The other day I came across the results of a survey into attitudes towards swearing. You may have seen it too. For the most part the results did not strike me as particularly surprising, though some of the conclusions drawn from those results certainly did. I just wondered if it was me ploughing another lonely furrow or if they might strike others the same way.
Here are the basic findings - or as many as were reported in the article I read. I hope I have not misrepresented any, though some conclusions did strike me as a little inconsistent:-
90% of British adults admit to swearing every day.
Those who don't are too fearful to challenge those who do.
The average Briton swears 14 times a day.
90% of adults are no longer fazed by the use of expletives.
Only 8% of adults are offended by swearing in an adult context.
Nearly everyone of the 2,319 individuals polled has sworn in anger.
My immediate reaction was that there was (in the report I read) no indication of what was meant by swearing. It may be thought that this can be taken as read, but I know from my previous experience of talking to pupils' parents, for example, that there is often great division of opinion on this score. Complain about a pupil's language and father might say something like: Ow come on, that's not swearing! and mother might but in with: Of course it is! What did I tell you! There might be great division of opinion as between Damn and blast!, bloody hell! B****r! and F***!
Neither was any distinction made between, for example, swearing at another person and swearing at an inanimate object -This car's a bloody nuisance! and You're a bloody nuisance! This seems particularly relevant as many of the inferences were drawn by members of, or those associated with, the Campaign for Courtesy
The word Only before the 8% seems like an attempt to prejudge the issue. Here are few reactions:-
The influence of T.V. was cited by many critics (of what? Not explained) who want the government to intervene (community service or ASBOs for swearing, perhaps?)
Esther Rantzen (patron of The Campaign for Courtesy) said: Everybody would agree that there is too much swearing on television.
John Beyer (of Mediawatch U.K.): This sort of language is damaging our culture. Also: Children as young as four, five and six are copying it, and it is undermining our language.
My immediate reactions to these comments were firstly that I do not hear a lot of swearing on T.V. I know there is one chef who infamously rattles off the F-word like it's coming from a machine gun, but I do not watch that programme - as it happens. Maybe I just watch the wrong (or the right!) programmes.
The whole thing seems to be getting very close to saying that everybody swears and everybody agrees that nobody should.
During its long(ish) history there have been many attempts by Governments, committees and others to rein-in. improve or straight-jacket it by creating an academy, French style, to produce a (the) correct version of the English Language. None has succeeded. Neither, given the spread of English across the globe and the uses to which it is put, do I think any ever will. It has always gone its own way. Certainly just now I think the Government probably has enough to keep it busy for a bit.
What is and what is not a swearword is largely a matter of fashion. The F-word has been a perfectly acceptable word in its time, one used in polite company. Maybe by proscribing words as being socially taboo we encourage their use at the expense of a greater variety of vocabulary. It is very noticeable that those who swear a lot tend to have a much restricted word pool to draw upon. To that extent swearing impoverishes the language.
I think maybe that by setting out to react to the individual remarks I have over-complicated the issues involved. What we really need now is some of your laser-like comments to cut through the crap!
Before I leave the subject, however, here is a find I cannot resist including:-
BRITISH celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay almost made it through his first Australian press conference without swearing.
That was, until he dropped the large swear jar he'd just been presented with to help curb his potty mouth.
"Oh shit," he muttered, as the glass bottle smashed on the ground.
The 41-year-old chef was the special guest at the launch of the BBC Australian Good Food magazine at the Sydney Convention Centre today.
He has come under fire from a senate committee which has proposed changes to broadcasting standards thanks to his expletive-ridden outbursts.
Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi complained one episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares contained "the F-word" 80 times in its 40 minutes.
His self-control came undone when food writer Lyndey Milan presented him a special gift.
"We're not all wowsers, we do sometimes swear," Milan said.
"So mate, this is a great Aussie tradition, it's a swear jar.
"Every time you swear, you've got to put something in there - money."
The swear jar lasted less than 20 seconds.
I have also, in my researches come across studies which conclude that swearing is a valuable way to relieve work place stress - though I must say that it doesn't seem to work for Gordon! If true, would that justify the practice? Does it even need justifying?
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