06 Cuss Words: Who Gives a S**T
Picture yourself on a train. You’re at Paddington one seat back from a teenage couple straight out of Chav Central Casting. They are a polyester friction hazard, fairground rings, ta’oos galore, feet on seats, two screaming babies already pierced of ear. Reader, I trust I’m not offending any of your direct family.
Enter another couple. They are old, tweedy, gracious and travelling with their grandson to the West Country. Checking their tickets, they are confused to find their reserved seats occupied. When smilingly they inquire, what they get back from Chel and Wayne is: “Wot? You want me to move my fuckin famly? That’s a fuckin disgrace, that is.”
That’s pretty shocking, isn’t it?
What made it shocking was that the abuse was cross-generational. Because within generational groups there’s a whole lot of cussing going on. Take your random group of adolescents sitting together on a bus, swearing like wolves going to a spelling bee. Bless! They’re just being naughty with words. And they can’t believe their luck: most swearing helpfully involves either sex or bodily excretions. That’s a youngster’s dream, is that.
And how this relates to business is…?
What’s curiouser is that adults are becoming swearier too. Have you noticed? There’s a strange predilection among professionals these days to punch a point home using top-grade expletives a lot more often than strictly required. As if professional language just got puberty. I hear it in meetings as well as round the water cooler.
Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Swearing probably saves the NHS millions in psychotherapy bills. And if you can cuss cathartically like Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi’s superbly crazed spin doctor from The Thick of It and In the Loop) then more power to you inventive invective.
What should be condemned is the prissiness of the Daily Maelstrom and other shrieking red-tops in using asterisks to protect their readers from… well, from words. How patronising can you get? Do they think the spinsters of Great Bromley or Bagshot or St Andrews do not instantly recognise the word denoted by s**t when they see it? “Oh Agnes, according to Piers Morgan, turns out Simon Cowell is a pile of silt.” What are the chances?
So what is your advice, on balance?
Thank you for asking. On balance, my advice is probably to swear more. Last week here, I was banging on about the need to rid ourselves of cliché and to reinvigorate our language. Maybe cursing can help: the more you swear, the more the power of swearing diminishes through overuse, requiring us to think afresh and create new vocabularies.
Stupid idea? Well, gadzooks, Sir! Have you not noticed how overuse has moved us on from zounds – which, as a conflation of God’s wounds, was in Shakespeare’s day a vigorousy offensive phrase that drew gasps from even the hard-nosed denizens of Shoreditch?
Just don’t go stopping people in tweed from taking their seats on a train.
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NEXT FRIDAY 5 JUNE
PUNCTUATION: WHAT’S THE POINT?