swearing.

  22. RD
    RD August 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm |

    Its a class thing. That’s why certain (upper-class) people call swearing “uncreative.” Its a way for them to feel superior and “classy” without coming right out and calling it “trashy.”

  23. Ens
    Ens August 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm |

    It’s astonishing to me that people think that not using certain words makes their vocabulary larger.

    It doesn’t! It makes it marginally smaller! And it makes the space of possible arrangements of those words drastically smaller, since most are very versatile and can be combined very broadly.

    There are very few if any posts on this thread that use both a swear word, and fewer than 20 unique words (I don’t actually care to count).

    It’s a false dichotomy to compare an enlightened discourse sans profanity to a person whose only declaration to the world is “fuck damn shit cock ass Christ Almighty”. With a little imagination, you too can come up with something that isn’t in between erudite and vulgar — it’s both at once.

    It’s funny, I’ve heard this same argument about creativity and vocabulary so many times without any meaningful variation — it’s an extremely uncreative argument. Vary it up! Maybe you should claim that vulgarity causes car accidents because it’s shocking to hear it on the radio, or something.

    You don’t have to swear. I don’t personally use ease at swearing as a friendship-test by any stretch. But somebody who is uncomfortable with swearing will be uncomfortable around me sometimes, and while I’ll try to respect that around such a person, I am not going to be friends with anybody who cannot handle that.

    (I’m male, so I’m immune to a bunch of the other social factors related above, but the “uncreative” argument is fairly gender-neutral).

  24. convexed
    convexed August 18, 2010 at 11:23 pm |

    I am creatively and extensively foul-mouthed myself, but I kind of get the ‘un-creative’ line in *one* particular way. When the intention is to prove bad-ass, and the speaker doesn’t do the underlying work of being defiant or subversive or challenging, just throws down a fuckword or two, then I can understand how that seems un-creative & annoyingly conspicuous.
    Not an un-creative way to speak, or emote, or communicate, but an un-creative way to assert that one doesn’t give a fuck about the rules, except the only rule being broken is the ‘don’t swear’ rule.
    I think this is very context-specific, and is most applicable when the language is brought into a situation of perceived testing of mettle, etc, or earning of a authenticity credibility, or something, and a certain bravado is easy to feign and hard to resist feigning and also hard for others to resist noticing and rolling their eyes.

  25. convexed
    convexed August 18, 2010 at 11:31 pm |

    There is nothing more compelling to me than the clunk of a swear disrupting what would have been otherwise a perfectly polished articulation. We have a lot of words at our disposal; why not draw from any register we like to suit the needs and wants of the moment at hand?
    Children should learn to appreciate tricky words before they go out in the field on their own. Caretakers can teach kids about boundaries, and the difference between cussing out a situation generally and aiming a strong word as an insult against another person. Just basic lessons of discernment and respect, I guess.

  26. Alexandra Lynch
    Alexandra Lynch August 19, 2010 at 12:34 am |

    As far as kids swearing, I told my sons that they saw adults doing things around them they weren’t old enough to do, like cook on the stove or drive the car, and that those words were for people who were old enough to drive a car, and then gave them a pg-rated word to express strong emotion.

    However, I called my biodad an asshole to my son the other day, who nodded and said, “Yeah, Mom, he is, and especially to you.” Because sometimes, an asshole just needs to be called an asshole.

  27. Asinknits
    Asinknits August 19, 2010 at 1:11 am |

    There is a class distinction to the use of swear words, isn’t there?

    I’m nobody’s Eliza Doolittle. I try to avoid using those words at work, at people, and around kids cause I know that they can cause offense there, but I don’t feel the need to pass for upper middle class by avoiding swearing and slang.

  28. KarenDotCom
    KarenDotCom August 19, 2010 at 1:14 am |

    You have heard the Mel Gibson Swearing Rants, haven’t you?

    Insert bad Mel Gibson swearing joke here…

    Gee Mel, you sure talk pretty, do you blow the Pope with that mouth?

  29. nobody
    nobody August 19, 2010 at 1:19 am |

    It seems to me that a kid is old enough to swear when they’ve moved beyond the artless “ooh, I’m swearing, isn’t that impressive” to actually integrating the word seamlessly and intelligently into their language. That might happen when they’re 8; it might happen when they’re 15; it might never happen. Either way, that’s the standard I go by. And it’s nothing special about swear words. The same thing goes with kids working their SAT prep vocab words into their every day language. Either they pull it off and you don’t notice they’ve used the Big Word, or it’s shrouded in artifice. There’s a slight pause, deliberative pronunciation, possibly neglect of important shades of nuance. All this is amplified if they use a whole stream of words this way to try to look clever. I’ve heard 45 year olds try to work ‘fuck’ into a sentence and fail on delivery; it’s just as grating as it is with a child.

    So I have to wonder with the quiet young person. My first take was the same as Amanda’s. On reflection, I have to wonder if the delivery was appropriate. Was she swearing as part of her normal use of language, or was she swearing to shock or impress?

