I Don’t Swear To Offend You, I Swear.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“We’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.”

So said Rashida Tlaib in a speech – which caused a stir, because good people are not supposed to swear, and if they swear that means they are so crude you can safely ignore them. Which I said, more or less, on Facebook – to which a friend replied, more or less:

“I don’t care whether anyone swears, but I do hate it when someone uses a shock word to cause outrage and then pretends they didn’t mean to.”

The problem is this:

When I say “fuck,” I am not trying to cause outrage.

I find the word “fuck” to be a satisfying amplifier. When I say, “That guy irritates me,” you get the gist, but “That fuckin’ guy” slams the point home emotionally. Saying “That’s weird” doesn’t convey the emotional valence that a good, solid “What the fuck?” does.

My swearing is not a calculated attempt to offend you – for me, the usage of expletives is like a peppery seasoning that makes my language pop. And it’s not that I am incapable of eschewing the obscenities, or that my intellect is not up to the challenge of stripping offensive oaths in the proper social situations – it’s that left to my own merits, I find the sounds of profanities to be melodious, providing a depth and resonance to sentences that no bowdlerized version could provide.

I mean, one of my greatest authorial achievements comes from when I had a videogame-wizard face down her enemy in a one-on-one fight and had her coin the phrase, “Mortal Kombat, motherfuckress.”

Yet the world being as large as it is, I acknowledge that people’s opinions differ. I was listening to a podcast this morning about a theater producer in the Deep South, who said “fuck” in the presence of children and was told in no uncertain words to get out of town or he’d be tarred and feathered. I acknowledge that, which is why I try not to swear around children until I’m told their parents are okay with it, and I don’t break into flurries of epithets at polite social gatherings.

But that’s not because I intended to offend you. I acknowledge that it does offend you.

But that’s not why I did it.

I did it because I myself enjoy it.

And I think of an idiotic idea I had a long time ago, which is sadly not uncommon among men today – that if a woman dresses in a sexy way, she clearly was out to turn me on. And ever since I’ve stepped away from a simple black T-shirt and jean ensemble into more in-depth fashion, I’ve learned that yes, sometimes I do look quite dapper, but often I’m not dressing up to impress anyone but myself. The fact that other people like my style can be a factor in why I dress up on any single day – but given that having, say, pretty pretty princess fingernails means that I have to cope with strange women continually grabbing at my hands without my consent means that some days I dress up to please myself despite other people’s reactions.

My friend who left the comment is female. I think if she complained about a guy catcalling her and I said, “I don’t care how anyone dresses, but I do hate it when someone wears outfits to turn people on and then pretends they didn’t mean to,” she’d rightfully tear my head off.

(As my friends did back in the day. Thankfully.)

Likewise, framing swearing as an act inevitably intended to instill outrage is a cultural window I think we should view carefully. I’m from a culture where swearing is a very casual thing, and in fact if you look at George Carlin, some have turned swearing into a thing of beauty. And yes, probably coming from a politician it probably is a studied act of outrage, but it may also be a case where her natural tendencies to think of swearing as a beautiful punctuation overlapped with her need to make a splash in the media.

Yet I think there’s a danger in assuming that someone’s actions must be driven by an intention to provoke a reaction in you, regardless of what that action is. I’ve seen that allegation levied at gay people, at trans people, at all sorts of other behaviors – and more often than not, what people are doing is living the life they want to and being braced for a blowback they’d prefer didn’t exist, but have to deal with being the realistic people they are.

And you know what the people who give that blowback are?

Those fuckin’ guys.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Feb 13, 2019

    “Additionally, we cannot overlook the fact, because it is well illustrated by the episode involved here, that much linguistic expression serves a dual communicative function: it conveys not only ideas capable of relatively precise, detached explication, but otherwise inexpressible emotions as well. In fact, words are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force. We cannot sanction the view that the Constitution, while solicitous of the cognitive content of individual speech, has little or no regard for that emotive function which, practically speaking, may often be the more important element of the overall message sought to be communicated.” Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 25-26.


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