Monday, January 23, 2012

I F$#&ing love swearing!

 I grew up with a father whose language was colourful,  to say the least (and hilarious, truth be told). When I was a kid, my sister and I had a “cuss box” where we made my dad put a quarter in every time he swore. We made a lot of money off it, while wearing our little clean-mouthed halos.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I started using swear words, and at first it was actually uncomfortable for me. In fact, I’m not sure when it became so comfortable for me to swear. My friends swear. I’ve always had a lot of “guy friends” and they swear a lot. When I started working, I found a lot of people swore in the office. I do know that when I got married, I had to learn to watch what I said around my straight-laced in-laws. Had a few embarrassing moments when things slipped out in front of them. Then when I had kids, I had to watch what I said even more. It actually wasn’t that hard, once the habit was broken.

As the kids got older, my tongue got looser. Then they learned swear words from their friends that I`d never heard of, LOL.

Now, I fucking love swearing!

So I was interested to learn recently that there are benefits to swearing. People need an outlet for strong emotions. It helps relieve stress, blow off steam. It can also help establish a group identity, express solidarity with other people, and express trust and intimacy (apparently mostly when women swear in the presence of other women). It can also add humour, emphasis or "shock value"(I’m particularly fond of that!) Also swearing when you’re in pain can apparently help you endure more pain. This is kind of funny, because the doctor who led the research into this got the idea for the study after watching his wife give birth to their daughter while swearing a blue streak while she pushed and pushed. 

I can relate to that.

Who hasn’t stubbed their toe and yelled out a resounding “FUCK!” Well, it turns out there’s a good reason for yelling out a swear word (or maybe a few!). It’s part of the “fight or flight” response. It’s aggressive, which helps reduce your sensitivity to pain.

What is it about certain words that can do that?

Swear words fall into different categories:

Deistic (related to religion): Jesus Christ! Oh my God!
Visceral (related to the human body and its functions): Fuck! Shit!
Relating to someone’s ancestry or parentage: Bitch! Bastard!

My most recently completed manuscript, One Man Advantage, features a heroine who is French Canadian. She`s fluently bilingual, but she swears in French. A lot of French swearing is the “deistic” type, which are curses against the Catholic church, for example: Mon ostie de saint-sacrament de c├ólice de crisse! You can’t even really translate that, it doesn’t make any sense. But it’s bad. Very bad.

Researchers have theorized that men swear to create a masculine identity and women swear to be more like men. I don’t know about that. I think I swear for the reasons above. I swear when I’m stuck in traffic and frustrated. I swear when someone pisses me off. I swear when I hurt myself. I probably would have sworn a lot while delivering my babies, but I was too conscious of the other people around. Now I know I should have, it probably would have helped the pain!
But it does seem more socially acceptable for men to swear than for women. In my writing, my characters swear but I do tend to have my men swear more, and more vulgarly, than my female characters. To me, this is how real people talk. A guy who says, “Oh darn,” or “oh fudge” just isn’t going to be realistic to me. My female characters swear too, because again, that’s realistic to me, but they swear in different ways and at different times. I’m more aware of my language when I’m with people I don’t know...I won’t swear in front of them. And certainly in business situations like meetings, and especially with clients, I don’t swear. And neither do my female characters. But my male characters might. And they do swear in bed.

My favourite swear word is the F word. It’s so versatile. So expressive. From “What the fuck? to “He’s fucking nuts” to “Fuck off” to “Fuck me” ― there are so many different ways to use it. But it has to be used in moderation. Otherwise, it loses its impact.

So what do you think? Do you swear? What are your favourite swear words?


Katie O'Connor said...

Yup, I swear. Waaaay more than I should. But, like you, I love it. It says things that ordinary words just don't convey.

My mother-in-law's favorite used to be pissy-fuck. Not sure what it means, but sometimes it just works. My father's favorite is cunt-and-cold-cabbage. Again, I have no idea what it means, but last week when I was driving, it jusst kind of slipped out.

Thank god my kids are all grown up and I don't have to watch what I say anymore.

Meg Benjamin said...

The real question is how to capitalize "deistic" swearing. The Chicago Manual of Style says not to capitalize god when you're not referring to the deity (i.e., when you're cussing), but I keep having critique partners who doggedly put those capitals right back in there.

Kelly Jamieson said...

Haha Katie I love those!! I might need to use them...

Meg, I know! I've gone back through older manuscripts with find and replace to change God to god, LOL.

Jeanette said...

I fucking love swearing, too. For the few disastrous years that I was a teacher, I had to try to stop swearing. All I really managed to learn to do was make substitutions, though -- freaking, sugar, and motherlover were staples.

Kate K said...

I give up swearing every year for lent, but it hasn't stuck yet. I have three sons who have a varied and comprehensive swearing vocabulary that they all attribute to their dear Mama. I guess I have to admit I love swearing too - maybe because I'm so good at it!

Kelly Jamieson said...

Good to know I'm not the only one!