  30. RD
    RD August 19, 2010 at 1:34 am |

    Also, virtue? I don’t think I could think of a more sexist, homophobic, racist, classist word if I tried.

  31. lilacsigil
    lilacsigil August 19, 2010 at 2:20 am |

    I don’t swear very much, by Australian standards, anyway. But Americans seem to think I swear constantly! There’s national and regional differences to think of, as well.

  32. Kian
    Kian August 19, 2010 at 3:15 am |

    I can’t help but think of all the times my mother told me that no matter what I say, I shouldn’t swear, lest I seem “trashy” like the other poor folks around me. I internalized it and didn’t swear until I was in college, when I realized that it wasn’t just poor folk that swore like sailors. I still have a hard time swearing and only do it around people I know won’t judge me to be a lesser person for swearing.

    I don’t consider myself a creative person anyway, I’m more of a math person. Am I to feel like a lesser person because I’m not creative with words now too???

  33. gadgetgal
    gadgetgal August 19, 2010 at 4:33 am |

    I swear quite a lot, but most people in the UK swear a lot more than people in the USA – it’s on TV more, parents do it around their kids more, you do it at work more, etc. etc. so it’s not really seen as so much of an issue. For all the people who are arguing that it’s uncreative, limited, or less polished I would advise you to watch the link above to the Stephen Fry clip – he is none of those things, and is in fact regarded as a great intellect, artist and thinker, so none of those arguments really holds water. I mean it’s up to you if you want to swear or not, but the reasons given for why other people are lesser in your opinions for swearing are just incorrect!

    This whole discussion brings to mind three things for me – the first is the class system in the UK. Basically many of the rising middle classes would be in the group that would consider swearing to be beneath them (like my grandmother and her family) – imagine her surprise when my aunt brought home an extremely posh and well-educated man (Eton and Cambridge) who swears every other word, as do all his family and friends! It’s the mistaken belief that swearing shows that you are common or lack intelligence, when in actual fact it comes from a lack of social mobility in the UK class system, therefore an unawareness of how other people actually speak.

    Which brings to mind my second thought – most English swear words have their origins in either Anglo Saxon or Celtic. The most prime example of this is the word “shit”, which up until 1066 (and for a few years after) was considered to be the proper technical term. However, after 1066 and the Norman invasion, “shit” was slowly relegated to something you shouldn’t say, as it was the language of the conquered people, so the proper terms became the Latin or the French, such as “faeces” or “excrement”. This has carried on as the language has moved about the world, although local dialects in the UK still use many of the older Anglo Saxon terms as both the Germanic and French speakers had to adapt, hence more acceptance of swearing here and less of it in the USA.

    And finally the third thought – not all swear words are universal!! “Fanny” in the USA means “bum” or “butt” and isn’t considered to be that bad a swear word, in fact it’s considered more of a slang term. In the UK “fanny” means “vagina” and is considered to be one of the harshest terms you can use to describe it. So imagine what we think every time the phrase “fanny pack” comes up in the US sitcom!

    Just food for thought – not everyone considers swear words to actually BE swear words, and those who do don’t necessarily consider them to be as harsh as you do.

  34. Mandolin
    Mandolin August 19, 2010 at 5:57 am |

    It’s uncreative, for one thing.

    What I dislike most about this objection is that it is so hypocritically unoriginal.

  35. Sarah
    Sarah August 19, 2010 at 6:09 am |

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_osQvkeNRM

    Stephen Fry says its okay. And he is the font of all wordly knowledge, so it must be true.

  36. Sarah
    Sarah August 19, 2010 at 6:10 am |

    *worldly x

  37. August
    August August 19, 2010 at 7:23 am |

    I LOVE to cuss! My policy on cussing with my own daughter will be that she is not allowed to cuss UNTIL she can demonstrate that she can do it responsibly, ie: don’t cuss AT anyone for any reason, don’t cuss in front of teachers/grandparents/strangers, etc. If she can become an afluent code switcher with vulgarity and slang, then it’s all good.

    I have no particular age in mind. As nobody said above, it could be when she is 8 or when she is 15. It all depends on her own individual development.

  38. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 19, 2010 at 7:24 am |

    Naamah @ #16: Women are told not to swear at all. It’s the language of power; the power to swear is an important power.

    Yes!! Swearing is the language of anger. Preventing someone from swearing is yet another way to silence and suppress their anger. And that has fucking everything to do with power—who has it and who doesn’t. Who gets to keep it, and who doesn’t get within breathing distance of it.

  39. August
    August August 19, 2010 at 7:25 am |

    *affluent. I fail at spelling today.

  40. August
    August August 19, 2010 at 7:29 am |

    I wonder how much flak I’m going to get from my family for allowing my child to say shit, piss, fuck, etc, but forbidding ableist and oppressive terms like idiot, moron, using “gay” as a negative descriptor, tr*nny, etc.

