I love swear words

Swear words do this amazing thing in language, that no other category of words does quite as well, or with as much versatility. I’m not referring to insults here (although that’s supposedly their main function), but to the fact that they intensify the meaning.

If something is awesome, then it’s awesome. If something blew your mind and made you feel very enthusiastic about it, it’s fucking awesome. If you’re awed and a bit shocked, then it’s bloody awesome. If you’ve been raised in a very clean (and probably British) environment, it’s ruddy awesome. Or, if you feel like it (and probably American), it’s freaking awesome.

They give you hints about the mood of the speaker as well: “I feel awful” is one thing – it tells you that the speaker is feeling, well, awful. It can be a whine, or a snappish retort – you won’t know. But that’s about it. “I feel bloody awful” suggests the anger/strength of the speaker.

And you can throw some of them just about any-fucking-where. Like in the middle of the word. Abso-bloody-lutely. Can you picture that done with any other word? “She was abso-cool-lutely beautiful” – …not really.

The more common of swear words have a way of migrating from nouns to verbs to adverbs – they can be turned into nearly anything you want them to be. All other words are tidy little things waiting to be used in the right way, but swear words? They’re your bitch. You can do whatever you want with them. They slip below the radar because no proper, snobbish teacher will ever explain that you can’t say ‘Fuck the fucking fuckers’ because it’s stylistically repetitive, or because ‘fuck’ can only be used as a verb. That teacher will be so busy trying to remove the devil from your vocabulary that you can go on abusing the damned word.

Linguistically speaking, these words are one of the most interesting things going on. Versatile, with their original meaning long ignored (is ‘fuck’ even sexual most of the time? Is ‘bloody’ blood-related when used in casual conversation? Has ‘damned’ got anything to do with hell or Christianity?), and with their current meaning shifting around as needed, they’re the wild cards of language, the things you can best use to show (intense) emotion or feeling.

It’s kind of fucking awesome of them and I love the bloody bastards. They get a lot of bad publicity, but they’re fulfilling their part in getting meaning across like no other words do. You’ve gotta give them some credit.

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