On Expletives & Expression

It’s a long-running joke in my house that we’re not allowed to curse. And by curse, I mean anything as strong as an innocent “damn”. My sister and I are highly amused by my mother’s insistence upon this rule, and the fact that till date, with us at ages 16 and 20 respectively, everyone around the dinner table will gasp if even the mildest form of profanity escapes anyone’s lips. Of course, we find ways around it, my mother herself in particular. For instance, the time when someone was referred to as “a real A.H.”. It took us a while, but when a few days later she commented (talking about our cat), “look at her lifting her tail like that shamelessly; Apollo, we don’t want to see your A.H.,” the penny dropped.

Growing up, the lack of profanity always came most naturally to me, and it become something I inculcated into my identity to quite a strong extent. Thus, when all my friends went through the “saying bad words in hushed tones because it’s cool” phase in school, I merely watched from the sidelines, uncomfortably. When the novelty of the word wore off and it became something more naturally said by everyone, there was an unspoken rule that around me, everyone’s language was a little milder. And even today, at almost 21, anyone who knows me at all knows that I will not say certain words, not even if you beg me, and ideally not even if I’m reading them out of a book. It’s just a strong part of who I am.

The reason why I censor myself is quite simple to me – most swear words have a negative connotation, and I have no intention of spreading that. Further, as I mentioned above, it’s something that has become quintessentially me. I don’t even consider it censoring, because it is not like I think differently from how I speak. If there’s a word I will not say, chances are you won’t find me thinking it either. I simply don’t feel a need to use such words to express myself.

Naturally, like I’m sure anyone who doesn’t curse has experienced, I have had numerous conversations on the topic with people who think what I do is unnecessary. “It’s just a word” is the most common defence I’m offered, and I won’t deny the sentiment – but it can still remain ‘just a word’ that I do not wish to say. Of course, there is the whole other argument that by censoring ourselves we are giving otherwise meaningless words power. By this logic, if we were all to normalise the use of every other term, be it derogatory slurs, racist slang or simply crude language, we could effectively render those words entirely meaningless.

I like and appreciate this ideology, and I think it would be great if we could remove such taboos entirely. However, this is one thing I remain stubborn on, as I have heard words like the dreaded f-word used so often in anger and hatred, that I cannot change that image in my head. It’s the reason I don’t say it even if I’m pleaded with, although I can be convinced to say words of similar meaning in other languages if I’m merely saying them with no meaning, for the amusement of my friends. I can say some of these words only because they mean nothing to me, and I am not expressing anything by them.

There have apparently been studies that show that swearing makes people more honest, more intelligent, and more resistant to pain. While I’m not doubting the legitimacy of the studies, at a personal level, I entirely disagree (primarily with the honesty one). It has made me more accepting of people who do, though, as I can appreciate that just as it is a choice for me to express myself in one way, the opposite is their way of expressing themselves.

It paints a funny image in my head when I imagine growing up and having kids and watching them stumble through discovering expletives for the first time (at younger and younger ages, lately), while I myself remain unable to say the words that they are uttering. Unless, of course, my quirk gets passed on, and we remain one odd family of pure mouthed individuals in this otherwise profanity-filled world.


2 thoughts on “On Expletives & Expression

  1. Growing up in my house, calling someone a liar was considered swearing so I can relate. I was well spoken as a child however being bullied I forced myself to change and swear. I wish I could turn the clock back, I rarely swear as an adult but I also don’t speak as well as I could have.


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