Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Expletive

I used a very bad word at work today. I used it with a coworker who has also been known to use bad words (and yes, he has a higher-ranking job title). But my bad word was very bad. And he didn't like it. I felt ashamed when he went "Hey, come on now." I berated myself for using the bad word all day. In fact, I'm blushing now. Not because I used it, but because he was offended.

But apart from feeling bad for offending someone, I wondered if I should feel bad for swearing. Yes, the word was atrocious. But nobody likes it when a woman swears. Men can drop f-bombs all day but the second a woman does, particularly that one, she's vulgar. I find that double-standard to be disgusting.

So this week's Word Up is expletive. Because although I love swearing, I won't print the words here on the blog for a variety of reasons that I'll have to examine in detail later. Some of you use the f word on your blogs, and I salute you for that freedom. But those of you who do, apart from one, also don't use your real names. Does that have anything to do with it?

Expletives are interesting. Wikipedia says they are "a term in linguistics for a meaningless word filling a syntactic vacancy." I've always thought that expletives are a lazy way of expressing emotion. A clever person should come up with a less common way -- a more creative way -- to describe the emotion. But expletives are interesting because there's a whole morality tied up in them, too. We don't want our children using expletives. I called something a "frickin'" something today and the whippersnapper starting saying "frickin.'" We were not pleased (although secretly I was a bit). Women are vulgar when we use expletives. Expletives don't belong in polite society.

I'll give you that if people are offended by expletives, then we should be sensitive to that, but I don't know that I buy any of the other above points (although I still don't want my whippersnapper using expletives, but probably because he can't judge for himself whether it's appropriate).

So maybe I shouldn't have used the expletive today that I did. (It's the worst one). I'll certainly try (harder) to watch my mouth, especially at work. But I defy myself to feel bad about it, because I don't agree on a fundamental level that it's really wrong. Just a lazy word for expressing passion. (In my case, a passionate anger over an evil and stupid person. Okay, that sounds horrible. But that's how I felt at the time.)


What do you think about women using expletives, about the fact that they're taboo, and about using them in your writing?

And the word? Check the picture, liberated with compliments to Failblog.org. Last night I teased some of you on Twitter about it. There. Now you know. Does that change things?

18 comments:

Gemma Noon said...

A couple of us had a debate over the use of the c-word (I'm being good here because I know it offends peple)a few years back.

The general feeling was, yes it's a taboo word, but then the feminist side of us all came out, and we couldn't figure why the f-word - which implies a rough act that is inflicted (particularly if you read the Handmaid's tale just prior to this convo) is more acceptable. You can say stuff like cock and dick without people being seriously offended, but use the c-word, and they get all annoyed at you. Go figure.

I try not to swear, but do. I swear on my blog too but not too often, I hope. I try not to unless I'm hacked off. If you use sewaring like punctuation then it loses meaning, and since I can't speak in emoticons, I try and keep it for times when I'm so annoyed about something I really can't be bothered to think up an eloquent way to express my rage. I don't swear infront of my son for much the same reason as you - he wouldn't know the context. I also live in fear of his first words being, "oh for f*@k's sake!"

I think you do have to make cultural allowances as well, though. My Canadian relatives swear a lot more easily than my family do. The kids I grew up with effed and blinded without knowing what the words meant. I swear very easily, but only the words I grew up with. My mum doesn't swear at all. In fact, when she tries, it just sounds silly, kind of like "faahhck".

SO I guess, after that long essay there, my answer would be that I don't like it when people swear casually, but it doesn't bother me if they do it to express anger / irritation / resentment. I don't mind if it is a male or female who swears, either, but I don't like young kids swearing because I think they don't understand the significance of the term. However, I don't like people swearing AT me, but then that's a whole other issue right there.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Well, it probably comes as no surprise to you that I am not easily offended. I personally enjoy hearing and using swear words. However, I try not to outright curse very often, because I know that not everyone who reads my blog is down with that.

In writing, I use the occasional four letter word. Let's face it: people talk like that. I talk like that.

Don't get me wrong -- every other word out of my mouth is not a swear word. Sometimes I curse when I'm angry, sometimes I curse for comedic effect, sometimes I curse under my breath, and sometimes I curse quite loudly, like while watching that little twit Tim Urban sing on American Idol.

Matt said...

I don't talk like that. I don't even have to try not to. I have a wide enough vocabulary not to need to swear. What irks me most is people who use it like punctuation, like Gemma said. I'm especially irked when it happens at work. Usually, I've just met these people. What makes them think its okay to talk like that around someone they don't know?

