A couple of weeks ago, I read with interest about a recent study that suggests people who are fond of swearing are pretty bloody clever. It looked at the common belief that people who use swear words do so because they don’t have any better words to express themselves. It turns out that’s just bollocks.
What the researchers found was that people who say ‘fuck’ a lot actually tend to have enormous lexicons. Or thereabouts. I may be paraphrasing just the slightest bit.
I’ve always enjoyed a good swear. As a child, all I knew about swear words was that I wasn’t allowed to say them. Naturally, I was then extremely drawn to them and would make them up in fabulous combinations to say at school. Things like ‘Shit Bastard’ or ‘Arse Head’. I was never one to run around shouting obscenities, mind you. I just liked to mutter them to myself or a select friend here and there, for my own enjoyment or a wee dash of shock value. As I got older, I noticed that my Mum was quite the inventive swearer. There was a woman she worked with that she absolutely couldn’t stand who she referred to (only at home, to Dad) as ‘Shit Lips’, for example. Her expressions were often colourful and never left you in any doubt about how she felt. As I got older, the rules around such language loosened up quite a bit for me. It felt quite therapeutic at times- the awful ex-boyfriend who was renamed ‘Dick Weasel’, for example. I come from a family of smart people; the frequent expletives in my home were certainly not for a lack of words to choose from. It’s just that sometimes, the best word to use just so happens to be a swear word. To me, the people who consider swear words to be in indication of poor intelligence or class are in the same boat as the people who refer to sarcasm as nothing but “the lowest form of wit”; that is, they put it down because they don’t understand it or aren’t any good at it.
Sarcasm might be a lower form of wit than others but it’s still a handy tool in a box of tricks designed to provoke a laugh or an outrage. Mostly, I think it’s bloody funny. I mean, don’t you just love being on the receiving end of a sarcastic quip? What’s not to like about a cutting, ironic remark designed to mock? Here’s something interesting: a study has shown that sarcasm is good for your brain. When someone directs a sarcastic remark at you, it forces your brain to switch to a more abstract thinking mode, which boosts your creativity. So when someone slings a sarcastic comment your way, they are actually doing you a favour by making you brighter and more creative. If it weren’t for sarcastic people, our ability to problem-solve, for example, may well be impaired. In fact, I suggest everyone reading this sends a sarcastic letter to each and every member of the current government on a weekly basis to see if we can’t effect real change here!
Time & Place.
I think, in general, most people know the basic etiquette around swearing and sarcasm. Your Great Aunty Ethel’s funeral is not the time to loudly talk about your fuckhead co-worker. Picking up the kids from school or daycare is not the place to discuss what a dickwad your neighbour is. Your gynecologist probably doesn’t want a sarcastic response when asking about your sexual history. However, some people just can’t quite master this aspect.
Swearing and sarcasm are skills.
And like any other skill, they take time and practice to learn to execute well. Some people are naturals; born to drop a well-placed “holy fucking shitballs” into a conversation or piece of writing, just so. Other people need to learn. They should watch the naturals, note their timing in conversations, read their words and see how it’s done. Excellent swearing is a fucking art form, I shit you not.
Sarcasm is another art that I think is slightly easier to master. It’s something my bigger kids are just starting to get a handle on. They’ve all been guilty of accidentally upsetting someone while being sarcastic because they are still learning where the lines are and the difference between sarcastic banter and outright put-downs. It will take practice, but the two teen girls have already got a natural hormonal advantage when it comes to eye-rolling, sighing and smart-arse responses. I think they’ll do just fine as young sarcasm queens. Their slightly younger brother will grow to be adept at abstract thinking and creative pursuits from being on the receiving end of all their practice.
The youngest, at 3, has already shown her potential as a naturally talented swearer. Just the other day, she got her blanket tangled around her head and arms and yelled “I’m fuckin’ stuck!” before giggling madly.
Is there such a thing as excessive swearing?
Yes….and no, not if it’s done well. As the aforementioned study suggests, swearing is an enhancement to one’s language skills and fluency. However, I can’t even tell you how many times I have stumbled on to website articles or blog posts full of poor spelling, poor grammar and lacklustre composition that the writer has upended a bucket of swear words into, in an effort to make it edgy or cool. These ones will also tell you how sweary they are, while heaping even more context-less strong language onto their readers. I can’t bring myself to spend much time on blogs or websites like that, because it feels like the writer just couldn’t be bothered to make their pieces interesting or readable. They just want to revel in the apparent shock value of dropping swear words.
Unfortunately for them, the shock value wore off for me when I was about 14. I feel like swear words should be used to elicit a response in the reader that is more than just momentary shock. You want a response that hits the belly; the word you choose should either hit them hard in some way or make them grin and chuckle.
Some people can write an 800 word article where 300 of those words are either ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ and it can be a absolute cracker because all the words around those ‘fucks’ and ‘shits’ are designed to showcase them. Other people could say ‘fuck’ 50 times in a piece the same length and that is all you’d see because the rest is so poorly expressed.
In short, swear as much as you fucking well want to. Just do it well. Do it like the clever fucker that you are, with impact and gusto rather than the random sprays of an alley cat. Be spectacularly sarcastic when the moment presents itself. Don’t use it to wound if you can help it; use it to laugh. Everyone can enjoy that, since sarcasm is so low-brow, right? Smile and nod at those too high-brow to enjoy it, all the while knowing that the more sarcasm you expose them to, the better off their minds will be. They better fucking thank you later!
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess