Swearing: Is it time for a new taboo?

Poster for the Angel's Share by Ken Loach

Two things have shocked me in the past couple of days. Not in a rattled-to-the-core-Kerry-Katona-did-what kind of way, but shocked nonetheless.

The first was at the park with the kids. A wee boy – probably about four – was exclaiming about how much fun he’d had on the zipslide. The lad said: “Oh my god, that was awesome.”

It made me shudder. More and more “oh my god” is seen as a reasonable expression of any kind of emotion from mild upwards. Volume and pause between words the only clue to depth of feeling. 

It doesn’t matter what your faith convictions are, but for reference mine are apathetic agnostic with Quaker tendencies and a smidge of Buddhist. What matters is that people’s beliefs – their god – matters to them. A lot. Therefore allow those for whom god has deep meaning to take his (?her/their) name and use it as they will. 

Apart from anything, our language has a rich resource of cursing to call upon. Words earthy and biological when used right tell a colourful story. 

Cunt, for example. The last taboo? It’s a nice meaty word for the female anatomy, so what’s the problem? 

In parts of Scotland it has become so commonplace it creates no frisson at all. In fact, in Glasgow it has replaced “chap”, “bloke” or, indeed, “person”. For example “some cunt has parked his car in the loading bay” and “the poor cunt will get a ticket” or “lucky cunt, he got away with it”.

So it wouldn’t be surprising if social realist Ken Loach’s latest film – set in Glasgow – The Angel’s Share wasn’t peppered with it. 

It was originally, but now apparently there will be seven uses of the word “cunt” in the film. Loach is furious that the, so called, cunt quota has been applied to his 15 certificate movie. Apparently that’s how many times the word can be used – so, I suppose, Ken had to decide which of his cunts he’d keep. 

Instead of being brutishly commonplace – as it is in real life – it now makes shocking special appearances. Not the point at all. 

This was the second shocker that censorship could be so proscriptive and nonsensical. I know “cunt” upsets people, but surely they’ll be just as upset by hearing it seven times as hearing it 17 or 117. In which case, I suggest they don’t watch a Ken Loach film set in the west of Scotland.

Language and its use evolves. Isn’t it time censors used their powers to check offensive and careless blasphemy and stopped “oh my god”? Instead let quality swearing – an art form if done right – evolve naturally. 

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  1. says

    Personally I'm not a fan of the word…but it does hav a long tradition in our very colourful English language. I guess, it all comes down to the individual and as long as the sensor board has rated the film properly, I don't see there can be a complaint..if you dn't like it…don't watch it!

  2. Anonymous says

    I'm more offended by using The Lord's Name in vain than swearing. Worst coming from children though!

  3. says

    My daughter picked up 'oh my God' from somewhere and actually I was more narked than when the f word came out of her mouth probably because the blame there is mine no matter how hard I try!
    I have no problem with the C word when you really think what it is named after its no big deal but used towards someone it really is the ultimate in expressing yourself! Not sure I'd like to hear it loads much like most swear words! And I have a bit of a potty mouth too! Oops. Good post.

  4. says

    As Robin Gibb would have said had he been here, “Its only words”

    I think inventive rhyming slang is required here. “Hey you! ya Jeremy!”

    “Aye you made a right Jeremy of that!”

    “He's no' a bad Jeremy!”

    As for “Oh my God” I have no religious views at all other than it's all a load of baloney. However it is one of those yardsticks to judge people by. Its use doesn't betray an abundance (see what I did there?) of judgement or intellect

  5. says

    I'm always correcting my children from Oh My God to Oh My Goodness – I have no idea where they pick it up. TV? Now you've put me in a right pickle because I am in the process of writing a review of your book, waxing lyrical about how brilliant your blog is without resorting to swearing and you've written an entire post about it and used the 'C word' relentlessly in it, the regular use of which on some blogs puts me right off reading them. Call me old fashioned, but I'd really rather not be unwittingly subjected to it and I am glad you are merely posing a question. This from a woman who worked in the City for many years. I found it offensive then – despite the frenetic occurrence with which it was shouted about and I do now, but well put. Timely and appropriate!

  6. says

    Sorry if my use of the word bothered. If would have felt all wrong to discuss the subject and not use it.
    Rest assured the word is unlikely to turn up willy nilly.
    I suspect the weight of the word is in the intention of the speaker which is a whole other topic.

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