Thursday, October 12, 2006

arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks

The Devils Kitchen periodically releases a roundup of swearing blogs. These are blogs which not only use lots of profane language, but also, in general abuse the great and good of our world. Check it out for a lot of sweary gorgeousness.

Now, in normal speech with my friends, I swear as much as the next man (nsfw), and despise our leaders as much as any good card-carrying anarchist. However, I don't generally use profanities when I write. The Devils Kitchen made me wonder why not.

For example, the word 'fuck' is probably the most versatile word in the English language. There's a splendid academic paper on it here.

'Cunt' is even older; the prefix 'cu' being described as an indo-european expression of 'quintessential femininity' by the lexicographer Eric Partridge. It's thought to be the root of words like queen, cow, quim, cwm and cirque. There's a nice article about it here.

Every culture, every language has it's own swearwords, commonly related to sex, elimination, or religion. There's an interesting case study about translating the filmic profanity in South Park to Spanish here.

We censor not only a depiction of the thing, but also its name. It's as though we weren't even allowed to say the word 'Murder' because murdering people is bad and had to resort to some sort of euphemism.

So why is it that these versatile, ancient words shock some people? Why do many adults refrain from swearing in front of their children, when we know that every child over the age of 10 knows them all anyway? Why do we censor our films and TV, and occasionally even get imprisoned for swearing?

I appreciate that it's an irrational cultural taboo, but it still seems strange to me.

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