Proper Swearing by Barbara Nadel

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Where do you stand on swearing? Do you find it offensive? Do you think it is unnecessary? Is it a sign of linguistic weakness and lack of imagination? Or is it a very natural and normal form of release? A spontaneous out-pouring of emotion that can be articulate, funny and may be akin to some sort of art form?

As those of you who know me will realise without being told, I tend towards the latter opinion. Some of my friends actually call me ‘Sweary Mary’ and I’m afraid that I do think that it is big and it is clever. I think this, not just because I enjoy a good curse but because I believe that swearing serves a very legitimate health and social well-being purpose. Basically while you’re effing and blinding to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’ about how frustrating it is to be stuck on the phone for hours on end trying to talk to the local council about your non-existent rubbish collection, you’re neither hitting anyone nor having a heart attack. Although tears seem somehow to be acceptable these days, anger is not (unless it’s done by over-paid footballers) and so one is expected to just ‘take’ whatever crap is thrown at one with a smile on one’s face and a pain in one’s soon to explode, chest. It’s bollocks – if you’ll pardon my French. Legitimate anger and frustration at ludicrous rules and endless officially sanctioned procrastination are just normal responses. Non-collection of rubbish by a council paid to do so in perfectly normal climactic conditions is unacceptable, getting angry about it is just human.

Embarking on a new novel featuring a whole new set of characters is both exciting and daunting. It also throws up sometimes very weird and arcane problems. For reasons I can’t go into here (least I give away the plot, darling) this new book has to begin with a high level of profanity. It is actually essential to the story that it does so. I’m totally comfortable with that and have no problem jumping in with both feet for maximum effect. The character I’ve created is just like that. She/he/it would actually ‘like’ to wham straight in with an early exposure of the dreaded ‘c’ word. So immediately I’m in the arena of ‘how far can you go’ country. The ‘c’ word is very divisive and I know some people who can be put off a book, a play or a film by just one exposure to it.

I admit that it isn’t the prettiest word in the English language and it is a bit dodgy, to say the least, to use the name of female genitals as a swear word. But as a woman, I must say it doesn’t bother me. It’s a word, it’s a bit ugly and old fashioned but it does the job really rather well when all other swearing options have been explored. The ‘c’ word, like the ‘f’ word is proper swearing. Once you’ve got to either of those big boys, there’s no going back. If you use them to someone with authority over you, you are, generally, well and truly f****d. By contrast words like ‘bollocks’, ‘sod’ and ‘cobblers’ pale into insignificance. It is, I know, very possible to recover from two gits and a tosspot. Meanwhile back at c**t…

For me ‘to c or not to c, that is the question’ and I still don’t know the answer. I almost envy people who are cut and dried on this one, mainly folk who would die rather than use the dreaded word. But I’m a Londoner and so it’s different. Words like the ‘c’ word are in my genes. As well as ‘Buggery Row’, London had a lot of colourfully names streets back in days of yore including the marvellously named ‘C**t-Grope Lane’. Unfortunately some killjoy changed it in the 19th century but still, no ambiguity about what used to happen (and maybe still does) there.

I don’t know how this dilemma will resolve itself but I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Maybe I will suddenly discover some sort of puritanical streak and forget about the wretched word completely. But probably not. What with being short-tempered and a Londoner, I think that rudeness is probably just a part of who I am.

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