I Swear

As a child I was sheltered from the adult world in many ways. One part, to which I returned this week was swearing and what one might describe as Oaths, Ancient and Modern.

During my primary school years, I became aware of swearing though it was mild by today’s standards. The worst swearing imaginable was to insert ‘bloody’ into a sentence such as: ‘That’s bloody ridiculous.’

Dad also had problems with ‘damn’. And he squirmed if either the Archaeologist or I said ‘Oh God.’

Being told ‘Don’t swear,’ if we used these words was pretty common the older we got. The hypocrisy too as he wasn’t able, as was mum, to control his language under strain. But then again it was a time of don’t do as I do, do as I say.

As for the F and C words? I couldn’t have guessed what they might be, back then. Flipping? Cripes? Possibly the C might be a bit more blaspheming in a dad’s eyes: Oh Christ! That was a no no. So what could be worse than that?

I turned two corners in my early teenage years, in terms of language.

First, when my Uncle un-emigrated from Australia. I remembered my uncle and aunt from the early sixties but only snippets. They had a car before mum and dad. They loved picnicking. And uncle sang ‘There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…’ with lots of actions, just for me.

Then they decided to try their luck as ten pound poms, or whatever scheme was in place. When they returned, ten years or so later, they brought my two cousins. My first cousins, two lively super blonde girls of about six and four. We met at my gran’s in Kent and that first day is memorable for a walk to the shops. My aunt had us play a game of not treading on the edge of the pavement. When my cousin lost her balance and crossed a crack, her response shook me.

‘Oh bloody hell!’ She was about six.*

(* my cousin, however, denies this. Of course she does. She has the same, or similar, genes, the same instinct to snobbery as me).

I looked at my aunt. She smiled back at me. It didn’t matter. It was just a word.

I’m not sure how I processed this. But I’m pretty sure, after that, I wasn’t so intimidated by the power of language.

And the second thing? Chaucer. Studying English literature was eye opening. His language was… erm, earthy? Extraordinary? And we were being taught about it as if it was normal. No longer would the C word be cripes…

The power of language is extraordinary. So many words are used to hurt, to control, to embarrass, to belittle. But of course, it’s not the word itself, but who’s using it and to what end. Watching the Hoffman film on Lenny Bruce in the 70s had a strong impact. Since then I’ve been cautious about those who try and dictate what language I can use. I understand some words have been made to carry associations that give them a power over and above others. I am happy to abide by the cultural norms, if otherwise it would cause offence. They will no doubt change as they have changed before in my time.

But swearing? Nope, I enjoy it too much to stop now.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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43 Responses to I Swear

  1. George says:

    Lenny Bruce is brilliant on swearing as is Billy Connolly when he talks about trying to stop and losing the ability to express anything with bite or passion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. joylennick says:

    Hi Geoff, An emotive subject to be sure…Brought up in the thirties and forties, you will appreciate the mixed mores and reactions to swearing in my childhood *plus being a GOOD? CATHOLIC…My own father was a contradictive man, in that he was quite an academic, while being a Waterman on the River Thames /plus an airman in the two big wars…Say no more. My gentle Mum let out the odd Damn or Blast and might have said “Bugger the Germans” in WW 11, but that’s where it stopped. I had three brothers, but they were also discouraged from blaspheming. Fast forward too many years…An acquaintance bought one of my books, and said: “I do hope there’s no swearing in it!” “Well,” I replied :”There are three murders committed, so what do you think?” She frowned and tutted, and still bought the book, but I never saw her again… x

    Liked by 3 people

    • TanGental says:

      Yes this mirrors a lot of experiences! My dad’s letters to my mum from 44 to 48 which I found have no swearing but a lot of euphemisms. I Imagine, in barracks things were different.

      Like

  3. trentpmcd says:

    When I was a teen, I was at a friends house. He used the F-word and his mother told him not to swear. He said, “Mother, the Bible says not to take the Lord’s name in vain. i didn’t. i said ‘Fxxx.’ According tot he Bible, I didn’t swear.” My jaw dropped, but we left before she could come up with a response…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. willowdot21 says:

    When we were all small swearing was a definite no no! I tried to instill this with the boys too. But then it did become more normal, acceptable even … It’s only Anglo Saxon after all?
    My Dad ,though deaf used to blanch if we even dropped our Hs and being taught by nuns we had to watch our Ps and Qs, eventually I rebelled.
    We looked after the grandchildren over the weekend they stayed with us. I am not sure what we were talking about but our eight year old grandson confided in us that he new a very bad word that began with F. but he “couldn’t possibly repeat it! ”
    I do hope he’s not met Morgarna!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ThingsHelenLoves says:

    I’m quite easy going when it comes to colourful language as long as it’s in context and justifiable. I don’t like hearing profanity used as a filler. Is that Dungeness in the picture?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      It is! Circa 1965. Not changed much mind! And I agree. Swearing is meant to be impactful so to use it as a commonplace just lacks imagination. Mind you have you seen that amazing section in the Wire where they only use the F word . Funniest thing

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Swearing was a huge no-no when I was growing up, too. My Dad would occasionally swear and Mom would jump on him. Now kids fling words that were anathema then around like common nouns. THe Army in particular, as I’ve learned from my son, uses the f— word every third or fourth word. And that’s the friggin’ truth!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Darlene says:

    I was raised by a cowboy so swearing was an everyday occurrence. Mom didn’t like it but she swore at us in German, thinking that was Ok. I took my grandchildren to the videostore (remember them?) They chose a movie and took it to the counter. The fellow said, there’s some swearing in this movie. My ten year old granddaughter said, “I’m sure it isn’t worse than what we hear at home.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Erika says:

    The tolerance for swearing in its level has changed dramatically only in the past 40 to 50 years that I can remember.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was raised in a no swear zone. Unfortunately, I fell into bad habits. Like you, I’m not changing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. petespringerauthor says:

    One of the funny anecdotes I like to tell along these lines was when one of my second-graders reported to me that another student was using the “s” word. The one reporting was an honest kid, but it seemed totally out of character for the accused. Somewhere along the line, I realized what was lost in translation was that the reporter had a different interpretation of what the “s” word was.

    I didn’t want her to say the word aloud in class, so I asked her to either tell me what she was referring to in private or write it down. I had difficulty not laughing when I unfolded the paper and read her “s” word—shut up. 🤣

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jennie says:

    The last paragraph sums it up. Well said, Geoff. Bloody well said!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Suzanne says:

    My youngest brother’s way of shirring up his siblings was to emphasise the letter F. He would eventually yell out fudge and not the other F word as we expected. We all wanted him to swear so we could tell on him. Another “what were we thinking” moment. Annoyingly Mum thought it was funny; what can I say? She had five children under 7, and a sense of humour was vital.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Not too long ago, my sister Elizabeth said “I have only ever heard you use that word twice – both when you were struggling with that BT problem on the phone”

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Widdershins says:

    I’m fond of my swear-vocabulary too. 🙂

    Like

  15. When I’m at the end of my tether and need the big guns the swear words come out. My first experience of swearing was in my first term at school when a boy called me a dirty bucket. I was amazed at how cross the teacher was. Years later I realised what he had actually said!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. My upbringing was similar to yours, Geoff, and I still cringe when I hear people blaspheme even though I’m not particularly religious (we are cultural Christians according to my sons). I still feel like a bad girl if I use swearwords although, as I’m not a saint, occasionally they do slip out.

    Liked by 1 person

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