    SLURS are vulgar and improper and disgusting and uncreative. Cuss words? They’re just fucking FUN!

  41. August
    August August 19, 2010 at 7:36 am |

    Jeez, I meant *fluent* not affluent! It’s my Monday, so my shit is all apart.

  42. Josephine E
    Josephine E August 19, 2010 at 7:46 am |

    I like this post a lot. I’m a young mom of three kids, and the issue of swearing comes up a lot around me. Like, if a friend who generally only knows me in “adult” situations slips up and says “shit” around my kids and then immediately says “oh! sorry sorry sorry!” I think it’s funny, I really do. Like shit is the worst goddamned thing my four year old ever hears. Don’t get me wrong, I actually do censor myself a little bit because … well, it is a bit embarrassing to go over to great-grandma’s and hear one of them drop the f bomb. But, really, if it’s been a tough day and I drop the spaghetti all over the kitchen floor, my kids are going to hear how I feel about that! And when the two year old knocks over the four year old’s block tower, I don’t mind him having some colorful vocabulary to express his feelings about that, either. Funny thing is, both of my older kids seem to really understand when to and not to say certain things. I’ve almost never heard them swear except where appropriate (like in above example). K : “shit.” Me : “What did you say?” (surprised, not angry) K : “I said ‘shit’ ! M knocked down my block tower!” ^.^

    But, then, the flip side of that is that I also have an 11yr old brother. In the past year or so, he’s been discovering new things like girls, angst and swear words. When he and his friends hang out with me, they know I’m generally pretty lax. If they’re singing a song, they don’t need to beep it out just ’cause i’m there, etc. But there’s an invisible line that really has more to do with the way they swear and my feelings about my little brother growing up. Occasionally I have to say, “Whoa, let’s not forget that I AM a grown-up, and you DO need to be respectful!” … Still, the fact that I try to be a grown-up that keeps it real seems to make them more receptive when I talk to them about other inappropriate language (homophobic, racist, sexist, etc.). I feel like if I just always said “Don’t swear!” then they’d brush me off and just use all that language among themselves. Since I make a distinction and talk to them honestly about the hurt that some of the other stuff causes, I like to think that they carry a little more of the lesson away with them (not to say they never use that language when not around me. Peer pressure is a bitch, after all).

    Re: swear words = uncreative. This was a hilarious thing to read! And there are only 20 swear words? Whoever thinks that is uncreative indeed. My partner’s family is from Scotland. Now there are some creative bleeding cunts when it comes to swearing!

  43. abby_wan_kenobi
    abby_wan_kenobi August 19, 2010 at 7:53 am |

    Age certainly has a lot to do with the acceptability of cursing. Amelia, I think I’d take your young friend’s cursing as a compliment. Especially as a teen, when your behavior is *so* censored, people tend to be more casual with their peers. Many other commenters have noted that they don’t swear around their superiors or mixed groups. It is possible your friend sees you as her same age and, therefore, not likely to be judgmental of her language.

    The arguments for the use of swear words around children is, I think, too limited. My 5-yr-old nephew doesn’t know “fuck” or “shit” but he has a whole other list of words he isn’t allowed to say that work like swear words for preschoolers. “Butt”, “Shut up”, “Poop”, and “Hate” have all been outlawed by his mother. Just like swear words adults use, he can now use these to escalate the intensity of his language and get rise out of his audience. When he calls his sister a butthead, you know he means it – he’s willing to go to time out for saying it. I told my mom last week that my sister was acting like a fucking child and she just nodded in agreement.

    As a society we give those words meaning and ostensibly, because of the context those words carry, they are the most meaningful words in our language.

  44. megara
    megara August 19, 2010 at 8:06 am |

    My response to the swearing is unladylike comment has been for quite some time now:
    “right, because its darn right cute when men do it”

  45. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 19, 2010 at 8:21 am |

    megara: My response to the swearing is unladylike comment has been for quite some time now:
    “right, because its darn right cute when men do it”  

    Yes. What you said.

    I tried to stop swearing at all (as opposed to simply refrain at work and around kids/people who didn’t like it, etc.) I actually got cruder. One of my friends–who never curses–asked me to start again because she was grossed out by hearing me refer to the random asshole who wouldn’t leave me alone at the bar as “maggot pus.”

    But I’ll hang my head in shame for dropping the odd f-bomb–I’m apparently terribly uncreative (as opposed to people who use the same 5 non-swear words all the time). It’s also crude–far worse than maggot pus or dumpster cheese! I’m sure random 5-year-olds could say that with nary an odd look from the good Victorian ladies and gentlemen who hate cursing so.

    I also lack virtue.

    Pardon me whilst I adjust my corset, ladies!

