In defence of the four letter word.
I don’t trust people who don’t drink.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about people who don’t like the taste, and so only really drink during the toasts at weddings.
I’m not talking about people with health issues or people who are trying to lose weight, and I’m certainly not talking about people who are recovering from an alcohol addiction.
I’m talking about people who don’t drink, ever, and condemn the act as being a waste of time and money.
These people are not to be trusted.
Why don’t they drink? What source of maniacal power are they tapping into that so elevates them above the common man? After all, everyone drinks — the shared alcoholic beverage is the great unifying ceremony of humanity. We drink to health, and to sorrow, at birthdays and weddings and quiet moments between friends.
We drink when we make Holy Communion with Christ.
Obviously, like all things, there is a context — you probably shouldn't be drinking alone, in your car, at 10 am, parked outside of a primary school. But if you never drink, ever, well then I’m not sure I can trust you.
Hitler didn’t drink.
So why am I starting off an article entitled In defence of the four letter word with a rant about alcohol?
Well, because I feel the same way about abstaining from swearing.
Again, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about crude, foul-mouthed men in dirty, grease stained overalls, swearing at their wives. I’m not talking about being disgusting and crude, purely for the sake of it.
I’m talking about people who never curse, ever, and condemn the act as being the improper use of language. I saw a post on Instagram (which, by the way, is the only form of social media worth having — more on that in another post) a while ago which said something to the effect of “if you can’t say it without swearing, then it’s obviously not worth saying”, to which my immediate reaction was “Oh, poppycock!”. And I’ll tell you why:
Just like teetotallers who decide, for purposes of propriety and holiness, to draw a line around an entire element of human activity and then abstain from it, non-swearers starve themselves from those areas of language which mostly truly unite common men: swear words.
Swear words are wonderful things. They are so senseless, so meaningless. They are not rooted in any grand Latin etymology, quite the contrary, they are most often the creations of the working class. They come and go, and their severity waxes and wanes with time, but always, simmering on the edges of any sentence ever spoken by man, there lurk the curse words, the collection of utterances which have somehow earned themselves the status of taboo. Orwell describes the strange phenomenon of swearing perfectly in his excellent work Down and out in Paris and London:
The whole business of swearing, especially English swearing, is
mysterious. Of its very nature swearing is as irrational as magic —
indeed, it is a species of magic. But there is also a paradox about it,
namely this: Our intention in swearing is to shock and wound, which we do
by mentioning something that should be kept secret — usually something to
do with the sexual functions. But the strange thing is that when a word is
well established as a swear word, it seems to lose its original meaning;
that is, it loses the thing that made it into a swear word. A word becomes
an oath because it means a certain thing, and, because it has become an
oath, it ceases to mean that thing.
There exists in our language a short list of words to which, for whatever reason, we have attributed a kind of magic, but it is a general magic, accessible to every man. We are not taught to swear in our schools, and most of us would not have picked up the habit from our parents, and yet even the most prim and proper of us would be able to quickly list the major English curse words without much effort.
But why? Why do these words exist?
Well, like alcohol, they are an unnecessary indulgence. Alcohol provides no functional value — man only requires water to survive. But surviving is not the point, living is, and alcohol makes living very pleasant indeed.
There are literally hundreds of ways better than swearing to functionally use language for the purposes of instruction, but that is not the purpose of language.
Language, defines, announces, expresses.
It is the one thing that truly seperates us from beasts. It is the vessel of all things truly intelligent — the medium of all hope, beauty, love, anger and sorrow, and yet always we try to limit it, to keep it chained to the bounds of orthodoxy and made up conventions. We draw lines around what is proper and improper and we defer always on the side of the sensible, the pragmatic, the functional.
And that is why swear words must exist.
Swear words are the medium of that quiet voice that whispers inside of your head reminding you that everything you see around you is a façade — a veneer of “right and wrong” thrown up by man-made convention to dull down and control the ocean of doubt, truth, passion, love and hatred which boils in the heart of every man.
People who do not swear, ever, have made peace with the façade, and that is why they can never be trusted.
And so we must swear, and we must do it well — not too often, not to describe that which is trivial, but as an oath: a true, guttural expression of what you are really trying to say. Treat these words with respect — they were used before us by men in trenches and women in air raid shelters, by freedom fighters and by adventurers, by doctors and priests and fathers and mothers.
I will end with one last quote from Orwell, describing a moment of desperation from Winston Smith, the protagonist of 1984:
“The urge to shout filthy words at the top of his voice was as strong as ever.”