my thoughts on swearing

Here's a subject I've been meaning to get around to addressing for some time now. Hmmm... how to begin? Well, I swear, sometimes. These days considerably more than I used to, though still not as much as some people. But I hardly remember a time when I never swore. What I do remember is when friends would always be surprised if they heard me swear, because they believed I never did. Even if they'd heard me swear before, instances would be so few and far between that they might be excused for having forgotten. Of course, I've always sworn more in private than in public. There are some people I would probably never swear around, and some people who, while I might swear around them on occasion, I'd be less likely to do so than around others. And even if there are people around whom I feel no particular compunction about swearing, I still do it most when I'm completely alone.

I have nothing against swearing. I'm pretty difficult to offend in any way, and swearing certainly isn't one of the easier ways to do it, as far as I'm concerned. I am, however, somewhat uncomfortable when subjected to a great deal of swearing all at once. Mostly this happens in certain movies or TV shows. I don't mind at all hearing the occasional swear, but if all the people in a movie swear like every third word or so, that's just ludicrously excessive... though I suppose some people do this commonly in real life, so the movie can't be faulted, really. And while I might be a bit uncomfortable with it when watching it alone, I'd be more uncomfortable if anyone else, particularly people I knew were against swearing, were watching it with me, or were even anywhere within potential earshot of the TV. (I'm assuming this is on TV, because I rarely get to go to theaters, and in any event, the whole viewing dynamic is different in theaters, for whatever reasons... perhaps it's because people know what to expect from a movie if they've chosen to watch it, perhaps it's just because it's dark, perhaps any number of other reasons.)

Anyway, some people seem to be terribly offended by swearing, and I don't really understand it. Hell, some people will use certain swear words themselves and still be morally outraged by other people using other swears. In fact, there are words you might hear today that no one in the world would even think of considering a swear, which in the past were considered just as offensive as today's swears. Other words might still be considered mild oaths, but not really worth worrying about at all. Still other words you might never hear at all, unless someone's trying to sound historical in their speech, and if the sense is conveyed at all (which it may not be) that the word was profane, it can't help but be considered ironic and amusing. However, in my brief lifetime, I have seen some modern swears lose impact, and while I find it a bit difficult to believe they'll fall into disuse in the future, it could happen. And even if they remain in use, I'm sure they'll become more common and at some point, no one will be offended by them. Less and less people are, every day. Which to me suggests none of these words, current or historic, have any innate offensiveness. In their meaning or connotations, perhaps, but most of these words are rarely used literally... and even when they are, much of the connotation seems to be lost. Some words seem to be used more by one type of person than another, traditionally... say, men vs. women. Think of words like "make love," "have sex," and "fuck" or "screw." Chances are today it'd still be men who were more likely to use the latter terms, but more and more women do so as well... and the different connotations between the words seems to be diminished. Some people today, men and women alike, would probably use profane words for the act almost as tenderly as if they were actually saying "make love." As for myself... ignoring for the moment the fact that I don't expect to ever have sex, I wouldn't choose to use profanities to describe the act. I'd use the words for other, non-literal purposes. But part of me enjoys the idea that some people can use such words without even intending any disrespect or denegration of the act itself.

Sometimes I use various swears casually, without really thinking much about it. I just use them like any other words, without any intent for emphasis or emotion or anything. Other times, of course, I do use them for emphasis, if I'm particularly upset for some reason. Sometimes I'm so upset that I honestly don't feel like there are any swears strong enough to express how upset I am, and that kinda pisses me off. I want there to be new, stronger words or phrases. I just can't imagine anything. There is no action foul enough or blasphemy high enough to express how upset I am. If there was a word that applied every conceivable offensive action to God, while simultaneously destroying the universe... it wouldn't be strong enough. And it can be over such little things. ...So, I have mixed feelings about any swears becoming more acceptable. On one hand, I think it's a good thing, because I really don't feel words are inherently offensive and it bothers me that some people do (although I would generally try to respect their feelings and avoid swearing around them; or just in general, around children, and to an extent older people). On the other hand, there are times I desperately need these words to be offensive, to convey my feelings, and it troubles me that they just aren't strong enough already, and are getting weaker....

Of course, certain epithets refer specifically to certain kinds of people, based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. These are also swears, I suppose, so I feel compelled to mention that I'd never use such words. I don't think I could even bring myself to use them in objective, academic discussion of their usage... though if anyone else wants to use them in such a context, I might be uncomfortable, but at least I wouldn't object, since no specific offense would be intended. ...I also am generally against a member of a group using an epithet about his/her own group (which predominantly seems to happen with persons of African descent using the N word), whether they're using it in a genuinely derogatory fashion about their own people, or simply trying to claim the word for themselves, to reduce its potency when used against them by people of other groups. On the other hand, I've occasionally heard comedians use such words in their routines in rather amusing ways, so as long as it isn't serious, I have no particular problem with it... though I wouldn't likely repeat such jokes myself, even if the intent was clearly understood by those to whom I was repeating it, to be non-offensive.

Of course I am also against pretty much any kind of censorship.

Well... if you've any interest in further reading, here are some other, generally more scholarly essays (by other people) on the subject of swearing:

Dirty Words
Emotions, Taboos and Profane Language
The Function of Profanity in Modern English
Mothering: Forbidden words - teaching a child about swearing
Profanity - Wikipedia
A study of swearing in modern English

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