  46. JPlum
    JPlum August 19, 2010 at 9:54 am |

    I rarely swear. My family members rarely swear. And yes, we are well-educated (in the University sense) upper-middle class WASPs, so there is definitely a class thing at work here. My mother told me when I was about 8 that swearing was a sign that I lacked the intelligence or vocabulary to express myself in any other fashion. Right or wrong, I’ve internalized that advice, and I am unable to casually swear in a convincing fashion. Honestly, I insert an offhand ‘fucking’ as an adjective, and people laugh.

    So when I swear, it’s a calculated move to make a point, the point usually being that I am really fucking pissed off! And since I swear so rarely, it has a much greater impact-people pay attention. When you curse all the time, it loses its impact. Which may be the point for some people, to take away the power and meaning of cursing.

    As for the ‘swearing is uncreative’ thing…well, some people are creative in their swearing, but for many it’s all “That fucking bitch fucking told me that she didn’t fucking want to go to the fucking party, ’cause she had better fucking things to do with her fucking time, and then she fucking said…”

    And talking like that, whatever your gender, makes you sound dumb and, yes, uncreative. If you’re going to swear, you should make the effort to do it well.

  47. Mickie T
    Mickie T August 19, 2010 at 10:23 am |

    Even though he himself was an awful, anti-Semitic sonofabitch, Mark Twain had a lot of good things to say about swearing (please keep in mind sexist and historical context of words):

    “When it comes down to pure ornamental cursing, the native American is gifted above the sons of men.”

    “Under certain trying circumstances, swearing provides relief denied even to prayer. ”

    “There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.”

    “My swearing doesn’t mean any more to me than your sermons do to you.” – comment made to Rev. Joe Twichell, quoted in Mark Twain and Hawaii, by Walter Francis Frear

    “If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.”

  48. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 19, 2010 at 10:33 am |

    “That fucking bitch fucking told me that she didn’t fucking want to go to the fucking party, ’cause she had better fucking things to do with her fucking time, and then she fucking said…”

    And talking like that, whatever your gender, makes you sound dumb and, yes, uncreative. If you’re going to swear, you should make the effort to do it well.

    Replace “fucking” with the same non-swear word and you could still have the same argument. If you’re going to talk, make the effort to do it well. Except THAT would be an elitist-sounding thing to say.

    You know, I am a big fan of “a time and a place”–there are times and places where you don’t curse. But seriously, to you aspiring Cormac McCarthys, this argument that it isn’t creative? Have you heard the conversations with no swear words? Ninety-nine percent of the time, they aren’t particularly creative either. Don’t go awarding yourselves any Pulizers or anything.

  49. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 19, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    This issue of added power when you rarely swear and then suddenly drop an f-bomb – do people who consistently swear have an issue with this? I talk like a sailor (a badass chick sailor who is without virtue and creativity), but never have I gotten pissed off at something and had someone be confused about my anger because I also called some dude an asshole in passing earlier in the day.

    Also, I’ve found that more often than not, people derail whatever you were saying if you also dropped an f-bomb in saying it. Does anyone in the US remember Biden calling healthcare a “Big Fucking Deal” and how media went up in a shitstorm over it? Instead of focusing on how healthcare was in fact a big fucking deal?

    Re: the commenter above re: fanny packs; that made my day. I’m excited to tell every USian I know about this revelation. I had no idea.

  50. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 19, 2010 at 11:06 am |

    @gadgetgal (36) Thank you!

    I’m one of those Germanic remnant groups. I may live in the place denoted as ‘England’ by many, but I’m not English. I’m British, certainly, but the notion of what ‘Englishness’ is always refers to those “Soft southern gets” (thanks Dad!) who are essentially “Frenchmen in Barbour jackets” (cheers Granddad!).

    When I’m interacting with people outside of my area I’m ‘forced’ to speak English, and I resent that. I hate clipping my vowels, using ‘acceptable’ synonyms for words that I love, and rearranging my entire thought and speech pattern to suit others. It’s like greying out the colour in my speech. Being in the company of my people, and using our dialect, is like wearing tie-dye pyjamas in comparison – comfortable and colourful. Not to mention the fact that it takes a quarter of the time!

    It doesn’t help that my dialect is thought by many of my alleged countrymen to represent poverty, stupidity and illiteracy. I think that it’s mildly hilarious that we ‘stupid’ people are the ones with a seemingly unlimited ability to code-switch, a working knowledge of many other dialects than our own, and the ability to completely linguistically out-fox anyone condescending enough to think of us as unwashed fools. If I switch to my dialect then I appear unintelligible to those not in the know, I like it like that.

    So, being forced into using ‘proper English’ online, in correspondence, and at work, I resent the classism inherent in telling me that those words designated ‘vulgar’ by those South of Watford are now forbidden in my natural tongue. I despise being told that I’m ‘uncreative’ or that my vocabulary is ‘stunted’ if I use *my* words in *my* leisure time. It’s not the same without the ‘bad’ words, it doesn’t mean the same thing anymore. Why should I primly say “One’s off to powder one’s nose” when I can say “Reet, gaanfr’ashite”? If someone’s verbally abusing me then saying “Excuse me good sir, I find you objectionable, kindly go away” when a swift “Hyaa’man cunthow, dee one” will do nicely?

