The Dying Art of Swearing

I am not religious and I was so virtuous that this year I didn't even eat any pancakes. And yet my little cherubs asked me point blank what I was giving up for Lent. It was a toss up between farting and swearing. I talked my way out of the farting ban by saying if I kept it all in I would blow up like Violet Beauregarde and ultimately explode.

Since they didn't seem to want to scrape me off the ceiling we settled on the swearing one.

Now some of you might say the right to swear is part of the first amendment of the United States of America but I will say this - it is most definitely not. Swearing is demonized as it is not in the UK and I had to concede that I don't really want them swearing at school because they will get in trouble, so I am trying not to swear as much. Even though I have to say swearing is a much underestimated anger management tool.

But honestly I don't know why swearing is so bad. Well I do. Here God is a pretty big cheese, a big enchillada in the sense that you don't mess with him. You can find yourself saying "Oh God!" or "Oh Jesus!" and some devout little pipsqueak might say, "We don't insult God like that!" I suppose you would have to respect God in the first place, but what if you don't and what if you think the whole history of Christianity is a bit of a blood bath what with the conversion of Anglo-Saxons the most bloody of all for Christian missionaries because paganism was so entrenched into the culture. The Saxons were one of the last Barbarian groups to be converted by Christian missionaries - mainly under the threat of death by Charlemagne.

And profane language is by no means a recent phenomenon. The Bible sometimes goes in for strong language, such as mention of men who "eat their own dung, and drink their own piss" in the Authorized King James Version of 1611's close translation of Hebrew text of 2 Kings 18:27. Shakespeare is full of vulgarisms, though many are no longer readily recognized. Even the oldest traces of human writing include swear words.

But the main argument against swearing is more about showing off that you're classy if you don't swear - that you can control the vast waves of anger swirling inside you without saying a cuss word. I know someone pretty pretentious - let's call him Niles - who was aghast at how not only had profanity become more acceptable in the United States but that women were getting in on it too. Whereas a few decades ago if one swore in front of a lady one might apologize, now the woman might laugh before coming back with a more pithy epithet. Plus women swear a lot more on screen like in movies like Bridesmaids. And then Niles went on to say that we were wasting too much time making bawdy, rude jokes, wasting time that could be spent dissecting literature, having pithy discussions about politics or simply composing non pornographic poetry.

Which made me want to swear more than anything.

There is nothing so relaxing as engaging in rude, politically incorrect banter down the pub or watching Ricky Gervais talking about animals' sex lives. And ask yourself this: do you feel pleasantly euphoric after you go and watch a worthy play about a Fish who thinks he's Barack Obama or read a literary non-fiction book about Bipolar Pygmies trying to make it in Hollywood? Do you enjoy plowing though a review of some exhibition showing ground breaking new work by some artist who makes things out of trash?

Of course you don't.

Don't you ever envy the so called unwashed, those who swear with impunity. While claiming to mock the 'chavs' don't programs like Little Britain actually make you want to be someone who simply did not care if you had a couple of extra chins, a couple of illegitimate kids, a diet consisting of spam and lard and an ability to use swear words in various creative means?

This is what I'm saying to the powers that be that look down on us Swearees. Where does all that anger go? If we are stuck saying Fudge! Sugar! and Knackwurst! the anger might still build up inside.

It seems to me that life for the middle classes is very tightly controlled. If you are seen taking your children to McDonalds on a regular basis you are in serious breach of food etiquette. There are so many things you have to be doing to fit in with the so called educated types.

I mean for crying out loud. Swearing is all we have left. And now that fundamental human right is being taken away from us!

And animals back this up. Chimps engage in what appears to be a kind of cursing match as a means of venting aggression and avoiding a potentially dangerous physical clash.

Frans de Waal, a professor of primate behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, said that when chimpanzees were angry "they will grunt or spit or make an abrupt, upsweeping gesture that, if a human were to do it, you'd recognize it as aggressive."

Such behaviors are threat gestures, Professor de Waal said, and they are all a good sign.

"A chimpanzee who is really gearing up for a fight doesn't waste time with gestures, but just goes ahead and attacks," he added.

By the same token, he said, nothing is more deadly than a person who is too enraged for expletives - who cleanly and quietly picks up a gun and starts shooting.

All of which has made me very depressed. Swearing, I think, is very good for you. But I still have to keep it buttoned.

What about you? What are you giving up for Lent?


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