**Sigh** At least it lets me know I'm better than them. And that feels good.

In writing it's different though. I don't swear in real life because that's the way I am. But if our characters would swear, well, then they swear.

Sierra Godfrey said...

I like your points about not using it as punctuation, and that's what I meant by saying that swearing is the lazy person's way.

I edited the heck out of this post last night. At first I didn't even hint at the word. Then I wrote several impassioned paragraphs about how I should not be made to feel vulgar for swearing simply because I'm a female (good points Gemma). And I really do think there's a lot of us who really enjoy it, as Amber (and I) do.

I won't stand for being made to feel guilty just because of my gender. And I won't stop using it in my writing, either. My brand of swearing is the sneaky brand, where I like to use shite and arse and often, feck, which isn't a swear word at all, technically. But we all know what they mean, they're just less strong work arounds. (I love to say "I'm fecked.")

I re-read the passage last night in my WIP that dealt with the word in the picture in this post. And I kept it. It was used in a jokey way and repeated enough in the paragraph so that it wasn't one shocking instance. Call me stubborn but I liked it in its context.

I Think I swear because I know it's taboo, from me, and in general. My husband doesn't swear at all, like you Matt. But I hate feeling like I have to repress words.

Jm Diaz said...

I swear. If I know you and I am comfortable around you, and you are above the age of 20'ish, then yeah, I'll swear. If I don't know \ like you, I wont bother with talking to (at) you more than I need to anyway.
I don'y mind people swearing occasionally, but I do see how if it is over used, or over played, it can be very annoying. A swear word should be reserved and used for effect, for emphasis or enthusiasm. I'm not gonna call somebody a lint picking, hootie grabber, when I really think they are just fucking, ass-holes.
Same goes for writing... though that depends immensely on the character.

coffeelvnmom said...

I swear. Like a sailor. But only to a few people. My family doesn't hear it (parents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, my kids) I mainly do it when talking to Lovemuffin, because he won't judge me, he doesn't care. He knows that whatever pops out of my mouth is exactly what I'm thinking - he loves me - therefore I can say whatever I want.

Do I look down on people who swear in public? Yes. When you're in public, you never know who is listening. Now let me point out that, to me, being "in public" means a restaurant, a park (or even parking lot for that matter), the movies. I think people who don't put the filter on their mouths when there are others who could be offended (or children who shouldn't hear such words) around are selfish and out of control.

I've had one person comment on my language. But I think it's less because of the fact that I'm a woman speaking that way, and more because he doesn't speak like that, ever. If you're a woman and dropping the f-bomb every other word, that's going too far, I think. I'm not sure I agree with the definition of cursing... what sounds more meaningful? "I'm really mad!" or "I'm EFFING mad!"

People are offended by different things. For me, the GD word is taboo. I hate it. I don't want to hear it, read it, it shouldn't have ever been thought up in the first place. You could say the f-word and as long as my kids aren't around, I probably wouldn't even notice. Talk that way with my kids there though, and I'm going to let you know to shut the hell up. (See, now normally I wouldn't even type that, because it's a reflection on me, and I have no clue who may read this. But considering the topic of this blog...)

Regarding writing that specific word, I really wrestled with it in ILYU. I didn't want to use any curse words actually, in the beginning. For one thing, my mom was editing it. My MOM! She's never heard a word like that come out of my mouth, ever. But then a fellow writer friend pointed out something to me. You have to forget what other people are going to think, and just write the story. With that in mind, I ended up with that word being used one time, and in that specific instance, it added the exact kind of emotion I was looking for!

coffeelvnmom said...

Okay, haha - he and I both started out our comments with the same sentence. LOL!

Travener said...

I swear too fecking much. I sort of feel bad about it -- English has a vocabulary of 800,000 words or more, one ought to be able to express any thought without resorting to Anglo-Saxon. (I re-read The Story of English last week and it turns out the f-word comes from Old Frisian, not Old Anglo-Saxon. Who knew?) Anyhoo, I sometimes think I am less articulate than I should be. At the same time, I understand that propensity towards profanity may be an inherited thing, and there are many great figures in history who swore a blue streak.

Most of the women I've been involved with in my life certainly had no trouble swearing. I have heard, though have never done a poll on this, that the c-word is the one epithet women won't use about each other: bitch, whore, slut, whatever...but not the Big C. Any truth to that?

