Saturday, June 28, 2008


Should we Worry About 'Celebrity Swearing'?

Max Hastings' eloquently argued piece against swearing has attracted quite a bit of correspondence. Should we be worried about the fact that obscenities litter our language as casually as sweet wrappers on our pavements? I remember going to see Billy Conolly at the Apollo and after some trademark effing and blinding he said:'Someone asked me the other day why I swear so much' He then got a good laugh with his reply: 'Cos I'm so fucking good at it!' Without the swearing he probably would not have been so funny as it helps to express the edge or anger which is central to his ranting style of humour. But there is only one Conolly and it would be wrong to blame him alone for sweeping away taboos regarding use of the 'f' word. Ramsay is another case altogether, yet he also relies on his aggressive verbals to provide his larger than life image.

My school-teacher mother used to chide us kids about any use of swearwords when I was growing up; I probably reacted to this by adopting the profanities of my Shropshire countryside peers as commonplace additions to my own speech. But even allowing for my own habitual swearing, I was persuaded by Hastings. Listening to even very young schoolkids on the bus, it is now the rule for them to call each other 'twats', 'cunts' or to tell each other to 'fuck off'. Whilst my age group used such words privately(and, never in front of women) today's youngsters feel no inhibitions about anyone overhearing them. To intervene to ask them not to speak so coarsely would inevitably invite the accusation of being a 'boring old fart' plus a probable fusillade of the very words to which one was objecting.

Swearing in private, or with one's friends is one thing but to do so in public really does devalue our quality of life. Obscenities can offend the sensibilities of those who dislike the sexual references but more importantly they add aggression to everyday communication which I think we could well do without. If people are offended by such speech then one would hope people would desist in case offence were given. The fact that so many people seem not to worry about such things is a sign our culture has already become 'yobbified' in the way Hastings fears.

I saw Brian Blessed speak recently - fantastic man - and for him, swearing simply works. Same for Stephen Fry, at the other end of the social spectrum.

You're right that swearing used in some contexts sounds vulgar. But I reckon the vulgarity is because of the context, not the swearing itself: the kids on the bus are showing contempt for something or other, and it is that which we find distasteful. Hastings - whose article I haven't read - is just an uppity Tory.
fuck off u stupid little cock
Perry and Anon:So good of you to comment- quod erat demonstrandum
Swearing does sometimes work. Anthony Burgess has a wonderful tale in one of his volumes of autobiography. He is in the army in Gibralter during the war. He walks past a mechanic who is working on the engine of a land rover. The mechanic throws his spanner on the ground, kicks the vehicle and exclaims, in utter exasperation: "The fucking fucker's fucking fucked".
Yes, it's a good example of how swearing can express and ventilate anger; I'm opposed however to its direction at others.
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