Please cover your ears, there are about to be a lot of expletives. Or, rather, maybe none at all.
When I was in secondary school, we read The Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway, who is a Cree author. We had to do an assignment in relation to the play that examined whether or not we should swear because there was quite a bit of it in the play. Does swearing add value to our lives? Is it disruptive? Is it something that we should look down upon? At the time, I didn’t have a clue. I don’t think I referenced the play once. I basically made the argument that there are SOOOOO—emphasize that SOOOOOO, feel the O’s bouncing off your tongue, feel like the snake you sometimes are as you Sssssssssound it out-OOOO many words in the English language that you did not need to swear. Although, at the end, I went for a plot twist and said: fuck it.
My problem with the “there are so many other words” thesis is many-fold. I am mad at myself for making that claim and that I did not reference the play, at the time. Swearing became about me and my context. I negated that swearing can be a release, particularly for a colonized and marginalized peoples. A peoples whose land I and other Canadians occupy daily. I did not think about what swearing meant in the play. It showed anger that erupts in the daily lives of women, of marginalized communities, of forgotten communities, of persons of colour. Swearing bluntly locates the play as one that deals with inherited and ever present systematic oppressions. The inheritance of this anger, from generation to generation, is highlighted as one of the characters is unable to have children. Swearing is a device in this play. It dictates class, as defined by white, western society. It expresses exasperation and the fact that sometimes there are no words to even begin to describe what colonialism means. There is a divide between those who have faced oppression and those who oppress and/or hold privilege. The privileged cannot fully grasp that experience, and swearing operates along a common language with which we can all empathize and understand.
So, I guess if I could go back to being fifteen, that is the answer I hope I could give.
When I think about swearing and how people react to me swearing, I often think about that assignment. I always want to walk up to the person who judges me, and I want to explain, as I hold their hands in mine, really up close and personal, that you perceive swearing to be a marker of someone lesser, that is, holding lesser societal value. I do not. I’m not saying I always like to hear swearing, but I’m saying that your or my discomfort is not enough to tell people they cannot express what they feel.
Swearing is identified as lower class, in particular if its done by a woman–even more so if it is a woman of colour. Swearing is understood as something rich men can do but they might choose not to. Swearing is also understood as something that poor people and people of colour cannot but do. It is a constructed signifier for all of these classist, racist, and sexist societal trappings.
Older generations make fun of younger generations for using text speak in spoken conversation such as YOLO and lawl. But, we also acknowledge that language changes. It is so important that we recognize that language is not immutable; it is varying and ever-changing. Comedians use YOLO to garner laughter, employing the older generation’s disdain for how younger people talk and communicate. But self-expression is meaningful, even if it seems stupid to unintended audiences.
If you’re angry or you’re scared, your fight or flight kicks in, and you react viscerally. Sometimes, people swear. Sometimes, you hear a story that someone tells you, and it is so gut-wrenching that all you can utter is a long, quiet: “ffffuuuuuuuucccckkkk….” Other times, you’ve explained something to someone many times, they begin to ask you again, and you say, “for fuck’s sakeeeeee.” Maybe someone uses their privileges, without even realizing they have those privileges, to silence you….so, you swear as you think or talk about that silencing experience. Employing a wide variety of language is so important. And, at the same time, we shouldn’t be restricting language like some ideological police from 1984. Swearing can be raw emotion. Sometimes, it’s funny AF! Sometimes, it’s shocking AF! But employing a wide variety and ‘language’ is the privilege of colonization and education. That does not mean that those who swear are uneducated, but if your argument against swearing is that there are so many other words that can be used, you don’t realize the privilege you hold.
Additionally, swearing is seen as something that women cannot do; it seemingly defies constructs of domestic femininity and elegance. But that’s just it,”Woman” is also a social construct. The negative meaning we give to swearing is a historical process. I remember being young, and one could not swear because it tainted one’s innocence. Innocence is such a terrible construct. Let’s stop with that, too. Go read some Foucault.
I want to use language; I want to feel the letters fall off my tongue, resonate in my nasal cavity, and boil from my belly. That doesn’t mean we have to be rude to one another; it just means that we should stop coding swearing coz, m8, it’s all made up fluff, anyhow.
Heaps of love,