Do we need a ‘swear tzar’?

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I WAS watching one of those cop shows the other day. The cops stopped a car for not having insurance and the driver didn’t have a licence either. The youth kept on swearing at the copper. The copper kept on telling him to stop swearing. The youth kept on denying it, shouting “I ****ing didn’t swear”. Warned again and again, he denied it again and again.

On another occasion, on a local bus in the UK, I heard a young child repeatedly scream, “**** off”. To do this, she had to remove her dummy. The ‘adults’ accompanying the child were screeching with laughter. And two other kids with their mum, walking to school. One fell over and started crying. Mum shouted at him, “Get up! Don’t just lie there like a ****!” The boy was about three.

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I find this mindless use of profanity rather depressing. The great thing about it is that it has the potential to sting and shock, but this is being eroded by constant, over-generalized use. Swearing can be an art. Overuse reduces impact and is therefore counter-productive for those of us who believe swearing should have a rather proud place in our language and culture.

One negative effect that such flagrant use of profanity does seem to have had is that you very rarely hear clever, well-worked insults and put-downs any more. People are just not going to be so shocked or offended and you therefore have to work that much harder.

Shortly before the recent UK General Election, I heard a brilliant insult that couldn’t have been improved by the addition of profanity. A Tory prospective parliamentary candidate was trying to get some face time with ‘his public’ outside a supermarket. Those few who did stop to listen didn’t seem that impressed – a feeling summed up perfectly by a girl (no more than 13) saying: “I’ve had vaginal infections with more personality than you”. Now that felt shocking.

I think the problem is really one of swearing being redefined. Four letter words were first used on British television more than 40 years ago and caused a huge uproar. Several decades on, and the media are now awash with swearing. It’s so endemic nobody complains, let alone is even aware of it – like the youth above. There aren’t any contemporary Mary Whitehouse figures or movements, but plenty of Brands, Connollys and Moyleses.

Of course, we all like to complain about something, so many have turned their attention now to political correctness. The PC phenomenon is probably the 21st century equivalent of a Mrs. Whitehouse. I know which I’d rather be rid of. Trouble is, you’ve got to be careful what you wish for.

By Nora Johnson

 

Nora Johnson´s novel, The De Clerambault Code (www.nora-johnson.com) available at Amazon. Profits to Cudeca

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