Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn, said Clarke Gable in Gone With the Wind and walked off into the sunset. Supposing he hadn’t been so frank, would he have said “damn”? “Let’s be clear, my dear, I don’t give a table,” is not in the same class, nor is “My dear, I can’t be bothered, so let’s finish the movie and go out for dinner.”
The point is, swear words have a role to play in life. This was something my teachers in school didn’t understand, making me write ‘I shall not use foul language’ 100 times — or 500 sometimes — if I used the word “bloody”. When you use foul language, they told us, it is a sign that you are of low intelligence, a vulgarian in fact. It shows you can’t think of the right word, that your upbringing is all wrong and your ancestors are disappointed in you. Only idiots use words like that, they said, in case I hadn’t got the message yet.
So much anger over such a simple word! As I grew older and became aware of more interesting and popular swear words, the diagnosis stuck with me. Don’t say @#* or you will be thought of as a creature of low intelligence.
But times have changed, although too late for me. Psychologists have shown that swearing may in fact display more, rather than less, intelligence. Pretty silly it will make my teachers feel, I fancy. The psychologists are from Marist College in the US, and they have trashed the POV theory or the ‘Poverty of Vocabulary’ theory popular in my schooldays, which suggested that to use swear words was to confess to a lack of education and breeding. I mean, I was in reality a well-educated, well-bred boy born ahead of his time because science hadn’t yet caught up with foul language.
Thanks to indoctrination at school, however, my language in adult life seldom had any swear words. Perhaps friends and taxi drivers and everyone who came into contact with me were saying behind my back, “This guy is unintelligent and ill-bred for he does not use swear words.” So both as a boy and as a man I have been misunderstood, misjudged and mistaken for being something I was not.
I am tempted to let out a short, common word in frustration, but my training gets in the way.
Next time you hammer your thumb rather than the nail or stub your toe on the footpath, don’t hold back. Say **&%## with pride, secure in the knowledge that you are being intelligent. I, on the other hand, will gently say, ‘Oh that-place-with-fire-and-brimstone-which-is-in-the-opposite-direction-from-heaven’ and hope the pain goes away.
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