The golden age of swearing – cussing, expletives and potty mouths

Swearing: apparently, it’s not big and it’s not clever.

But it can be ****ing funny, in context.

And that’s the problem with using the occasional swear word – when is it appropriate? Will your fruity use of cuss words endear you to the person you’re talking to and make them realise how straight-talking and down-to-earth you are, or will it make them think you’re an ill-educated oaf? It’s very hard to tell.

I’ve had a varied career in swearing. I was quite a twee child, brought up in an environment where one definitely didn’t swear – ‘bloody hell!’ was about as hardcore as it got. As a teenager, when you’d assume you’d be as potty-mouthed as you’re ever going to be, I can remember feeling uncomfortable using these unfamiliar words that my fellow school children peppered their conversation with. Somehow it just didn’t sound right coming from my 13-year old lips, despite being surrounded by kids who would routinely replace every other word with the F-bomb.

As I got older, and realised what a toffy-nosed, briefcase-carrying arse I was, I began to swear more. It became easier. It fitted the new me and by the time I got to the sixth form, I was no stranger to the odd expletive.

Then I went to university – the place where the uncool and the social inept go to reinvent themselves and become ‘windswept and interesting’, to steal a phrase from Billy Connolly, a man for whom swearing is such a natural part of his vernacular that you don’t even really notice it as swearing – it’s just how he talks, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, university… everyone swears when they’re a student. Well, at least they do at the kind of university that I went to – an ex-polytechnic in a suburban town as far removed from the hallowed halls of Oxbridge as it’s possible to be. Swearing, when you’re a skanky, ill-at-ease student trying to impress, is almost a badge of honour. Effing and jeffing, as your granny might call it, is absolutely required to maintain any semblance of street credibility, even if you’re just describing how early your seminar on early 20th century philosophy is starting: ‘****ing hell, man!! It ****ing starts at 9am!! That’s like totally, ****ing scandalous. What a bunch of ****s!’, you might say, whilst wearing your hip band t-shirt of choice.

But university is over before you know it, and suddenly you’ve entered that most terrifying of places: the world of work. Now, there are lots of different kinds of work that a self-respecting student of swearing could end up doing. But very few of these career paths base a lot of emphasis on the individual’s ability to loudly shout expletives on cue. Maybe in the more earthy environment of a building site or the armed forces, this could be a winner, but in a general office environment – and let’s face it, that’s where most of us poor souls end up in the 21st century – it’s generally frowned upon to be a swearer par excellence.

One of my first post-university jobs was working in the head office of a high street recruitment agency, in their temporary payroll department. As you can imagine, this was a thrilling vocation and not in the slightest mind-numbingly tedious and awful. I found talking to irate temporary workers who had been issued with the wrong tax code to be quite a stressful experience, and would routinely end the conversation by banging the phone down and using a few choice swear words to express my dissatisfaction with the rudeness of Mr Jenkins in Hull. For me, it was a release, a way to externalise the frustration of the job in a safe and effective way. But strangely my manager didn’t feel the same – I was pulled into her office to be told that my language wasn’t acceptable and was offensive to the more sensitive members of the payroll team – so, not so cool to swear any more. Bugger!

And this is pretty how it goes – the older you get, and the more responsible your job gets, the less it seems to be acceptable to have a dirty mouth on you. When you, or your immediate group of friends, start having babies, this becomes even more the case – even a casual use of ‘that was shit!’ within earshot of the kiddies is viewed as worse than pissing on the Queen Mother’s grave by people who ten years before would have happily dropped the C-bomb in polite conversation.

But, there are times when you can really let rip with the swearing, usually at events when the children are being babysat, or the boss isn’t present, or granny has already gone to bed. And, as with all things, dropping a casual ‘swear’ when you have been the epitomy of politeness and social etiquette for the preceding week feels all the more powerful. Less can really be more in the swearing stakes.

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