I swear, therefore I am


Warning – this blog post contains really awesome language that might offend. 

I’ve always been a lover of swearwords. I remember standing in our garden when I was very young and hearing a car zoom past on the country road directly below our house. As it flew past skidding on the gravel a male voice drifted up the hill, “fuck mate, watch out for the corners.”
I remember plucking the word out of the air and rolling it around in my mouth. The satisfying way the ‘f’ felt, all tucked up against the ‘u’, as my top teeth nudged my bottom lip. I let the four letters escape in a whisper, the ‘ck’ at the end caught the back of my throat like an illicit word lozenge. Then I tried it a little louder. Then louder again. Mum was standing close by and sort of rolled her eyes, like, yeah, yeah, we all heard the bogan say it. Don’t make a big deal of it.

I don’t think I was more of a swearer than my other friends throughout primary and high school, but as I moved through my adult years I developed a diverse and creative repertoire of curses. Ten years working in hospo both here and in London definitely helped in honing my craft. I worked as a day manager in a certain high-end Wellington restaurant in the late 90’s and was on my own setting up most mornings. The kitchen was open plan and it was full of at least four chefs every day, prepping for the lunch shift. I like to think that I held my own in the banter that flew back and forth, the age-old kitchen vs front of house divide. But mostly I was just taking mental notes. Tucking away those nuggets of chunky profanity as they ricocheted off the copper pots and pans.

These days I’m pretty confident in my ability to curse, it’s all about trying to find unique combos of the tried and tested. Although sometimes just a good old, fucks sake, is worthwhile and satisfying. I think language is possibly the most valuable tool that we (humans) have. It’s what separates us from other mammals. It can be imaginative and playful, it can be swooning and beautiful. It can also be used as a weapon when coming from the mouths of powerful leaders, shouting red-hot rhetoric at each other. Yes, words can wound, and used in certain ways they can be problematic. Telling people your grandmother is a fucknut isn’t any way to win friends. Yet it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to older women as poppets or biddies, or the blue rinse brigade, which is basically just patronising sexism. The narrative that swear words are bad is a social construct. Tradition dictates that some words are yucky and in poor taste and others are legitimate. To me, this is the same kind of thinking that deems words like vagina, labia, and penis as ‘not appropriate for public discourse’.

Most really good swear words are a perfect blend of hard consonants and one vowel. Fuck is the jack of all trades. It can masquerade as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an interjection and even an adverb. I’m a high-end user of the word fuck and I still get the same satisfaction that I did the first time I tried it out. However, I do restrict myself to effing or fecking if I’m posting in a public forum (this present one excluded). And I will own this contradiction and admit that I’m an opinionated conformist. Shit is that little golden equation again of three consonants and a vowel, although the soft ‘sh’ doesn’t hold quite the same vernacular magic. This could explain why it’s more socially acceptable. Shit is genteel, a soft caress of a profanity that can be used without fanfare. Perfectly okay to bust out at board meetings I reckon.

Cunt is the king hitter. It’s the one word that people still say has the power to shock. I have a number of friends who refuse to use it. I’ve also been disappointed by various male friends who tell me it’s not nice hearing a woman say it. I’ve even been told that it’s not very ladylike to use words like that. For the record; nice is a really shit word. Plus I’m not a lady. It’s only been employed as a term of abuse since the nineteenth century. Before that, people were cunting with gay abandon all over the globe. These days it is often used as a derogatory term for female genitals, which I think is stupid. That it’s derogatory. Again, that’s a socially constructed, contextual thing, which is the same for most words I guess (linguistics 101 Emma duh). I experienced a higher usage of the word when I lived in London. Go figure. Maybe it’s the vestiges of our postcolonial conservatism that makes NZ society more reticent with swear words. There’s a robust rat-ta-tat-tat to pronouncing cunt, and it’s almost guttural in the way that it snaps off at the end. These attributes all lend it a perceived aggression so I can understand the reasons why it’s social legitimacy is still contested, I just don’t personally agree with it.

So yes, I love to swear. The clutch of curses that I have in my bag of tricks doesn’t mean that I’m a lazy user of the English language. They haven’t replaced any other gems, and yes, I definitely appreciate that certain scenarios warrant a curbing of the tongue. Like I said, I get how society works, I’m a happy conformer. Yet when I’m old, I never, ever want to hear the younger generation say things like, ‘shhhhh, watch your language in front of Emma’.

Bring it the fuck on I say.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s