If You Find Swearing Offensive - Don't
Snobbery Doesn't Equal Superiority
Nobody swears as fluently as a Glaswegian, though some of our Southern cousins may beg to differ. There are many different cultural and class expectations all around the world. Where I grew up, not swearing could earn you a skelp from the crab pot.
People raised in pretentious environments and dreadful social climbers sometimes need smelling salts to revive them at the utterance of a swear word. Interestingly however, true blue bloods are known to swear like fucking troopers. Aristocrats are not trying to scrabble up the social rungs, after all.
The Vocabulary And IQ Claim Debunked
Those vociferously opposed to the vulgar majority (I like to think of them as the Beige Brigade) will sometimes claim swearing shows a lack of intelligence or vocabulary. Indeed, Shakespeare and Chaucer, those inveterate fools, must have been doomed to swear because their feeble brains couldn’t fabricate the appropriate terminology.
Shakespeare, who invented hundreds of words still used today, was particularly fond of whoreson, a term I rather like feminist principles notwithstanding, because bastard is so overused in modern parlance.
Chaucer was a veritable feast of profanity, the likes of which would cause your posh uncle to lapse into a tizzy.
Studies have even concluded that those of us who swear may be more intelligent than the Beige Battalions.
I’m not claiming to be a modern-day Chaucer or Shakespeare, simply making the point that my lexicon is not limited, thus if I choose to swear with verve and vigour, it is indeed through choice, not a paucity of vocabulary.
Honestly, It’s Good To Swear
Swearing has also been shown to reduce pain, and some studies show that those of us who swear are generally more honest and more intelligent than those who indulge in linguistic snobbery.
As I alluded to earlier, I’m from Glasgow. Not only were we poor, we were really fucking poor. My mother didn’t swear, but that was by design. She’d learned that snobbery was rife while training to be a nurse, and altered her speech patterns to avoid censure by social climbers; she had to pretend to be a little less working-class than she was if she wanted to be taken seriously by those with the power to hire and fire. As a result, I was instructed not to swear, until I learned to ignore that direction as a means of self-protection.
Being a snob was possibly the worst sin in my peer group, and not swearing branded you as one. Snob was not a safe epithet in the valley of the square go. It was an absolutely normalised cultural expectation that we should swear. And not for lack of intelligence, of course. I dare you to claim that the Scots (as a race) are stupid. Hardy, stoic, creative and courageous, certainly. Perhaps somewhat battle-ready at times. Stupid, no.
Interestingly, the wider the gap in perceived status between swearer and receiver, the more offence is taken. If I swear at you, I’m behaving as though I consider myself your equal, one reason why those who are desperate to be thought of as a cut above become so offended by it.
This supports my opinion that claims of being offended by swearing are generally made by those who wish to be perceived as of a higher social class. Whereas those of us who just do what comes naturally are less affected and much more, well, natural.
Flex Your Reflex
Swearing is a perfectly harmless habit and simple reflex at times too. Just as some cultures queue politely, some gesticulate wildly, some are strict rule followers, and so on - so we swore. And we did it with panache. We used to joke that Glaswegians use swear words as a form of punctuation. Of course, even among my ain folk there was always a certain type of Scot determined to disdain the swearing majority. The self-important can’t be avoided in any culture.
Sometimes, like Billy, I swear for pith and moment, sometimes for comic effect, and sometimes I just fucking feel like it. As the Big Yin proposed, there is a certain poetry at times to a really good swear.
To Swear Or Not To Swear?
I don’t swear much in my writing or in general these days, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve travelled a bit, and my mode of communication has modified over the years. I’ve had to navigate new worlds, new class systems, new friendship circles. The odd swear word is accepted from my mouth by even the most disdainfully pretentious because I’m that strange and alien Scottish woman, but a lapse into abundant profanity might not have helped me in my work or social circles, or my children for that matter to navigate their world. It’s not worth testing the theory, for the most part.
I’ve worked in jobs where swearing was considered unacceptable, and if someone is paying my wages I generally follow their rules. And I want to reach as wide an audience as I can when writing, and am aware that some people look at a swear word and choose offence.
I have observed that the same sort of people who are completely content with the haves turning the have nots into starving serfs throughout the world are often those making a fuss about a string of letters placed in a certain order.
But my choice generally not to swear rather than be misunderstood by social climbers, simpletons and the determinedly offended in no way reflects a dislike of swearing, a fear of swearing or a misunderstanding of its purpose and place in the world on my part. Swearing is a pefectly valid means of communication.
Many Things To Many People
Swearing is many things, cultural, reflexive, a reflection of your upbringing and means to communicate your inclusion or lack thereof in a group, and it can also be a beautifully expressive way of making a point with urgent emphasis, a point you often simply cannot make with other words so effectively. It has been linked to lowering the pain you are experiencing, higher IQ, and some studies even say it can “enable the development of personal relationships among co-workers”.
While some may indeed swear due to a lack of vocabulary or intelligence, to make that assumption based on your own bias may mark you as somewhat dimwitted yourself. Worse, it shows that you have no understanding that your own cultural bubble cannot be extrapolated to the world at large. Your personal like or dislike of swearing is not a universal, and it is not defensible except as an opinion and personal choice.
To be frank though, some people just sound silly swearing, although I’d never tell them that. And I don’t judge people for not swearing; I mean, you can’t help your upbringing, can you?
The argument against swearing can be distilled down to this: “I personally don’t like it.” To which the only riposte required is “Well, I do.”
As my favourite Dr Who to date said: “There is no such thing as too much swearing. Swearing is just a piece of linguistic mechanics. The words in-between are the clever ones. “— Peter Capaldi
If you’re currently thinking how very vulgar I am, I’d like to thank you heartily, since the slight “vulgar” is generally reserved for use by the cheerless, drab and mean-spirited who hope to signal their superiority to the fetid proletariat, of whom I am unashamedly a member.
But it’s true that swearing is not for the social climber, faint-hearted or easily offended. So please, if you do hear swearing and just can’t cope, sniff the smelling salts, flutter the fan and go back to organising your collection of complaint letters.
We didn’t invite you to our bloody party anyway.
Wishing you, as always, fair winds and a following sea:
Alison Tennent, April 2021, Queensland, Australia.
Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.
Scottish by birth, bloodline & temperament, Aussie by citizenship Eclectic, passionate, something for everyone. Links to all my writing, PodCasts and videos here: