For the sake of our first-time readers, I will repeat myself: I used to live in Australia. I spent 1986 in Adelaide. I was eight years old. I recall meeting Kylie Minogue at the Royal Show, then just a budding star on the riveting Aussie soap, Neighbours. I remember we ate a lot of lamb and mint jelly. To this day, the taste of lamb puts me right back in the dining room of our little spider-infested bungalow in Flagstaff Hill. There are loads of memories of beaches and wineries, road trips and kangaroos. I even got the opportunity to cuddle a koala.
I also recall singing along to songs about farts.
In particular, Mick the Master Farter. In case you didn’t know, he put the art back into farting with his double-jointed arse.
When we moved back to Canada, we had many souvenirs, but none got near as much usage as the cassette tape of Kevin Bloody Wilson, the master musician behind Mick, the Master Farter. For the first couple of years back in the Great White North, the tape collected dust in the back of a drawer in my parents’ closet. Eventually, though, one of us stumbled across it, and we giggled as a family listening to Kev call Santa Claus the c-word.
A couple of days later, I played the tape for a friend, who begged me for a copy. She shared it with another friend who wanted a copy, and before I knew it, I was copying Kevin Bloody Wilson tapes for half of Richmond, BC. It spread like wildfire, and as you can likely predict, I eventually got in trouble. Apparently, other people’s parents weren’t so happy about their kids listening to some crude Australian fella shout about effing on first dates.
This meant, of course, my parents had to have a chat with me. If you knew my mom and Dad, though, you’d know this was just a formality to avoid the wave of growing outrage and to please the pearl-clutching moms and dads in the neighbourhood.
“So, you’ve been pirating Kevin Bloody Wilson tapes, huh?” My Dad asked.
“Well, Courtney, some people are upset about that.”
“You know pirating copyrighted material is illegal, right?”
“Yeah, but where else would we be able to get Kev tapes here in Canada, Dad?”
“That’s an excellent point. I tell you what, it should be illegal not to import that album.” He giggled. My Dad’s a giggler.
“But anyway, parents are upset because they think the music is rude.”
“That’s what I thought, hun.”
“Seems a silly thing to get upset about, a catchy ditty about farts.”
“It is a silly thing to get upset about, pork chop, but you know most parents have a stick up their arse.”
“I do, Dad.”
“So, maybe let’s just share it between the four of us, then, okay?”
“Yeah, pop it in right now!” My mom yells from the kitchen as she’s chopping up some veggies and before we knew it, we were all singing about Mick winning the rugby match with a grass-scorching ripper.
So, that’s where I got my attitude towards swearing from. Pretty blatantly obvious, then, I suppose.
As a person raised in a home like this, it’s never made sense to me why some people get their panties in a knot over specific arrangements of letters. To me, language has always been about intent. Words can and do hurt, but it’s only the intent behind them that causes it. It’s never the word itself. Consider these sentences:
“You look f*cking great!”
“You’re a f*cking jerk!”
Both sentences contain a word that would have the blue-hairs all a-tizzy, right? But only one includes the intent to injure. Even then, tone of voice is required to get what the speaker is truly saying.
And now, a thought experiment. Imagine, if you will, being voraciously hungry. Maybe you’ve been out scuba-diving all day and only snacked on granola bars and ginger tablets. Your hunger is out of control, and all you can think of is shovelling sustenance into your face hole. So, to eat, you find yourself a smorg. Right on the sign, it says, “all you can eat!”. I’ll make them regret they ever said that, you think to yourself and head inside.
With your stomach rumbling, you grab yourself a plate and head to the buffet case all a-glow with the amber haze of heat lamps and the first thing you see is a pile of boiled, overcooked potatoes. Pass. In the next vessel is a mound of peas so overdone they’re grey. Ick. No thanks. A step further and you’re standing in front of cabbage that’s had all of its cabbageness cooked so far out of it, you’d need a wormhole to get it back. The buffet goes on and on like this until you get to a pile of the crunchiest, crispiest looking fried chicken you’ve ever seen. I mean, this chicken is so glorious, you wonder if maybe Jesus himself battered it with god’s love and Emeril bammed it right in the fryer. Flecks of fresh paprika taunt you from within the chicken’s crust as you grab the tongs and your stomach groans so loud, you catch the attention of the server.“I’m sorry, ma’am, you can’t have that.” He says, snatching the tongs from your hands. “Why don’t you try some of our boiled quinoa and kale, instead?”
To me, the English language is a buffet like this. It’s full of words that will fill a belly, for sure. It’s gonna get the job done. But there’s a precious princess standing between you and the good stuff, the stuff that packs real flavour and texture. For the sake of feigned personal injury, one simply must not touch these words.
In short, people who don’t like it when I swear are saying, “Here you go, dear writer, lover of words and of invoking deep emotion with language, here you go. Have all the words you want. Pile your plate high with every word ever… except, of course, this handful of the most powerful ones. Those are off-limits because dumb stuff.”
And it is always stupid stuff. The reasons I’ve heard for poo-pooing the art of the cuss are:
1. It means you have a poor vocabulary. Which is, of course, as ridiculous as a Laveyan Satanist praying to god. It’s not that I don’t have the vocabulary to write, “My good man! Thy commode whiffs profusely of excrement.” It’s that “Dude, your can smells like sh*t” is more my style.
2. It’s unnecessary. My favourite take on this comes from the treasured Stephen Fry,
It’s not necessary to have colored socks. It’s not necessary for this cushion to be here. But is anyone going to write in and say, ‘I was shocked to see that cushion there! It really wasn’t necessary’? No. Things not being necessary is what makes life interesting.
3. “But what about the children?” When the delicate little doilies ask me this, I always respond, what about them? What about the children? I can say poop, kaka, excrement, feces and dung to them but somehow the word sh*t, which means precisely the same thing is going to corrupt their little minds and send them reeling through life on a road to drug-fueled self-destruction? Can you demonstrate the correlation here with facts and data, please? No? I didn’t think so, you witless, self-important lummox.
None of these reasons gets us any closer to understanding why we can’t eat the fried chicken. And so, until a good reason is given, my kids are freely able to swear at their leisure. Of course, I tell them to avoid it when in the company of people outside of our family. When my son asked why once, I explained,
“You know, kiddo. I wish I knew. I wish I knew why some people choose to go about their perfectly lovely day, basking in the sun, greeting neighbours and petting puppies and then allow that day to be spoiled after hearing someone utter one of the no-no words. I can’t really explain it to you, little dude, but if I had to guess, I’d say they don’t have enough to do. Their lives are empty and maybe they feel like life is meaningless and so they have to find some way to fill their day and give it meaning.”
I also explain that though the words themselves are harmless, words can still hurt when there is malicious intent behind them.
My kids are 10 and 17. Our policy on swearing has always been this way in our home. They’re pretty solid on the concept of what we mean vs. what we say. They are both kind, polite and lovely kids to be around.
My kids are free to express themselves at home in any way they feel fit, so long as the intent behind the expression is not to hurt. And so, sometimes, we sit down at the table, and the little one says,
“Hey Google, play Mick the Master Farter.”
And we laugh our way through dinner.
What do you think about swearing? Do you think we should avoid using swear words around kids? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!
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Image: Copyright Courtney Heard