I am incapable of swearing. I am capable of typing swear words, but I can't bear the thought of my web-site being contaminated by bad language so, on this page when I want to say a swear word I'll reverse the order of letters and color it red just so you understand. 'Cause otherwise you'd be thinking, "What the kcuf is he talking about?"
The reason I can't swear is because I don't want to swear. I want to keep my mouth free from all things impure and offensive. It's bad enough that I have to listen to other people swear -- if I had to actually form the indecent words with my own tongue, it would be like psychological torture. I can't write swear words down, either. Or if I did, I'd have to destroy the piece of writing immediately because it would be a contamination to my life.
So I suppose you're wondering, "why?" And perhaps you're assuming that I had a very strict religious upbringing where my parents taught me that swearing was a very serious sin. Well, you'd be wrong. My parents were no more strict about swearing than most people's parents. And my two sisters turned out normal.
The whole thing stems back to a single incident in my childhood, when I was ten years old. I can't remember the exact date but it was about halfway through 1986. It happened in the evening when my family was sitting around the dinner table, eating. Mum was absent -- that was significant because this incident wouldn't have happened if Mum had been around -- she is somewhat more offended by swearing than Dad who has a more carefree attitude to it. Anyway, the conversation must have turned to the subject of swearing. My twelve year old sister Carolyn seemed to be offended by the bad language we were using, and she told us to stop. But her offense just prompted us to tease her and torment her with more swearing, deliberately trying to provoke a reaction from her because we saw it as a source of fun. As I recall, I participated in the swearing with as much zeal as the others, using the f word and such. I can't remember if she tried to slap us or cover her ears or what, but eventually she went outside to escape from us. We didn't care -- if she was allowing herself to be offended by it, then she had no one to blame but herself. Clearly she was just trying to put on airs like she was better than us or something.
After a few minutes I followed her out to the driveway where she was standing. She may have thought I came outside to apologise, but I just said one thing: "Just remember, keep kcufed off!" and I went back inside.
Later she came back in and announced that she was going to ignore us. And that's just what she did. We swore at her and she did not react. So after that there was no point in swearing anymore and our source of fun was gone.
I don't know exactly what happened next, in my own brain. I must have decided that Carolyn was right after all -- I decided to join her on her crusade against swearing. It didn't happen straight away -- I stopped thinking about it for a while, and when the thoughts came back to me all I could remember was the feelings of guilt about my own cruelty. I didn't want to think about the things I'd said -- I wanted to put it all behind me and pass from the dark side into the light. I knew that swearing was wrong -- it was time to atone for my sins.
From that day forward, I was against swearing. Like Carolyn, I crusaded against it. But I didn't know where to stop. It wasn't long before my crusade overtook hers and started causing problems in my school life. I remember when the problems first began to manifest themselves -- some of the boys in my class had this rhyme which went "K-mart, your rip off store; a dollar ninety-nine for an apple core; go in rich you'll come out poor..." (a corruption of K-mart's jingle at the time, "K-mart, your savings place!") Anyway, one day for some reason they editted this chant to insert a swear-word into it: "...a dollar ninety nine for a ydoolb apple core". They were perhaps surprised at my reaction -- I hit them. It became something of a game at first -- they would say the rhyme and then run away, and I would chase after them and try to hit them. But later I took to crouching under the table with my hands over my ears, rubbing them to drown out the swearing. The boys didn't know it was about the swearing, at first; they thought maybe my Dad worked in K-mart or something. But they soon figured it out, and I got a reputation.
Swearing made me angry. The children in my class took to teasing me about it, trying to provoke a reaction just as I had tried to provoke a reaction out of Carolyn that one time. But unlike Carolyn, I couldn't just ignore it. My automatic response, when I heard a swear word, was "Don't say that." Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, I would hit them. It made sense, to me, to use violence, because the speaker would be less likely to swear if they knew they were going to get hit. Saying "Don't say that" often seemed like too gentle a rebuke, especially when the speaker knew that I was offended by swearing. But despite all my efforts I still had to put up with a lot of swearing and my violent tendencies caused much conflict, as you can imagine. People sometimes hit me back but I didn't care about that. The swearing hurt me psychologically a lot more than the violence ever could. When I heard swearing, I couldn't just let it pass, especially not at home.
Some swear-words are worse than others, but to my way of thinking, a word was either acceptable or it wasn't. So for the borderline words I had to resolve in my own mind which words were O.K., and some curious conclusions followed. The word ydoolb was forbidden, as my mother had said many times that we must never say that word. It's considered a very mild oath these days, though. The word nmad was also forbidden, and this caused a bit of confusion in my mind when the priest in the church used words like "nmaded" and "nmadation" when he was reading from scripture. And what about the word dam? It's pronounced the same -- could I claim offense if someone claimed to be saying dam when they were really saying nmad?
The word "hell" was a very grey area -- I was against it at first, but then it seemed like it could be O.K. in certain contexts. I heard a teacher saying "You'll learn a hell of a lot more..." at one point, and that didn't seem offensive at all. I asked my Mum about it and she said it was O.K. so from then on the word "hell" slipped off the list of forbidden words. The word "dratsab" stayed on, despite its non-swearing uses -- to this day I can't say the word dratsab even in its correct literal sense. The word esra caused a bit of confusion with the Americans spelling it a different way, the same way you would spell that alternative word for "donkey." And somehow the word mub, meaning bottom, found its way onto the forbidden list and couldn't be removed.
