I swear, you swear, we all swear, despite the indisputable fact that swearing truly is a curse. But, before I take off on a rampage through the profanity, obsenity, curses, foulness, dirt or colour of the English language, and, from time to time, a dalliance around, rather than close affinity with, the truth, let me provide some words of caution.
If words quite crude and oh so rude, Are not your cup of tea, If curse words blue are not for you, Please do not fight with me, My aim's to try and clarify, Without offending you*, Just why and where, we have to swear, And when it is taboo.
Any cursory (pun intended) romp through the internet these days will reveal a plethora of reasons, by a plethora of authors, why we feel the urge to swear. One such author, I believe, put it quite succinctly as follows:
Swearing is like using the horn on your car, which can be used to signify a number of emotions (eg anger, frustration, joy, surprise).
It would appear that swearing can be beneficial, but not always for all parties:
it can be a release, permitting us to vent our anger and frustrations (although heaven help the poor recipient if the foul language is aimed at someone in particular, rather than at, say, the hammer that missed its inanimate target and found its accidental animate appendage);
it can be a verbal substitute for physical violence (surely a torrent of abuse trumps a punch in the face any day?); and
it can be used for emphasis, almost like punctuation (often with comical results, just ask Billy Connelly).
No matter what you may think or say, we all swear given the appropriate circumstances, and swearing knows no social boundaries or predominates in any particular socioeconomic class.
In order to realise that swear words have a number of origins and references, let's get a few examples out there, in the open.
Grandma go get that cup of tea now, and I'll give you a shout in a couple of paragraphs time (although, doubtless, there are a few grannies who'd give a drunken sailor a fair run for his money by way of colourful foul-mouthed come-backs).
I'll begin with some generalities, many of which are common throughout the English speaking world:
First there's the common swear word with sexual connotations - FUCK (the F-bomb); although there are other associations with the sexual act and anatomy (eg SHIT, CRAP, ARSE-WIPE, BUGGER, BLOODY) that are arguably used to varying effect, both historically and currently.
Then there's blasphemy - GODDAM, JESUS CHRIST, YA ALLAH; often depending upon your religious or atheistic background or indoctrination.
How about ethnic or racial slurs - CHINK, GOOK, NIP, HONKY, DEGO, WOG, YANK, REDNECK, POMMY, POLAK, COON.
Ancestral allusions - BASTARD, SON-OF-A-BITCH.
Swear words can vary in offensiveness depending upon context, the company we're in, and geographical location. These days we are more likely to avoid so called taboo words in mixed company or at work, due to the possibilities of recrimination, and more likely to use them in same sex groups, particularly in relaxed or sporting settings. But no matter how politically correct we are starting to become, there's always one rebel.
Also, there are words considered profane or likely to cause offence in some countries, while in other regions, due in part, no doubt, to their regular use and widespread recurrence with such regularity, that they have almost lost meaning or offence. As an example, how about that infamous television advert which ran worldwide as a tourist hook for Australia in 2006 and featured the inimitable and attractive blond bikini-clad Lara Bingle:
Sowhere the bloody hell are you?
It appears that, back in the day, a few dunderheads and dingbats in UK took offence at "bloody hell" and the ad was pulled there. This rebuff probably caused bigger offence and controversy back in Oz where the term is as common as "bloody oath" (meaning "of indisputable truth"), "you bloody beauty" (meaning "better than your average fair to middling' ", and where "Hell" is a small backwater town the other side of the black stump, known for its pub with no beer and total lack of Sheilas.
Tell me you don't ever swear and all I can say is that pain is a powerful propagator of profanity (try keeping your vocabulary under control when you accidentally hammer your thumb, or spill hot coffee on your lap while wearing only your 'budgie smugglers').
Pain is a powerful propagator of profanity!
Recapping, we've established how common is the use of coarse language and that (by inference) cursing, although commonplace, is not completely committed customarily by the common classes. So let's look at one nation that has turned the proffering of profanity into an art form ... Australia, the Land Down Under, "Where beer does flow and men chunder".
Swearing is so commonplace, particularly in the rural parts of Australia, away from the cultural sterility of international business communication, that, interspersed with humorous adages that provide cut-to-the-bone imagery, Aussie slang (or strine) has become a virtual language unto its own. So, before you come over here to visit, and before we put another prawn on the barbie for you, have a look over the following typical terms of endearment, meant to make you feel welcome. Take no offence, unless you hear any of these words uttered after you've stolen a man's Sheila, or worse still, his beer.
Bugger off - Well I'll be damned.
Fuck me dead - Didn't see that one coming.
Strewth - Originally short for "God's truth", but now closer to "holy shit" or "blow me down with a feather".
Wombat - Generally used to refer to an overweight, idle or slow person. Not likely to be aimed at visitors unless they are slow to pay when it's their round of drinks.
Bogan - Again unlikely to be aimed at visitors, unless they're slow to pay for the drinks. Do you see a recurring theme here? Roughly translates as a redneck in the USA.
As useless as tits on a bull, or an ashtray on a motorbike - This guy isn't really good at anything. Can't even buy a round of beers.
Dumb as a box of rocks, a door knob, or dog shit - This fella is so stupid he can't even buy a round of drinks.
I'm dryer than a dead dingo's donger - Generally proclaimed just before the drinks are served in the pub.
Better stop there for now, but there's plenty more where those came from. Just look up 'Aussie slang' or 'strine' on the web and follow any of the copious links. No need to thank me now though, just buy me a drink next time you're in Oz.
Now for my wind down on words of profanity, let's go back a few hundred years to the time of one William Shakespeare. There indeed was a man who knew how to fling a few witty insults and use a barrage of words disparagingly, without stooping to profanity or the foul language of the day. I'm sure that many of you might have a favourite Shakespeare quote from his plays, where he has demonstrated his ability to cut a character to the quick with words.
But what if I were to provide you with a ready-made Shakespearean insult kit, with 124,950 permutations of insults of his day. That would surely provide sufficient ammunition for the next several times you have a dispute over the backyard fence, or wish to metaphorically cut the legs away from the odd protagonist in the verbal battle of wits over politics, religion or other taboo topics.
Just follow the instructions in the table below, and happy insulting.
Finally, before I go, I'd hate to have you think that we're not welcoming of strangers down here in Oz. We even have sign posts stuck up all over the place to remind us to look after our overseas guests, to maintain our ongoing respect for authority, and to always be polite.
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.