Swearing: You're not going to b***** believe it but it is f****** good for you – Aidan Smith
They are moments mums and dads cherish. Remembered much later on a notable birthday or graduation. Possibly logged in a twee “memory book” but the truths it contains cannot be denied.
First smile. First words. First steps. First pee in a potty. First bike ride without stabilisers. And, just the other day in our house, having been told repeatedly to stop hitting his sister with the plastic sword given to him by an ill-advised choice of godfather, Hector’s first swearie utterance.
“Bloody hell,” said the soon-to-be-three-year-old. My wife scowled at me and I did the same back. “He’s got that from you,” I said. “Not this time,” she said. “I swear more than you, it’s true, and use ruder words. But that rather tame effort is one of yours.”
The Amazing Science of Bad Language
We tried not to laugh. That won’t go down well at nursery school. But it was funny. Funnier still was Hector’s follow-up: “Don’t worry, Mater and Pater, swearing is good for us. A new survey says it improves our mental health, helps coping with pain and problems. Indeed, a quarter of the UK is adamant that swearing helped with staying motivated during lockdown.”
Okay, I’m joking. Hector didn’t actually say this, though he’s a truly remarkable child, as you would discover if you were ever foolish enough to challenge me to a duel with memory books, not that I’m Competitive Dad or anything. But the survey is genuine, having just been published by women’s wellness app Clementine, and it’s not the first time swearing has been deemed e**ing brilliant.
Dr Emma Byrne has written a whole book on the subject: Swearing is Good for You – The Amazing Science of Bad Language. Swearing, she argues, “enlivens emotional discourse” and releases adrenaline.
Studies show that in the workplace it improves productivity and unity. More than any of that, Byrne contends that words which some would call uncivilised have actually kept us civilised. Without them, we would have had to rely on biting, gouging and throwing faeces to maintain social order. “I don’t think we would have made it as the world’s most populous primate if we hadn’t learned to swear,” she writes.
Improves productivity? In all my time in journalism, I think there’s only been one editor who made a habit of swearing, at least within earshot of the scribblers, but then he did swear enough for the other 19. Sometimes in his fury he couldn’t quite summon the right abuse. Unless it had been his intention that time to address the newsroom thus: “You’re .... you’re all … you’re all a bunch of monkey c***s!”
Putin’s ban on swearing
Perhaps there was method in his madness for Byrne reports that chimpanzees can swear. In a study where a group of primates were taught sign language, they quickly started to use the indicator they’d learned from
toilet-training any time they were angry.
My old boss, while he might himself have been toilet-trained, wouldn’t get away with that sort of thing now. A woke world wouldn’t allow it and he’d be sent away for “re-education”. And on Pravda he’d more than likely be fired.
A few years ago Vladimir Putin mounted a clampdown on foul language, banning swearing in films and plays and requiring novels containing offensive words to be sealed and sold with warnings.
Irvine Welsh managed to avoid swearing in expressing his outrage at the moves. The author of Trainspotting – with three instances of “c***”, one of “f***” and one “f*****g” on the first page of that book – called them “the thin edge of a really nasty wedge. They seem to be an attempt to erase and/or marginalise certain cultures – the working class, the ghetto and so on. Language is a living, organic thing. If you start to try and control that and prescribe what people say, the next thing is prescribing what they think.”
Posh people and Scots
To these at-risk groups, I would add posh people. They love a bloody good swear, snort at the suggestion this repudiates an expensive education and inherently believe that, really, nothing else but four-letter words will do when describing one’s approval of or frustration with: a balustrade, quince jam, the old Jaguar’s gearbox, the modern vicar’s hair extending over his dog-collar and – “Forsooth!” if not another word beginning with f – the comments box for the guided tour of the crumbling pile pointing up historical inaccuracies and requesting a rebate.
Scots make world-class swearers. As Frankie Boyle puts it: “In Scotland, the word ‘f*****g’ is just a warning that a noun is on its way.” There’s the aforementioned Welsh who swears hilariously on Twitter where he was recently ticked off by his energy supplier for using the f-word, only to hit back: “I’ll use the language I f****** see fit.” James Kelman is a lyrical swearer, as was Alasdair Gray.
Where would Billy Connolly be without swearing? The Thick of It wouldn’t have been funny as political satire if Malcolm F****r – sorry, Tucker – had to adhere to some pre-Priti Patel rulebook governing acceptable Whitehall language.
And then there’s Gordon Ramsay. The TV chef’s latest show, Uncharted, used the f-word 212 times. Side-orders of other profanities took the total to a whopping 257.
Is there anything wrong with this? Not really, and certainly not if swearing has been a stress-buster. Who can deny us our right to let rip in 2020: at the stir-craziness of lockdown, at governmental dithering, at castle-themed eyesight tests for the privileged few, at ill-judged boasts from Downing Street about world-beating this and gold-standard that, at Boris Johnson’s incessant Churchillisms, and last but not least at Matt Hancock’s sobbing without tears, this at least being world-beating?
As Hector so eloquently put it, “Bloody hell.”
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