    Ahm fashed if ah knaa like. Unladylike my arse. Gan canny petlambs!

  51. gadgetgal
    gadgetgal August 19, 2010 at 11:07 am |

    @PrettyAmiable – yeah, it always makes me giggle! I’ve even heard on some channels over here pre-watershed (that’s 9pm, when sex, drugs, swearing, nudity and stuff turn up on TV in the UK) they actually bleep the word out when it’s on something like Friends!! So it’s now become a bleep-pack or a blank-pack! They call them “bum bags” here, although some of my friends now like calling them fanny packs because, as they pointed out, that’s where they go…

  52. gadgetgal
    gadgetgal August 19, 2010 at 11:49 am |

    @Paraxeni – same with me, although I’ve got the US side to my family too, so it’s a weird mix, and I don’t come from posh areas in either country, so talk about a mangle! :) I like language, and all the different accents, dialects, you could even call them languages in this country. I don’t like it when people complain about how people round here speak because I think all anybody has to do is make an effort to learn like we all had to make an effort to understand them!! It’s funny about the code switching as well – no one seems to see that being able to do it so easily is actually pretty damned clever, and most people I know anywhere north of the M25 have to do it. In fact I’ll include anyone southwest of that too, in Cornwall it’s all mixed in with Cornish, so if you meet some of the real old-time locals it’s amazing-sounding. And yes, so-called swear words are very much a part of that!!

    Now I think I’m gonna ball out, have a few bevvies and get proper arseholed tonight (sounds so much more fun to me than “go and get drunk”)!!

  53. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 19, 2010 at 11:52 am |

    Language fail!

    It should read “If someone’s verbally abusing me then why should I waste my time saying…”

    Oh and my partner has just called me, and I filled her in on this discussion. She had two things to say:

    1) Having to monitor my speech for any reason is uncomfortable, I feel physically restrained. At work I often have to adopt an accent that’s not mine, speak in a dialect that’s not mine, and it’s stressful. When I’m at home or socialising I’ll say what the fuck I want, I need to breathe.

    and

    2) Also, it’s cold up here and it pisses with rain all the time. If I bump into someone and they pass on a sentiment that I agree with then we usually haven’t got time for a “Quite right my good man, you really know what you’re talking about” when “Aye, fuckinreckn” does the same job in two seconds.

  54. Cate
    Cate August 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm |

    I have to say, I love cussing. I am an entirely articulate woman. I have the capacity for using my “ladylike” words. However, I swear for the same reason that I, as a former Northern girl, now say, “y’all”: it’s more efficient.
    I do swear in front of my children, but not as much as I do away from them. And my rule for them will be the same rule as it is now for myself: once you know all the other ways to say something and you have the presence of mind to be able to articulate yourself with the other words, you can swear. My 5-year-old knows that the words I occasionally use are for grown-ups, and we’ll stick with that.
    I don’t associate swearing with vulgarity unless the person using the words doesn’t present him/herself with common decency.
    Rock on with your badass self.

  55. Josephine E
    Josephine E August 19, 2010 at 1:24 pm |

    Re: Fanny Packs

    I live in the south eastern US and just recently learned this little bit of delightful knowledge. Until then, I really hated the word “fanny pack” and always called mine a “utility belt” (yes, corny, I know. I’m corny like that).

    But now that I understand the real meaning of the word, I’ve started calling mine a “pussy pocket,” my own little souther USian dirty equivalent. … Or, how about for my real deep south relatives: “cooter carrier” … XD

  56. Josephine E
    Josephine E August 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm |

    @ gagetgal and Paraxeni : I enjoyed these insights a lot. As I mentioned earlier, my partner’s family is from Scotland. His family, like mine, comes from a working class background, and I definitely see some parallels between what you’re saying here and some of the conversations I’ve had with my grandmother-in-law about language. The same grandmother-in-law who taught me how to knit, and taught me that it all works out better if you swear! ;D

  57. RD
    RD August 19, 2010 at 3:01 pm |

    Amelia: @RD (33): To clarify, in my post, when I did mention virtue, the idea was indeed tied to sexist ideas about women.

    Sorry, I wasn’t referring to how you used it, I was talking about Nahida @17.

  58. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 19, 2010 at 3:46 pm |

    hahahaha cooter carrier.

    I wish I weren’t the only one who enjoyed this so much. Sorry for the derail, but seriously, cooter carrier is AWESOME.

  59. Dauthi
    Dauthi August 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm |

    I can’t speak for the rest of the US, but in my experience (somewhat up and down the East Coast) it has a lot to do with classes.

