Friday, 6 March 2009

Speech

Okay, okay, time to 'fess up. I've been a tad naughty.

On commenting on my favourite Social Worker's blog, here, I used colourful vocabulary. I shouldn't have. Her "Comment Policy" even says :
"4. No swearing/bad language"
Although in fairness I never read it before today. Ooops.
Quite rightly, she's ammended my comment so it's clear what I said, but it's not obviously offensive. I feel suitably chided and won't sully her splendid blog with my base vulgarity again. Sorry, CB.

It did get me thinking, though.

I don't comment on people, often. It's not something I feel comfortable doing. The only people I comment on are folk I know very well. Whether it's to say they're a good person or a caring person or a loyal friend, or whether it's to say they're scatty or self centred or ruthlessly assertive, such comments can only be made on folk we know inside out.

I do comment on behaviour often. Someone may be a good or not so good person, which I can't know so can't comment on. But their behaviour, as Tolkein's Faramir would say, is a chance for a man to, "show his quality."

On this basis, I felt wholly justified and reflexively commented that, on considering a suitable description of Ed Ball I opted for, "I’d try for, “behaving as an utter cunt.”"

I have my quirks and foibles. One of them's language. I'm pretty easy going and am not seeking to change how other folk use language. I've no crusade. My use of language is often far from perfect. My schooling was in a local comp by a massive deprived housing estate; nuances of grammar were eclipsed by teachers' desire for us to simply write in something less troublesome than someone elses blood. So it's simply a personal position that I see careless, sloppy, wildly inaccurate use of language as "bad" language and see colourful/swearing as simply part of vocabulary to use when sought.

It's not often I swear, in truth. But I see such words as helpful interjections. Almost by definition, such interjections are exclamations and inherently have an exclamation mark. Thus they're useful if, like exclamation marks, they're scattered occasionally to succinctly reinforce a point.

My wife chides me over this. Brought up on a diet of Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolfe and the like, she doesn't like me using such words. And I'm not so bold as to frustrate the will of my wife. I curtail my use of colourful language in her good company. When it was in vogue in the '90s, she went to the theatre to see "The Vagina Monologues" with some female friends. She relayed how the audience had been challenged to see female words, like cunt, as positive. A bloke on the street shouts out, "You utter cunt!" The woman's response should be to beam radiantly and visibly cherish this, replying "Oooh, thank you!"

Reclaiming words. This appeals to me. A bit like mental health stigma, I like to believe we can reclaim unfashionable words to use them helpfully.

She's still mortified to hear the word cunt. I shall endeavour to behave better.

7 comments:

cb said...

I feel a bit bad now for editing! I wasn't remotely offended but I felt after having put up a comments policy, I really should be consistent.

The comment policy came about after a hideous stream of abuse aimed at social workers in general - and me too (although I have to say, I am particularly unbothered by anonymous hate as it is extremely easy to depersonalise!) after my site seemed to have been posted into a forum for some rather extreme group that seems to spend all their time finding accessible social workers to be abusive towards.. and I don't like arbitrary censorship so that's why I put up a 'policy'!

Lola Snow said...

I have a friend who is so appalled by the use of (as she puts it) "The C Word" that she corrects everyone to replace it with the word "Coat". Usually when referring to her ex-husband who smashed her house in, and then her face in, whilst her two kids hid in the bedroom cupboard.

I am so acustomed to using the word "Coat" in it's place now, that I have spread the word amongst many of my friends, and it is an endless source of amusement when talking with people who have no knowledge of the replacement. ie "Gosh that's a lovely warm coat you have" or "Gee my coats dripping wet"

In a way she has made the word "Coat" so rude now that I struggle to use it. Such small things get me through the day. :)

Lola x

Tainted_Halo said...

The use of swear words is a valid part of the English language used to express emotively.

And only a coat would think otherwise.

PhD scientist said...

For some reason this post puts me in mind of the sociologist Basil Bernstein and his work on "elaborated and restricted codes" of speech. This was certainly a theory that primary school teachers used to get taught about... wonder if it appears in social work and medical sociology curricula? I would be curious to know.

PS I have a small personal interest, as when I was a kid Basil Bernstein was our next door neighbour.

Milk and Two Sugars said...

Ooo, I feel the same way about off-limit words! Chosen carefully and in context, they're so perfectly expressive.

On the subject of that particular word, I'll defend it as a good Anglo-Saxon word, along with 'cock' and 'fuck' and, say, 'foot' and 'cow' and plenty of others with a strong harsh vowel. They appeal to us as English-speakers in a very basal manner; it's almost like they speak to the hind-brain. As always, they become offensive dependent on the context in which they're used.

HM said...

I love reading totally unsanitised opinions littered with swear words provided the content is intellectualy valid. Raw opinions punctuated with swearing works, and should not be censored just because it might offend a readership.

That is why I am a subscriber to your blog.

LSNDuck said...

With regards the substitution of words, an acquaintance once held the view that such changes were every bit as bad as swearing, and in some ways worse because of the hypocrisy involved.

If you are going to use an expletive it, do it. If you don't want to use one, then don't. Don't faff around in the middle trying to pretend that the word you use changes the emotions you are feeling or the view that you hold.

I don't entirely agree with that view, but it is one that I have a lot of sympathy with.