Friday, February 18, 2011

The blurring boundary between public and private lives

I was listening to early morning Spanish radio the other day (in an attempt to help improve my Spanish) when a very bizarre song came on. The chorus seemed to consist of a woman wailing ‘What the F***’. Now I know I’m not quite used to Euro pop but this came as a bit of a surprise at about 10am on a weekday morning.
The lyrics reminded me of the fact that over the last few years in magazines and newspapers it has, seemingly, become more acceptable to use swear words as a means of expression. Now, I’m not really sure, if I’m honest, about my stance on censorship, but I do think that our media reflects the sort of society that we live in.
I like a good old swear myself every now and again (I recently moved a single bed downstairs on my own and that called for much swearing at the bed and the stairs) and I don’t mind a good old swear (usually drunken) with friends. However, that doesn’t mean that I want to publically swear as a means of normal conversation, nor do I, necessarily, want to hear regular swearing on the radio or read swearing in a newspaper or magazine that I think is going to give me thoughtful and thought provoking information about the world or cinema, books, food and life.
I wonder if the increasingly public appearance of swearing in print media and on the radio is a result of the blurring between private and public that we see increasingly in our lives. As magazines and newspapers increasingly provide insight into the most personal aspects of celebrity lives are we becoming more used to intimate revelations?
Does that mean that we no longer mind if journalists and musicians feel the desire to express their thoughts and feelings with language more usually used in private not public forums?
Is it middle age? Am I becoming more prudish and judgemental as I get older or am I just expecting a bit too much of the world around me?
Certainly in my job (as a teacher) it would be highly inappropriate for me to use swearing as an everyday means of acceptable expression. I wouldn’t want to either...I like to separate my professional and personal life with some boundaries...the ability and freedom to swear if I wish comes as a welcome release when I am home from school and my children are in bed!
I am a believer in the fact that we shape the world around us with the way we use language, as much as the media and other influences all around us shape the way we think and behave. So, what do we do? Make sure that the language we use is thoughtful and considerate, is provoking when it needs to be, but does not necessarily bare all our innermost sweary thoughts and feelings to the world.


  1. There are those who would say that we inhabit separate worlds when we speak different languages- so when we swear do we create a different reality? Is swearing seeping into day to day conversation the same as other words or phrases that would have been unheard ('to facebook' or 'tweet' li?) decades ago. When Alastair Campbell was accused of 'sexing up' his dossier would this have been better expressed as 'complete Bulls#%^*'? The media certainly is to blame- I note that there is such a word as 'sexting' now.

    I read an article that said that swearing helped us endure/ ease pain- haven't we all stubbed our toe on the bed or banged our hand with a hammer and a good old 'swear' has helped.

    I agree - not in front of the children

  2. As you know, I'm not averse to a good swear. I've even, on two very unfortunate occasions, sworn in front of the child of two very, very prissy parents (the first time because I didn't know the child was there, the second time was, admittedly, for devilment after the parents' reaction). But, even I would readily admit that it is lazy expression; a generic expletive rather than a choice mot juste is idleness, like writing in text language rather than in 'proper' English. I wonder if all generations (when they reach a certain age!)feel that the world is going to hell in a handcart. Maybe it is just transition and, one day soon, swear words won't be considered offensive and people will be horrified at the use of archaic English!! Or maybe that's a bit too Monty Python for the real world. Annie


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