    More specifically, with pretension. The factory job I’ve worked at, the really rural folks I’ve talked to… After awhile, every sentence where your emotions are elevated begins, “Fuckin…” It’s just another method of communicating. A more expressive one. As the examples above kind of show, you can definitely rephrase sentences to exclude ‘vulgarities,’ but you lose so much character from doing it.

    As you work up the pretension scale, people censor themselves (and others) more because we’re so damned concerned with impressions. Heaven forbid that someone overhear me swear! Their impression of me must be irreversibly tarnished! Who cares. There are plenty of other people who have matured past being twelve that I can talk to instead.

    I’ve often found that people who swear the most manage the most creativity in their language… the pictures they paint with well-chosen words are impressive (e.g., maggot pus) if also slightly startling.

    The most common complaint I’ve gotten recently regarding my swearing is that I tend to enunciate the word(s) in a way that puts listeners on edge. Apparently many people aren’t accustomed to hearing both the C and the K in my favorite word. ^_^

  60. Stephanie - Green SAHM
    Stephanie - Green SAHM August 19, 2010 at 4:51 pm |

    abby_wan_kenobi, I had to laugh at the “swear words” your nephew can’t use. My daughter learned the same thing, not from me, but in preschool and kindergarten. I’d never thought to forbid those words. Means I have to explain myself if I “dislike” something and use the word hate instead.

  61. Heather Aurelia
    Heather Aurelia August 19, 2010 at 5:03 pm |

    I swear a lot, too. I also burp and fart, a lot of people tell me that I am not being ladylike, like I really want to be. I am more of a genderqueer person, I am neither girl not boy just me. The good thing though is that my bf enforces the masculine side of me; he always tells me that I am cute everytime I fart ;) My parents, well, my mom and my bf’s mom tells me all the time that it’s not ladylike to swear, fuck that.

  62. Elena
    Elena August 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm |

    dirtybird: Dropping the fuck bomb now and then does not by any stretch of the imagination mean that someone doesn’t have a “reasonably educated” vocabulary of 20,000 words. dirtybird

    No it doesn’t. But we aren’t talking about dropping an F bomb now-and-then. Apparently we’re talking about a way of life. Sure you can have a “reasonaly educated vocabulary of 20,000 words. But if you only stick with a few fun vulgarities, who will ever know?

  63. Mar
    Mar August 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm |

    When I swear – and I do, a lot, with very little censoring because fuck that noise, I’ll say what the fuck I want, however I damn well please, thank you very much – one of the criticisms I’ve had lobbed at me is:

    E) It makes me sound “ghetto” and “dangerous” (read: black).

    I went to a notoriously liberal college but the number of people I just absolutely scandalized with my language so much so that they felt the need to actually tell me how “ghetto” or “dangerous” I sounded when I spoke was… absolutely fucking ridiculous, to be honest.

    Newsflash: a person of color using a swear word does not mean they’re going to whip out a shiv and shank you. You implying otherwise, however, might.

  64. Astraia
    Astraia August 20, 2010 at 1:33 am |

    I don’t swear. Those particular words are linked with very negative emotions for me, even though I can recognize that logically, yes, they’re just words like any other. It’s the level of aggression, I think. I have a teenage brother who likes to swear loudly and extensively at his video games and though the language isn’t directed at me? It makes me uncomfortable, sort of on-edge and panicky, like at any second he might turn round and start yelling at me instead. I grew up in an emotionally/verbally abusive household though, so that probably makes me *way* oversensitive about that kind of thing. I’d say the opposite to one of the posters above – if someone swears a lot, and there’s anger/aggression behind it instead of the word just being used as a general, ‘uncreative’ intensifier? I’m less likely to want to associate with that person.

    Oh, and I’m very much working class, FWIW. ‘All working class people swear a lot’ is quite an awful assumption to make for people concerned about classism.

  65. gadgetgal
    gadgetgal August 20, 2010 at 3:38 am |

    I’ve really enjoyed the comments here, it’s branched out into an interesting discussion and brought in a lot of different opinions.

    I think (to turn it back to the original question you asked) maybe the reason why you reacted the way you did to the young woman swearing was a combination of ALL the factors mentioned above, not just the age or female thing, but also the way a lot of people think about swearing generally, and the fact that they feel they can comment on other people doing it. Even though you might swear a lot yourself, if other people are continually telling you that it’s bad in some way then you’d be aware of that opinion, and it might affect how you react when, for example, a younger person does it – the creation of the flinch factor! So it’s not the swearing, it’s knowing what other people might think about the swearing.

    As you see here, though, different people think about it differently, and quite frankly there’s no inherent right or wrong about any of it, just a matter of personal opinion. I think so long as no one is using swear words to deliberately hurt someone else then however you choose to speak is fine, but that goes for judging anyone else’s speech – I have no right to tell someone that their manner of speech isn’t to my liking just because it does or doesn’t contain swear words. If it’s not ableist, racist, sexist or anything like that then it smacks too much of policing other people’s personal lives, something I’m not really a fan of!

