Posted tagged ‘swearing’

Oscars with an ‘F’

February 28, 2011

Two families I know each have dogs called Oscar. Whenever anyone talks about ‘the Oscars’, I first instinctively think about the two dogs, both of whom are rather charming and intelligent. On the other hand, whenever I watch the ‘Academy Awards’ I don’t always come away with that impression. Too much formula, too much playing safe, too many highly scripted ‘impromptu’ speeches, too many laboured jokes.

Last night’s ceremony did provide some light relief. The awards came in pretty much as anticipated, but one of the awardees broke an absolute American TV convention of never saying the ‘F’ word on air. Melissa Leo, in her acceptance speech on receiving the best actress award for her role in the film The Fighter, said ‘When I watched Kate two years ago, it looked so f***ing easy’. Since then she has fallen over herself apologising. It has been good for youtube though, with lots of people putting the clip online.

People watching the ceremony from these parts probably wouldn’t even have noticed. Take a short ride on a Dublin bus, and the ‘F’ word shoots through the air from all sides as if you were in crossfire from expletives-armed machine guns. Actually, it’s not even an expletive any more, it’s just a sentence filler. ‘How are you today?’ – ‘F***ing great!’ – ‘That’s f***king brilliant.’ – ‘I’m getting off the f***ing bus now, goodbye.’ In fact, you kind of feel startled if someone says something without the ‘F’ word.

Maybe we should all be more relaxed, though. Swearing is not something just discovered by this generation, and expletives used in earlier periods of history were often much worse. It would be nice if the wider population could be a bit more original in assembling their sentences, but that’s perhaps a question of education and culture rather than a case for the morals police. In the meantime, Melissa Leo’s career has had a whole additional shot in the arm. That’s one Oscar awarded everyone will remember.

Political expletives

November 30, 2010

Almost exactly 16 years ago in Ireland the then Leader of Fianna Fáil, Charles Haughey (who had been before and would later again become Taoiseach, and who was never less than controversial), gave an interview to the magazine Hot Press. The interview was unremarkable in terms of content, but explosive in terms of the colourful language used. So Ireland was able to learn that one of its political leaders used all sorts of swear words in conversation, and that he had a particular fondness for the ‘F’ word. Shock was expressed in newspaper comment pages. But nobody needed to be surprised. After all, most people in Ireland were (and are) fond of swearing their way through the day, by no means excluding politicians. One other Minister (of a different party) was notorious for his habit of arranging meetings by telling his secretary to ‘get that f***er in here’. And today several Irish politicians are known for their fondness of expletives.

It’s not uniquely an Irish habit. The White House tapes released at the time of the Watergate investigations revealed Richard Nixon as a serial swearer. Recently there have been newspaper reports telling us that current British Prime Minister David Cameron ‘uses four-letter expletives as casually as a teenager in a school playground.’ What is more, in doing so he follows, it is said, in the footsteps of the last two occupants of No 10 Downing Street. And back in America, Barack Obama last year said of his (now departed) White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel that Mother’s Day was problematic for him because he was not used to saying ‘day’ after the word ‘mother’.

Why would any of that shock us? Maybe there is a view in some circles that politicians need to show some sort of decorum that suggests to voters that they would be more at ease at your granny’s birthday tea than just before closing time in the pub. But don’t we want our politicians to be part of life as it is lived, rather than as it is airbrushed?

I confess I get very tired of the over-use of swear words, particularly in Dublin, where many people seem to feel a need to introduce the ‘F’ word into every sub-clause of every sentence. But on the other hand, expletives can have a use, and apparently are effective in reducing tension and blood pressure. So if anyone wants to be critical of David Cameron, I hope they find a better basis for that. And as for Charles Haughey’s interview, even today it makes me smile, not because I admire the language, but because he felt confident enough to ‘be himself’. That’s not a bad thing.

F*** the expletives!

August 9, 2008

When the television series Father Ted was first broadcast in the 1990s, it proved life-changing for a friend of mine. An academic in her 50s, she had always avoided any swear words or other expletives. For those who might not have come across it, Father Ted was a totally crazy (but very funny) series, featuring the exploits of some entirely dysfunctional Catholic priests on an island off the Irish coast. One of the priests, Father Jack (past his most agile mental state) liked to shout out a string of expletives, starting with ‘Feck!’ – an Irish adaptation of the internationally more familiar ‘F***!’ Anyway, my (English) academic friend suddenly decided that ‘feck’ wasn’t a real swear word and that she could properly use it – and from that moment on her language was suddenly peppered with ‘fecks’ at every available opportunity. She infected her students, and whole classes of that generation were overheard telling each other to ‘feck off’, and referring to ‘fecking’ this and ‘fecking’ that.

They would probably have felt quite at home in Dublin, where the F-word, with or without the local adaptation, is constantly in the air. So much so, that it has almost ceased to be an expletive or a swear word, it is just a filler. I was sitting next to a group on a public transport vehicle recently, and literally every sentence had one or more F-words; until one of the group accidentally banged his head, and as he shouted out in pain for the first time since he came within earshot he didn’t use the F-word – it was too normal a word for him to serve as an expletive.

I confess that I can very occasionally be overheard using the F-word, usually for deliberate effect. And in fact, I take the view that swearing can have a purpose. Some studies suggest that the judicious use of swearing can have a positive psychological impact and relieve stress. But I suspect that this is lost entirely if swearing is just a verbal tick that is peppered through a conversation with no meaning at all.

So maybe we need to think again about the language that is used in popular conversation. Maybe we need to encourage a more judicious use of expletives. In fact, F*** all this swearing!


PS – For those who might want to hear Father Jack in full fecking form, you can get some extracts here.