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34 MIN READ TIME

The sanity of profanity

Hearing my friend Lisa recount the story, I couldn’t help but smile. ‘Nucking thanker!’ she substituted desperately. She had been driving her little boy to school when a car pulled out in front of her. Lisa braked in time, but lost her composure. Harry asked her straight away what she meant. ‘Ha ha!’ she chimed. ‘Mummy is being silly today! Clucking manker! Tucking chanker!’

It happens to all of us. We do our best to moderate our language all the time, because politeness is at the heart of being British. And not just in those moments when we have to plaster on a smile, such as conversations with bank staff, work meetings or anything to do with our children. To curse openly feels like a moment of weakness, a sign that we cannot really cope. Let fly, and you start to feel like that crazy lady on the bus. But, in fact, swearing is a natural instinct, a remnant from a time when we relied on our instincts. We may aspire to be pious Ned Flanders, but inside we are wired to be more Homer Simpson.

You may have heard people say, ‘Swearing is a sign of ignorance’, ‘swearing is just unnecessary’, and, ‘people who swear have a poor vocabulary’. Aside from the fact that none of those statements is true, they are rather missing the point. Swear words are much more than simply verbal decoration.

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