    As to the argument that it might show a lack of intelligence or creativity – who cares? I think the issue is more with the people who seem so concerned as to whether or not other people make their requisite 20,000 words a lifetime. I have to say that’s never been a factor for me in listening to a person who has something of worth to say!! And if it’s not really that, but more that you personally don’t like the words then all I can do is give you this anecdote: I have a friend who doesn’t like the words “communal” and “unusual” (it’s the “u” sound, she hates it!). She chooses not to use these words, but if someone else uses them would she ever judge or comment? Of course not, because that would be ridiculous!

    Anyway, must go start my day – cooter carriers away!!!!

  66. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 20, 2010 at 8:37 am |

    Elena, if someone uses the same handful of non-swear words, do you bash them for sounding unintelligent and uncreative?

  67. rosa
    rosa August 20, 2010 at 9:15 am |

    I think there’s a difference between cursing as in “Oh, damn, I’m late” and cursing as in “Mother-fucking god damn cock sucking whore, I’m late” and it should probably be clarified which you’re referring to.

  68. Josephine E
    Josephine E August 20, 2010 at 4:47 pm |

    @ rosa : it depends on context, but i have definitely had the “oh fucking shit shit shit shit god DAMNit I’m late AGAIN!” days. this is while doing a little angry at myself dance.

  69. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 20, 2010 at 5:37 pm |

    Elena, what straw person are you talking about? Who on here has confessed to frequently swearing and also demonstrated a lack of command over the English language?

  70. Elena
    Elena August 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm |

    Amelia: Elena

    I didn’t say anything about judging a person’s intelligence – my point was more that you hide your intelligence by not expanding your vocabulary choices. It’ doesn’t take a a lot of talent to let loose with a stream of obscenities. A couple well chosen words might be more effective and impressive.

  71. RD
    RD August 20, 2010 at 10:37 pm |

    Now swearing makes your language less concise? LOL.

  72. gadgetgal
    gadgetgal August 21, 2010 at 5:29 am |

    Ok, it seems the argument has gone from being TOO limited to not being limited enough in your language! I’m not going to bash at Elena, though, because I’m getting a different impression about what she’s trying to say here:

    “I didn’t say anything about judging a person’s intelligence – my point was more that you hide your intelligence by not expanding your vocabulary choices. It’ doesn’t take a a lot of talent to let loose with a stream of obscenities. A couple well chosen words might be more effective and impressive.”

    I don’t think you’re talking about anyone else, you’re talking about yourself, which is fine – if in your opinion this is what other people think about you when you speak then how you choose to do that is up to you completely! I can honestly say that how many synonyms you find for each word during one ten-minute conversation wouldn’t affect what I think about your intelligence, unless it seemed like you were trying to hard to do it, and, admittedly, sometimes that can sound a little unintelligent to me, and I know I shouldn’t make that kind of judgment about someone else, so I’ll need to work on that! But again, so long as you don’t place your language preferences/prejudices upon someone else there’s no problem – you think using swear words hides your intelligence, I disagree, doesn’t make either one of us right or wrong, just different :)

  73. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 21, 2010 at 6:18 am |

    Again, Elena, I await the criticism for people who use the same five non-swear words to describe things. Oddly enough, this argument is only trotted out when it comes to swearing.

    Here’s one of the things you said upthread: When someone only seems to be able to express themselves with the same 20 or so, (and especially one in particular in all parts of speech) they seem limited and trite.

    So, again–if someone uses the same few non-swear words, do they seem limited and trite?

  74. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 21, 2010 at 9:28 am |

    Sheelzebub: So, again–if someone uses the same few non-swear words, do they seem limited and trite?  

    No, no Sheelzebub. They’re being concise. [ironic snooty eyeroll]

  75. Elena
    Elena August 21, 2010 at 10:19 am |

    Amelia: @Elena: If your language is concise (and I would argue that swearing does not make that impossible), the “quality” of your words doesn’t really matter. On to other things, perhaps?  (Quote this comment?)

    I think just the opposite is true. The more concise the more important each would becomes. One of my favorite examples from history would be the Gettysburg address. Before Lincoln stood up to give the speech, a great orator of the day, Everett Edward, delivered a 2-hour long address with over 13000 words. But what is remembered as one of the greatest speeches of all time, is Lincoln’s two minute speech of close to 300 words.

    Clean. Concise. Eloquent. Memorable.

    I think that’s what we all strive for in communication isn’t it?

  76. Elena
    Elena August 21, 2010 at 10:25 am |

    So, again–if someone uses the same few non-swear words, do they seem limited and trite?  (Quote this comment?)

    Certainly depending on the circumstances. This is one of the reasons schools and parents encourage reading great literature and studying vocabulary. Knowing how to use the language well is always a plus!

  77. I Swear, I Shall be Unladylike! | Wise Grrrl

    [...] in, so to speak. So when I was at work yesterday I read feministe’s new blog post-> Parental Advisory: Explicit Content, Unladylike Sh** and I ad another click moment and I realized that I have internalized what my parents drilled in my [...]

