I swear a lot. In writing, if not so much in speech (but, fuck it, also a lot of times in speech). Swearing is awesome, because it adds a little extra punch to your sentence that lets people know you mean business! Or, at least, I guess that's how most people characterize the function of swearing. Personally, I don't really give a shit. That "punch" is meaningless—it's a construct—I swear this much because I like to push back against outdated, constrictive, distracting forms of propriety that I don't believe in. When people bitch at me about swearing in articles about grievous, mind-boggling, viscerally enraging hypocrisies and human rights violations—that's what's interesting to me. That tension, that decision to prioritize meaningless bullshit over tangible real-world harm. Fuck you, and fuck your delicate sensibilities.
Over the weekend, Salon posted a fun little look into the etymological, cultural, and socioeconomic history of swearing (an excerpt from Melissa Mohr's book Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing). Being a shrewish shit-scold, of course, I particularly enjoyed this part:
With the development of feminism, many swearwords have become more equal-opportunity, not less. Bitch can now be applied to men and women, as can cunt. In the 19th century shit as a noun was reserved exclusively for men — the “West Somerset Word-Book” defines it as “a term of contempt, applied to men only,” as in “He’s a regular shit.” Now, women too can work, vote, own their own property, and be called a shit.
When swearwords don’t become more equal-opportunity, they often begin to be used solely for women — Geoffrey Hughes calls this the “feminization of ambisexual terms.” Words such as scold, shrew, termagent, witch, harlot, bawd, and tramp were all at one point in their histories terms for men; furthermore, the terms were usually neutral and sometimes even adulatory. Scold, for example, comes from the Old Norse word for “poet.” When these terms were feminized, they perjorated, going from neutral or positive to insulting. Buggerbucks this trend, too, going from a word used of men and women equally to an insulting term reserved almost exclusively for men.
Language is powerful. Language pushes and pulls on our culture and culture pushes and pulls on language, and acknowledging that power can have a profound effect on actual human lives. Reverence for language means both opposing its restriction and encouraging its responsible use. I want people to wield their words freely but carefully; anyone who thinks language doesn't hold real power has no business making a "free speech" argument in the first place. The dissemination of the printed word, the right to assemble and dissent, the spread of literacy among oppressed populations—these are the things that drive major cultural and political shifts. The way we talk about things can directly affect the way we feel about things, and the way we feel about things of course affects the way we act on things. Fucking duh.