Sierra Godfrey said...

You make great points Jessica, about never knowing who's listening, and minding your mouth in order to respect that.

In writing, you do have to just write the character and the story as both you and Matt point out.

JM,I salute you for not holding back.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

I swear on my blog - I might do it a bit less if I used my real name, but it certainly wouldn't go away entirely. Whether I do it when talking obviously depends on the situation...and that is true of writing, too. Some characters swear like sailors, others not at all. If it doesn't add anything, I try not to use it.

I agree there seems to be a double-standard on swearing along gender lines (in speech - not sure if it exists in writing).

BTW, when you said you used "the worst" expletive, I thought you meant "motherfucker" until you pointed me to the graphic.

atsiko said...

I swear a lot when I'm alone, but rarely around others if I can help it. For one, I'm told I swear weird. I've never found anyone able to explain exactly what that means, but the effect is that I don't swear much around certain people.

To be honest, most curse/swear/cuss words are so divorced from their meaning as to be general intensifiers. "fuck" being one of the farthest along that path. I'd be very impressed if someone could convince me that "no fuckin' way!" has anything whatsoever to do with actual sex. It’s strictly an intensifier, just like absofuckinglutely. In that sense, I think we make too much of cussing.
(It may interest some people to know that expletives are the only words in English that can be inserted into other words in that manner, as infixes. Also note that “absolutely fuckin’” and “fuckin’ absolutely” make no real sense. Another argument for certain expletives to be viewed only as intensifiers.)

In regards to children, it's funny when a parent tries to keep someone from cussing around their child. A year or two into school, and it's too late anyway. They may not cuss around Mom and Dad, but with their friends? Damn.

Now, there are certain other words outside of the Big Five that I would not use ever. The c-word being one of them. There's just no way to interpret that as anything other than extremely derogatory towards women. The b-word is similar although it’s further along the track of separation.

To address the other noted issue, if someone has repeatedly expressed a desire not to be cussed around, I won't. I may not agree with their reasoning, but I'll respect their desire to "keep it clean".

Sierra Godfrey said...

Travener, I used the c word about another woman yesterday. And she is one. End of. That's why my coworkers were horrified.

Lt., motherfucker is a great word, and rates right up there with the c word but I still won't type the c word....it felt great to type motherfucker though. Still, context. Context!!

Sierra Godfrey said...

Totally agree, Atsiko. Except for the c word. It's got other meanings, which I am now warped from, following a Scottish sport as I do. It is hard for me to remember it's not the same in the US.

I need to know in what ways your swearing is weird!

Julie Dao said...

I swear occasionally and I don't mind it if people I like/know well do it, but for some reason it really offends me when a stranger swears loudly in my presence. I think swearing implies a certain amount of intimacy between you and the people to whom you share it, and it's okay as long as you're on comfortable terms with the other person.

DL Hammons said...

There's a time and place for cussing, and casual conversation isn't it. Sure I cuss, but when I do you know absolutely I'm pissed or trying to make a significant point.

As far as the double-standard goes...cursing just sounds dirtier when its coming from a woman. Sorry. Blame it on my upbringing. I'm not saying its right or wrong, it is what it is. Ugly language makes a woman...uglier (remember that easy beauty?) especially when its used casually. Is it unfair that offensive language tarnishes a woman more than a man? I guess so. But truthfully I lose respect for ANYBODY who throws around expletives like beads during Mardi Gras.

In my writing, I use what the character would say. If they cuss like a sailor, then I write it that way. I don't have a problem with the words...just how they're used sometimes.

sbtokyo said...

Way back in college, I began being careful about swearing in front of people I did not know and it has become an ingrained, stress-free habit. However, I also didn't want to feel bound up by the choice, so I designated areas where I could swear freely -- when I'm alone in my car and in my one-person office in front of my computer.

I sing in the car too.

In writing, meaningful swearing is wonderful. Too frequent and misused cuss words in text is annoying to me just as it would be hearing it from a real person.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Agree guys, and thanks for commenting sbtokyo!

Don, if the woman really, really means the swear word (i.e., the use is not casual but rather it's used as an invective), is it still ugly? I'm thinking it's a super fine line.

Thanks for everyone's willingness to post such varied points of view on this today. It's interesting and lots to think about!

DL Hammons said...

Sierra ~ You're right. Context is everything and there are no absolutes. It is a fine line...and a blurry one at that.

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