  78. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable August 21, 2010 at 12:54 pm |

    Elena, you’re missing something in that explanation. Watch this: “Fucking douche.”

    I utter those two words, and it is completely clear to every person around me how I feel about someone. Now you show me in more concise speech something that encapsulates all of the emotion and sentiment behind that phrase.

    You’re being elitist and classist and it’s irritating. Swearing doesn’t limit your vocabulary (as noted above, the notion that adding words to your vocabulary limits it is preposterous), and clearly conciseness isn’t the issue either.

  79. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm |

    Hmmmm…I guess it depends on what you mean by swear word…is it just a rude word?

    I admit if I meet a white person who uses the n-word as part of their regular vocabulary, I consider them to be less intelligent, poorly brought up and make whole raft of assumptions about them. Same goes with men who refer to women or vaginas with the cunt word.

    Some swear words are legitimately offensive…

  80. Kristi
    Kristi August 21, 2010 at 2:37 pm |

    I’m in kind of an interesting situation regarding teenagers and swearing, because I’m a public librarian who works primarily with young adults. The kids who attend my programs range everywhere from 11-12 on up to recent high school graduates, which is a really diverse spread as far as maturity level goes. And yes, some of my teens have more “colorful” vocabularies than others, which is something I’m not quite sure what to do about. Personally, it doesn’t bother me a bit as long as they’re not swearing AT each other or using offensive slurs. Plus it’s hard to tell teens not to swear at all when so many of the great YA books I keep on the shelves and recommend to them don’t hold back a bit on that count.

    On the other hand, we’ve got a lot of younger kids coming as well, many of whom come from pretty conservative backgrounds or just aren’t quite ready to be exposed to that kind of language yet. And the location has to be considered as well – most of these teens will have to learn if they haven’t already that there are some locations where it’s considered less socially acceptable to swear than others. At this point my solution is just to gently remind teens who are going overboard with the swearing to remember where they are and who they’re with, but I try not to make a big deal out of it, because it’s not a huge deal to me and I don’t want to send them in the opposite direction of thinking that it’s a major taboo and thus trying to “rebel” against it. I am much stricter with slurs like “retard” or “that’s so gay”, however. And if anyone became truly offensive I’d probably ask them to leave for the rest of the event, but luckily that hasn’t come up yet.

  81. Adrian
    Adrian August 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm |

    I’m noticing some sentiments along the line of “a young person shouldn’t cuss at ME, an adult!” Personally, I find that really condescending. I am all for respect, but I’m not going to treat someone as a superior wiser kind of god just because they’re a few years older than me; they will simply get the same respect everyone gets. Cussing them out would obviously be not good, but I woudln’t cuss out someone my own age. I’ve also seen a bit “curse words are for adults, not kids or teenagers,” which just seems odd to me. I can understand a bit for 5 year olds, but it’s hard for me to think of many teenagers I’ve known who don’t curse, and I’ve known many preteens and younger who do as well; I remember a girl in my fourth grade class who cussed up a storm, and I myself was certainly well-versed in it by junior high if not earlier (I know I at least was crude before then; if I was not actually using curse words, I was certainly still talking disgustingly about sex using different words). It just seems like a rose colored, idealistic, charmed view of young people that doesn’t play out in the real world. If a teenager cursing is shocking to you, you probably don’t know many teenagers and you certainly don’t remember when you were one.

  82. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm |

    Certainly depending on the circumstances. This is one of the reasons schools and parents encourage reading great literature and studying vocabulary. Knowing how to use the language well is always a plus!

    Seriously? Some of that great literature is downright filthy. And using 10 dollar words all of the time doesn’t do much to bolster your credibility–I found out through hard experience (being a reader and a vocab geek) that using a huge variety of words got people thinking you were a pretentious git. (I was actually counseled by several teachers to stop for that very reason.)

    But here’s the thing–I have never come across people who took the initiative to complain about the lack of creativity or vocabulary in ordinary language usage unless the subject is about swearing. I have a pretty varied vocabulary, am pretty verbal, and am sometimes happy to drop an F-bomb (in several languages at that).

    Honestly, I have more respect for the argument that it sounds crude or that you think it’s inappropriate for most situations or whatever. Some folks don’t think it sounds nice–c’est la vie. If I know it offends someone or if I’m meeting someone for the first time (or in a venue where it’s not appropriate–say, a meeting with the VP where I work or whatever) I don’t use them.

    I don’t go around dropping an F-bomb every five seconds even on my most ornery days, but some of the self-righteousness and shaming in some quarters tempts me to fucking curse all of the goddamn motherfucking time. Because, for shit’s sake, I don’t want to be associated with a pack of whinging pukes that engages in that ridiculous bullshit.

    Also: saying bag of maggot pus got a much more negative reaction from people as opposed to saying fucking douchenozzle.

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