By Poorna Shetty
Swear words have been around since time immemorial (simply read a passage of Chaucer to turn the air blue). But, rather than an expression of anger, contemporary swearing seems to be
part of our everyday lexicon. A survey this year says Brits swear 14 times a day but, judging from the conversations on buses and tabletalk at dinner parties, surely that’s a tad of an understatement. Gordon Ramsay probably gets through that quota in the space of a minute.
We’d do well to heed an ancient Chinese etiquette handbook which advises: “Keep obscene or indecent language as a last resort”. This advice seems timely, especially since we’ve given four-letter words extra mileage, adopting them as adjectives and adverbs.
Increasingly, it seems, we swear in front of our parents or grandparents. Michele Hanson, Guardian columnist and author of Living With Mother, freely admits that she “swears like a madman” but is conscientiously trying to stop. “I would never have sworn in front of my mum, but my daughter used to swear at me all the time when she was a teenager. Unfortunately, she picked it up off me so, even though I tried to stop her, she’d blame me instead.”
My own mum, who would have gone ballistic had I sworn in front of her as a child, says that she can understand profanity if you’re angry at something (which seems to be the general consensus) but that in regular conversation indicates “a lack of control over your language” and “no respect for the person you’re talking to”.
Twenty years ago, swearing under stress used to be the norm, but Michele adds: “ I think everything is so much more stressful nowadays, more noisy and busy. That could be why we swear more.”