Does swearing show a lack of vocabulary?

Fuck. Bollocks. Dick. Twat. Knob-jockey. Shit. Wank. This list represents, for about half of Impact’s readership, 75% of actual used vocabulary in Nottingham. However, other readers, more than some may anticipate, may have been in shock or even fainted upon reading the beginning of this article. Along with inappropriate jokes and nudity, swearing is a major social taboo. Have you ever felt the awkwardness of an unwanted swearword in a pleasant conversation? There you are, sitting in a room talking amongst people and sharing jokes. You become a little jollier, get a bit too confident and say ‘you fucking dickhead!’ after someone makes a social faux-pas. Silence. It might seem strange to consider, but swearing has the potential to kill a conversation faster than talk about stamp collecting.

In my first week at University, having settled in after a couple of days, I quickly resumed the use of my normal lexical field. Bit of ‘shit’ here, a bit of ‘fuck’ there, ‘I’m myself again,’ I thought. However, I then faced two bizarre incidents regarding my language. Firstly, a friend described me as ‘vulgar’ and as having a filthy mouth. It might seem strange, but this only offended me temporarily; I figured, I don’t swear every other word, just when I think it is appropriate – ‘maybe she’s complimenting me on my impeccable humour?’ I thought with much delusion. It is the second incident that I found more offensive. Again, I was swearing away, quite comfortable in my surroundings, only to be stopped mid-sentence by this: ‘I think people who swear show they have such a limited vocabulary’. How fucking dare you! That was it; having been an A-Level English Literature student, and, to a degree, proud that I don’t constantly spurt out sentence fillers such as ‘like’, I was offended. What ensued was a thirty-minute argument as to the validity of the other’s point of view. However, it did make me question my beliefs: did I have a limited vocabulary? And, more importantly, is it inappropriate to swear altogether?

First and foremost, it is essential to state a few preliminary thoughts: excessive swearing, swearing when it is not required, or when it is patently inappropriate is not being advocated here. When a swear word is used as an adjective, but not for emphasis (for example, ‘the fucking doctor told me the other fucking day’) it is clearly gratuitous and, if anything, makes any future use of the word lose any meaning. I would be the first to admit that swearing can be crude and vulgar and that it has a time and a place. However, that is the thing that should be stressed: that it does have a time and a place. Those who deny it a worthwhile existence are either being too frigid or are overlooking where it can be effectively used.

I would vouch that swearing has, as a minimum, two purposes. Firstly, it is a means of venting anger and reducing pain. Picture the scene: you’re walking along, carry heavy folders in your arms, when, all of a sudden, you stub your toe on a piece of pavement that is jutting out. ‘Fuck!’ I believe, would be most people’s immediate reaction. Anyone who says ‘oh, fiddlesticks!’ is equivalent to ‘oh, fuck!’ is lying; whilst it is not scientifically proven, I would bet that people who let out a good ol’ fashion swearword find pain relief arrives more quickly than those who do not. In general, swearing is a release; it allows somebody to express themselves in an appropriate way. ‘Fuck’ means ‘my computer crashed, I’ve done 1000 words of my dissertation, and I didn’t save it…’ ‘Fiddlesticks’ describes a situation where you have bought diet Coke instead of regular Coke. At the very least, swearing gives certain words you say, and situations you describe, emphasis, and, in some instances, it is the only appropriate means of expressing how one feels.

Secondly, swearing makes things funnier, something many comedians would concur with. Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Peter Kay, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy would not have received the acclaim they have if they delivered every punch line with ‘bloody’ and not ‘fucking’. Equally, a reply to a heckle is not as satisfying if it is said with some quaint, inappropriate, correctly enunciated words, such as ‘damn you, good sir’. If swearing were to be made redundant, countless hours of laughter would be lost, and one would have to find a “higher”, more proper means of entertainment, one which would not allow the majority of people the opportunity to get a cheap laugh, such as swearwords provide.

Whilst social analysts may point to swearwords as being the beginnings of the breakdown of modern society, one can still have manners, which are far more important in maintaining respect between people, and yet still indulge in a mild, and in some cases strong, expletive and profanity. On the contrary, far from having a limited lexicon, the swearers of society have an argument that they are the ones who can express themselves fully and fittingly in any situation, and those who refrain from “turning the air blue” are the ones that that are limiting the breadth of their expression. If all else fails, just remember the words of Ambrose Bierce: ‘take not God’s name in vain; select a time when it will have effect.’ Essentially, don’t swear all the time, because you will look uncouth. Nevertheless, swearing when the moment is right? Fucking priceless.

By James Adams-Pace

9 Comments on this post.
  • Vanessa Anne Esi Brown
    17 February 2009 at 18:16
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    Absolutely classic. You should write more! x

  • Warll
    26 February 2009 at 08:00
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    I’m not the one who stubbed their toe, why should I have to listen to you swearing? Anyway why not just express your self in words? A “that doctor I felt was out of line with his *Wildcard*” is much more informative then “That F*** Docter!” As for jokes, maybe a joke that needs a swear isn’t all that funny.

    • heysus
      22 July 2014 at 23:00
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      ProTip: Walk away if you don’t want to hear it. “Fuck” IS a word! Don’t get bent out of shape about it. In fact, all swears are literally just a word, and a part of the English vocabulary (or any language, for that matter). I mean really, I could say what a puritanical, persnickety, prissy prude you are, or how you’re a pretentious prig, but it bugs the hell out of me when people try to make themselves look smarter by using a complicated-sounding word when a simpler one will do. Vocabulary alone is not a marker of intelligence.

  • Felidire
    28 May 2009 at 06:42
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    @As for jokes, maybe a joke that needs a swear isn’t all that funny.

    Maybe you just have a dry sense of humor.

  • The Deliverer
    29 May 2009 at 00:18
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    Swearing is bloody brilliant!

  • Helen
    22 July 2009 at 21:41
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    I just broke up with a guy that swore all the time. I got tired of listening to it and it just got old. I personally felt it brought a negative tone into the relationship and pulled me down. I have heard that people who use profanity tend to be insecure and when they use it, it makes them look important.
    I do agree with Adams-Pace, there is a time and place when it is appropriate, but not all the time. I feel people who swear need to definitely be respectful to the ears of others around them and just know when it is suitable to let those four letter words fly!

  • MR C
    21 March 2010 at 06:25
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    You cannot beat the word CUNT!

  • Richard
    21 September 2010 at 22:19
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    Comedians listed above like Frankie Boyle constantly swear in their jokes to be funny, which shows no creativity or imagination, where as comedians like Tommy Cooper didn’t have to swear because they was genuinely funny.

  • I R Itated
    24 August 2014 at 17:30
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    What a self congratulatory load of ******* ( insert appropriate profanity) ..
    The writer has no concept of appropriate use of English only that those who object to his less than acceptable diction are frigid, which has nothing to do with the fact. He misses the point that others judge us by our command and use of language.. A level English he may possess, but this only proves how poor the education he received actually was. Writing this pathetic essay clearly reinforces this fact , no doubt he has joined the ranks of graduates who feel that the acquisition of a degree entitles them to well paid employment regardless of suitability or experience, and thus will languish on benefits , ensuring that they newer pay off the fees incurred; using profanities to blame everyone but themselves.

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