I’ve just read a review of The King’s Speech that mentioned the Oscar winning movie had been rated ‘R’ in America due to a triumphant chorus of ‘fucks’ emanating from the mouth of Colin Firth’s Prince George. It got me thinking about differing attitudes to swearing and language in general.
There’s a forum I dip in and out of now and again where there are a couple of pseudo-intellectuals who positively abhor the use of swear words (an indication of commonness and a lack of education) and the decline of grammar in general (people who used txt spk or modern abbreviations like FYI should be taken out the back and shot).
Personally I think this view is a load of old bollocks.
There you go; I’m uneducated and have a limited grasp of the language because I’ve used the term ‘bollocks’. Maybe I should have used ‘tosh and nonsense’ instead (actually I quite like that as well), but I enjoy the sound of ‘a load of old bollocks’ – it’s colourful, descriptive and is fit for purpose.
Similarly, when I’m seriously exasperated by something I’m prone to exclaim ‘for fuck’s sake’ or ‘FFS’ if I’m using the polite version in company – either way I’m apparently committing serious offences against the English language. However, it fits exactly the feeling I want to convey; ‘for heaven’s sake’ ‘for goodness sake’ and ‘for Pete’s sake’ just doesn’t cut the mustard (no offence Pete whoever you are). And if it’s good enough for Prince George then damn it, it’s good enough for me. Plus I’m working class west of Scottish so the urge to profane now and again is simply part and parcel of my genetic make-up.
I don’t use swear words excessively; most of the time those who do make me feel uncomfortable. I say most of the time because there are some people who make swearing sound a very natural and rich part of their vocabulary whilst there are others who simply make it harsh and ugly. The Irish are good at swearing (In Bruges just wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny without the liberal swearing); of course often the Irish replace the ‘U’ with an ‘E’ to make a more socially acceptable Feck. The Scots are pretty good at it (Billy Connolly also not as funny without swearing) and the Mancs also do it well (Shameless). Cockneys I’m less sure about.
I appreciate that many people find swearing offensive and whilst I respect their views, I definitely don’t agree that people who use swear words are defiling the language. Approve of them or not, many are good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon words that have as much a right to be in existence as any other.
There are loads of non-swear words that I find much more offensive and where I wouldn’t swear in the company of people I don’t know, and some that I do, there are plenty of people who happily use their offensive words in front of me…and I’m talking about racist, sexist and homophobic terms here. However, words in themselves aren’t offensive, they’re just a jumble of letters, it’s how people use them that can often dictate whether they’re offensive or not.
I also heartily approve when people – usually the young – take words and turn their meanings on their heads, or invent completely knew terms. It keeps language fresh and interesting, but that doesn’t mean the old words should be packed away never to be used again, it simply means that as time goes by our well of words becomes deeper and deeper.
To me language is a living organism that is constantly evolving – words should be set free and allowed to roam wherever they want to go, not restricted to a dingy cell where they remain staid and static for evermore as some academics would have it.
Some academics, but not modern lexicographers it seems. I was blown away when I watched this clip for the first time (thanks Julie Hume). Erin McKean is simply inspirational and very funny and, amen, I worship at her church. It’s a bit lengthy but anyone interested in the English language should enjoy it…unless they’re like the pseudo-intellectuals I mentioned at the start who no doubt would completely dismiss it because Erin’s American and what the hell do Americans know about English.
Anyway, back to the swearing. The King’s Speech being designated an ‘R’ rating because of swearing rankled. You can blow people to smithereens in any manner of glamorously gruesome ways and that’s absolutely socially acceptable but a stammering Prince swearing is deigned too much for anyone under 17 to be able to handle. Doesn’t that strike you as being worryingly skewed logic?
It reminded me of a story about a B52 aircrew who were told to remove the word ‘fuck’ from the fuselage of their bombers because it was far too offensive.
Think about the irony of that little gem.