What if one person says "sh" and the other says "it"? Can they both be accused of offensive language, if that was their plan all along? These were the questions that plagued me. I remember one time when I said "Ssshhhhh!" and someone else said "it!" and accused me of swearing, through my contribution to the swear word, and I couldn't help smiling at their creative testing of the boundaries, despite my offense.
In 1986 it was not too bad -- I had a few allies in my class who respected my sensitive nature and agreed not to swear around me. And most people still apologised when they swore. But in 1987 it became like a war, me against the whole world. The teachers were theoretically against swearing but they were more against conflict so they didn't give me much support. My class teacher once took me outside the room trying to determine the cause of the conflict inside, and she offended me by asking "Did they say this? Did they say that?" and she used the words so I hit her. Later she said she'd had a word with the parish priest and he had assured her that the word nmad is not very offensive at all. But the priest's words meant nothing to me.
On several occasions, when the swearing of my classmates became intolerable, I would run out of the classroom and hide somewhere. At such moments, I hated everybody. I felt like I was the only one who was morally correct, and everybody else was full of sin and evil.
In 1988 I started high-school. I had decided beforehand that my crusade would not continue into high-school -- it seemed to me that the problems of primary school would just be magnified tenfold in such a huge place. So, although I still could not swear, I held my tongue when I heard others swearing at school. I didn't make a big deal of it at school anymore. And that's how it remained, throughout the rest of my life. After fighting that huge, unwinnable battle, and all the trauma I had been through, my mind was forever changed towards thinking that swearing is wrong, and I could never become desensitized to it, no matter how much swearing I heard.
Even today, as an adult, my swearing problem sometimes manifests itself. Sometimes when I'm listening to my favourite radio station at home (Triple J) there are swear words in the songs and if I know they're coming (like, if I've heard the song before), then I cover my ears momentarily or else turn off the radio. But in general I continue to listen to that radio station despite the risk of offense. Likewise, I wouldn't avoid seeing a movie just because it's rumoured to have lots of swearing in it, but once I see a movie like that, I wouldn't be able to bring myself to watch it a second time because I would recall how offended I felt while watching it. In 1993 I bought an album by the Geto Boys, a rap group who swear a lot. When I listened to the album I liked the rhythms and the clever rhyming, but I knew I could never appreciate it fully until I censored all the swearing. So I went through it bit by bit, censoring every single swear-word by strategically recording little split-seconds of silence on the tape until it was completely non-offensive (the subject matter of the lyrics was still offensive, to most people, but not to me). I achieved a sense of satisfaction in perfecting my censoring technique and I knew I was doing a good thing because I would be able to listen to that album repeatedly in the future without being offended.
In 1996, I was doing a course where one of the subjects was Improvisation (like, acting) and in one activity the teacher made us stand in two rows and yell things at eachother -- one of the things she told us to yell was "ssip off". I couldn't say the word ssip so I just sort of lingered awkwardly (while the others were all saying it) and then had a quiet word to the teacher, telling her my difficulty. In a later class, we had to read a short dialogue from a script -- not to the whole class, but just in partners. The idea was that we would remember the general idea of the script and then perform the scene as an improvisation in front of the group. I was assigned a foul-mouthed angry character who was supposed to swear a lot; but I couldn't say the words. So as we read through the script aloud I either changed the swear words or left them out completely. My partner questioned me about why I was not saying the words as written. I couldn't really answer his questions properly. It was embarrassing -- he even tried to convince me that swearing is not so bad, "It's only words", but he didn't know just how deep-seated my programming was. Anyway we didn't have to stick by the script when we performed the improvisation in front of the class, so my lack of swearing was not too much of a problem. But it would be a problem if I were to ever take a role in an actual play, in the actual theatre, or on T.V., if there was swearing in the script. And that's the main reason I've steered away from that area since 1996.
When reading, I used to sometimes come across swear-words and cover them up with my finger so that I wouldn't have to look at them as my eye scanned down the page. I don't do that anymore -- much. In 1993 I had to read a novel for school which had a lot of swearing in it ("Cloudstreet" by Tim Winton) and as I read it I actually cut out the swear words with a pair of scissors. Of course this also meant removing harmless words on the other side of the pages, so I had to write in tiny words between the lines to preserve the original meaning of the text. Reading swear-words on paper is not as bad as hearing them out loud, but I still feel the need to avoid it.
I don't understand what most people like about swearing -- nearly everyone does it and I don't see the appeal of it. But when I read certain offensive words in a dictionary, they move me in a certain way, perhaps because in a dictionary they're being defined and picked apart in an academic, analytical way -- reading them in that context is not offensive at all, though I wouldn't want to listen to some professor giving a verbal lecture about the Implications of Swearing on Society, if I knew he was going to use the words. I can only recall one instance (since 1986) when I heard the f word without being offended. It was at the end of a talk show on the radio (the Triple J morning show) -- they had a language expert as a guest to have a discussion about swearing -- and then it was time for the female presenter to announce the next song -- the title of the song had the f word in it -- usually when she was presenting that particular song she left the word out, but on that particular day she found it was O.K. to leave the word in, so she did -- and because it was so unusual to hear the f word coming out of the radio presenter's mouth, it wasn't offensive.
I don't make a point of telling people irl that I'm offended by swearing, because it would just be awkward and embarrassing. But if you speak to me irl, or if you send email to me, please mind your language.