RAW: The Defence For Swearing

By Lewis Dowell

Victoria has given South Australia another reason why we are a better place to live. The Victorian State Government has introduced a new law whereby police will be able to give on-the-spot fines for public swearing of up to $240.

Queensland have also jumped on board with on-the-spot fines being introduced for Public Nuisance Offences, which includes swearing, and carries a fine between $100 – $300, so don’t be so sure that the South Australian Government won’t sniff a cash cow and hop on board as well.

A lot has been made nationally of this law, and much has been said about its social and governmental implications. The idea that the government isn’t just regulating behaviours but manipulating them, and the relative power these on-the-spot fines actually give police has been substantially covered.

But in light of this law, I thought I would put forward the defense for swearing. Swear words and the act of swearing has seemingly been demonised over the campaign, much like public smoking, physical aggression, verbal abuse and racism, and I thought it was time to take a step back and focus simply on swearing in the hope that the ridiculous and cynical nature of which this law was made, will come to the surface.

DISCLAIMER: The following article is ‘F Word’ free, as in I use the proper terms and not the first letter followed by ‘Word’. This is because I believe that to properly and maturely discuss swearing you should use the appropriate language.

Offensive language shouldn’t be part of legislature but part of social etiquette. Different social scenarios and contexts call for the use of different vocabularies, but this should not mean those vocabularies should be policed. Public or not if I am in a group of adults discussing a range of topics, swearing is completely appropriate. Even if it can be over heard to an extent it is well with in my rights (or should be) to use whatever language I choose in that scenario.

However if I’m buying cookies from a child for a charity, I should probably choose not to swear, but this should not be policed just expected in social behaviour.

However in most situations where public swearing may occur, it’s not necessarily the swear words that are the problem, but more likely the situations they are being used in. For instance, I mentioned verbal abuse earlier which does get tied together at times with swearing. However you can still abuse some one verbally with out swearing, and even if you do abuse someone verbally with swearing the problem isn’t the swear word but the abuse.

If I say to some one “get back in your car now or I’ll punch you in the face” it is no different than if I were to say “get back in your fucking car or I’ll punch you in the face”. The issue in that sentence and scenario isn’t the swear words but the threat of violence. The vocabulary doesn’t factor into it, it’s the threat and aggression that should be policed that should offend not the words.

The same can be applied to almost any situation in which you could be offended by swearing. For instance if I called you ‘moron’ as opposed to a ‘fucking moron’ the offense is still the word ‘moron’. The intent and meaning of the sentence has not changed.

It is important to note that the fines in Victoria are being handed out for inappropriate language but not inappropriate subject topic. For instance you will be fined for saying ‘fuck’ but not for publicly discussing sex (unless when discussing sex, you use the term ‘fuck’ in place sex). It’s confusing I know, but the point is that it is simply the word alone and not the literal meaning that have become offensive. So when people hear a swear word they are not offended but the meaning, simply the sound of the word.

This is strikingly different to offensive words such as ‘nigger’ or ‘coon’, that carry extremely offensive racial meanings, and are used to vilify and demean people of particular races. These words have gained offense through out history due to the nature of their use and because of their specific purpose and meaning. Unlike swear words, it is the true meaning of these words that makes them offensive, not just the sound of them.

The annoying part of deciding what constitutes as offensive language and what doesn’t is that it is usually determined by the people who take the most offense, or at least for them. With racial vilification it is completely acceptable to legislate based on the wishes of the people being vilified, but swearing alone doesn’t vilify. In instances where someone has claimed that inappropriate language has been used, surely the opinion of someone who has a relaxed and logical view of swearing should be acquired, not someone offended solely by swear words.

People should always remember that although you have the right to be offended, being offended doesn’t give you a right. If you are at a dinner party and one person at the table says, “excuse me I’m offended by swearing”, that is simply a complaint and gives no right to that person to demand that everyone else stop swearing. It is the same as some one saying “excuse me but I don’t like chicken” that person has the right to not eat the chicken, but has not right to demand no one else does either.

Because people seem to be offended by swearing with out actually knowing why they are, you find very broad and general arguments against swearing. People say things like its lazy, it limits people’s vocabulary and dumbs-down language. But how could you possibly argue that refusing to say a select group of words is an enthusiastic and intelligent use of language that broadens your vocabulary? Swear words are like any other words in the English language, you can use them as tediously or as creatively as you would like. It just so happens that the nomad-like nature of swear words lends themselves to be used more creatively then other words. They help exaggerate, emphasise, underline and excite situations and discussions in ways that no other words can.

The creative and open use of English is what makes the language grow and prosper. The word ‘epic’ for instance has been adopted by Gen Y to take on the use to apparently describe anything. The adoption and blending of words by various groups and generations isn’t what ruins language but how language grows. To argue that words be tied to their literal meaning and other words be fineable is only to hinder the growth of language.

Of course commonsense must prevail and I’m not saying that swearing is always appropriate, and of course I know that in many situations it’s down right unacceptable. But the idea of policing language and the Government deeming what language is right to use and when is just as unacceptable. The English language is very much a living and breathing thing, and swear words are an integral part of it, because we as a civilisation have made it an integral part. Lets hope that at least our own state will be smart enough to stay far away from any such fines. Although I’m not holding my breath.

Leave a Reply