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What the @*#!? I swear it’s not all bad

Talking Point | Published:

Best-selling author and Talking Point columnist Anouska Knight says swearing is not all bad

Swearing is not all bad

I have an admission to make.

Beyond my children’s fields of hearing, away from the sensitive ears of strangers or elderly relatives or general public, I am rather fond of that most unladylike of habits. . . swearing.

I swear through gritted teeth when I stub my toe on the bed.

Under my breath when my dog ignores me and takes off after something more exciting, or when the driver in front doesn’t bother thanking me for letting them pull out.

I am a swearer. Because frankly, sometimes only bad words will do.

There are some expletives I won’t use, those few exceptionally grotty ones that really would benefit from meeting with a bar of soap.

But usually, when either shock or horror calls for it, somewhere back there is a perfectly formed firecracker of a word just right for deployment.

A cuss to effortlessly convey my anger or fears or indeed jubilation in many instances, condensing those emotions into a crisp, concise bullet of an expression.

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That’s not to say I’m a fan of swearing, I’m not.

On a late night train, for example, or when walking that dog of mine, when the senses lone women have to take heed of are already heightened, it takes very little for the language of strangers to flag a warning.

It’s not that I’m jittery about being on my own.

In fact if I’m going to get stuck with a group of teenagers or adults effing and blinding I’d rather I was alone because if I’m with my mother or children, strangers swearing can quickly become overbearing and worse still, intimidating.

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Why the shift? The rationale is simple. If somebody won’t round the edges off their language while standing next to another person, what other behaviours might they allow to come sharp also? What else will or won’t they rein in?

These are the thoughts that fight their way through when enduring swearing strangers, despite rationalising that for many swearing is common language now and usually no harm is intended. I guess it all comes down to time and place.

It’s not called colourful language for nothing. Swearing can bring fantastic colour to expression. I was delighted to finally get the chance to watch Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri on a recent transatlantic trip.

A highly emotive film catastrophically ruined as a censored in-flight version peppered with appalling euphemisms presumably to spare travellers’ blushes.

Robbed of its most affecting language, the film didn’t work.

Sometimes only bad words will do. Despite this, I do tell my sons that swearing is for people who struggle to find smarter words.

I can’t go giving them any green lights at 12 and 14 years old. I hate the thought of ever hearing them swear, but I do hope they eventually get to squeeze as much enjoyment from a hilariously well-placed expletive as their father and I have over the years.

Good clean comedy warms the toes but humour, and language in general, would be very dull without the odd hot ember in the lap.

  • Anouska is a bestselling author of four novels, currently writing for Harper Collins.

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