How (and why) to give up swearing

The column below is one of a series I wrote some time ago for IOL Lifestyle. The incident it refers to is long forgotten, but the issue lives on in my life. I now swear considerably less than I did, and here’s how… I pay my son R2 for every swear word I utter. It works, and I feel a better person.

The column, which was first carried here:

There are going to be a lot of asterisks in this column, but bear with me.

The furore surrounding SuperSport Rugby World Cup anchor and Jacaranda
94.2 breakfast host Darren Scott and his use of the “k” word got me
thinking about swearing in general.

Scott has apologised and resigned after calling a a colleague a k*****
at a Jacaranda 94.2 team building event at the weekend.

It’s clear strong emotions and possibly alcohol were at play – and
callers to radio stations talked a lot about how stressful situations
will “bring things to the surface”. One man told Cape Talk how he
found himself flinging horrible racial epithets at a man who was
burgling his house – to his massive embarrassment as he had black neighbours at the time.


It seems that Scott also used the “f” word in his rant – but it was
striking that not one person even paused to note that this was also a
swearword. I remember a time when to use that word to a colleague
would be cause for grievances and disciplinaries and all sorts of
general unhappiness. Is that still the case? F***ing might be
fashionable and acceptable at all the right cocktail parties (and is
certainly flung around a lot in the IOL office, principally by me) but
I know a lot of people who would be shocked to hear it used at all. In
my quilting guild, I would certainly never utter it, for instance.

So there are hierarchies of swearwords – and it all depends on
context. Some are never acceptable (racially and historically loaded
ones in the South African context), and some shift around over time.
And in the chattering classes, we all swear quite a lot. Seems to be
fashionable.

But think about this: we don’t like small children to use these words
at all, do we?

This was forcibly brought home to me one morning in the park when my
son was about three. I had told him off, or told him to stop doing
something. He was very, very cross and shouted at me, loudly:
“F***ing, f***ing God!”. It was funny but it was also shocking – and
clearly he couldn’t be going round talking like that. So I cleaned up
my act, which was tough to do as years in journalism will turn the
nicest girl into a hard-talking woman.

We don’t like little children to swear so we stop them doing it and do
our best to set good examples to them.

Later, we start to educate them about when it is okay to say a bad
word and when it isn’t (and interestingly, it seems “stupid” is the
worst word of all to kids: Jack refers to it as the “s” word). If I
swear now, Jack says: “I didn’t hear you say that Mommy”. It’s his
little joke at my expense.

But I’m wondering… are we debasing ourselves and our languages by
the whole-hearted acceptance of swearing (in whatever context)?

I don’t have an answer to that… but I am going to try not to swear
at all (not even a damn!) for a week and see how that works for me.
Let’s hope I don’t hit my thumb with a hammer. Report back next
Friday…

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