I was watching old episodes of Peep Show on 4OD last night when the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s latest probably-not-very-good-but-at-least-he-hasn’t-split-this-one-in-half-and-expect-me-to-pay-DOUBLE-to-see-a-film-which-is-essentially-just-badly-edited-and-should-just-be-a-single-90-minute-film fest. As you might have guessed, I don’t especially like Tarantino, I thought Reservoir Dogs was a stunningly good film but found Pulp Fiction a bit of a Hollywood-goes-indie all-star yawnathon and everything he’s released subsequently strikes me as over long, horribly self indulgent and a little bit boring. Anyway, his new film ‘Inglorious Basterds (sic)’ was being trailed. The voiceover announced it as ‘Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious!’ He didn’t say the word ‘Bastards’….. sorry ‘Basterds’. It was written on the screen but it had clearly been decided as somehow offensive to the deaf.
Is bastard actually a swear word? Maybe on the very fringe. I’ll tell you what, try using it as an adjective instead of a noun – it’s bastard delicious, I tell you.
I love to swear. I really do. Swearing is really one of my joys in life. A friend heard me on the radio recently and said he found it weird to hear me not swearing. At first that worried me – do people define me as some kind of pottymouth? But then, I thought about it and decided I was OK with it – you see I swear very well.
Like anything, a word is only bad when in the wrong hands. Without a kitchen knife, you wouldn’t have beautiful delicious sushi (anyone fancy sushi this week?) but put it in Michael Myers’ hands and ‘what are you doing? That’s MAD!’ Words are capable of ugliness and beauty – each word is capable of both. It’s all about context and intent. I find swearing vulgar sometimes. But I never find the words themselves vulgar. They’re just words. I don’t like it when you meet people who use derivatives as ‘fuck’ to either replace the gaping hole in their vocabulary or use it like certain people do with salt – just tip it all over their food without even sampling or thinking about it. But maybe absence of thought is vulgar in all of its incarnations.
But me? I fucking love to swear.
I remember the first time I ever swore. It came a few hours after the first time I ever conciously heard swearing. Now, one link I have and cherish with my mother is a love of language. For me, it’s a joy, for her an obsession. Since the internet started, she has belonged to online groups devoted to the debate of the etymology and usage of the English language. They even all meet up for meals and daytrips. I bet that’s fun. She even appeared on thet TV show Balderdash & Piffle, a mortifying experience for her children. Anyway… my mother encouraged me to write and make up stories from a very early age and gave me a love of words from games of junior scrabble and, pretty quickly, adult scrabble. Normal scrabble, that is – not adult scrabble. That sounds filthy. So, yes, we shared a love of words. She would ask me sometimes about new words that I had learned, I think she got a kick out of watching my vocabulary expand far more than – like most parents – seeing me learn to ride a bike (I refused to after they removed the stabilisers, they didn’t care) or excel at sport (came last in EVERY SINGLE race throughout my school career apart from the one they let the handicapped boy enterand the one where my mate Nick fell over and got trampled. Again, my parents really couldn’t have cared less about sporting achievement)
So, it was with a heady fervour at the age of 5 that I waited for the opportunity to tell my mum the two new words I had learned at school today. They were the best words I had ever heard and, do you know what? They basically still are! I was ready to explode, she would ADORE these words! “So what happened at school today?” “WELL….. Nicky Hawkins called Adam Pearce a fucking wanker!” A face, very familiar throughout my childhood (“did you cut your own hair???” “Actually the word ‘arrogant’ on a school report is not a compliment”) which, to be honest is still fairly ubiquitous in my adult life (“So you’re seing a single mum?” “You want to buy a house which has a septic tank???”), it involves a stern arching of the eyebrows, a slightly bowed head, an intense frown and a slight amused glimmer in the eyes. It amused but worried her. She oculdn’t deny they were great words though – meaty words you could really get your teeth around. ‘Wanker’ was so much better than ‘wally’ or ‘idiot’ (although ‘idiot’ is a nice sharp stabby word!) There’s a built in ramp up (WWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAA…) followed by a satisfying middle ‘k’ and then a cathartic ‘errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’. I’ve always been jealous of lononders who get to pronounce it ‘WANKAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH’. Wanker is a great word, but prefixed by a verb? That’s genius! Geeeeeenius! I’d previously only used the word ‘stupid’ or ‘silly’ as a prefix to an insult. But ‘fucking” – No contest! AND it also included the crunchy ‘K’ middle. I was fucking well armed with these new words and off I fucking went into the world of colourful language.
For a while, I’ll admit, I used it to shock and show off but it quickly entered my vernacular. I learnt the order and scale of sweary insults. The sbtle shades between swearwords – which meant I always knew, vaguely, what was appopriate. I wonder if others even diffeentiate, let alone have separate definitions for all of the key insults
KNOB – A harmless oaf
DICK – A harmless oaf with a pathetic plan
FUCKER – A dick with the ability to actually annoy you.
TWAT – A person of intellect squandered on the pursuit of being as annoying as possible
WANKER – A twat with a specific plan
CUNT – an irredeemably nasty person.
And we’re on to ‘cunt’, so to speak. The last word with the power to really make people draw breath at even it’s most casual usage. Some will suggest it’s mysoginistic and demeaning to women. But they often seem to be happy to call people ‘dicks’. I don’t think it’s so bad, I think it’s just newer than the others. I mean, it’s a VERY old word (most English towns had a ‘Gropecunt Lane’ where the prossies hung out) but it seems to have only been rediscovered since maybe the late 70s or early 80s so still shocks some. I’m not scared of the word cunt but I’ll rarely use it neat. The secret to fine swearing is in the modification of these words.’He’s a cunt’ might be a bit strong and aggresive but ‘He’s a bit cunty’ is both playful and infomative. Similarly, the modification of wanker to ‘wank-wank’ keeps the word alive to me. Why not verbify cunt? Cunting! Twattish is a great word as are fucknuggets and ‘cunt right off’
When I was in film school, I made a film which my whole family wanted to see. I wouldn’t allow my grandma. When she asked why not, I explained that it was full of swearing and I’d be uncomfortable. She asked me why I chose to write swearing into my films and I told her that it reflected reality. It was important to be realistic. She accepted that but what I had said didn’t ring particularly true to me. I realised that using extraneous swearing in my films was as lazy as people who swear out of laziness of language. If you avoid swearing throughout a film, then use it at only a key moment, it is so much more effective. In real life the majority of people use it lazily and the erudite language-architects like myself are very much in the minority. By the end of the conversation, my grandmother was rather enjoying effing and blinding and it was bothering me immensely. She knew that and that’s how she was making her point. Her point being that the right word in the right mouth at the wrong time was a powerful thing. She told me that her father never swore but when he called you a ‘dirty rotter’, it cut deeply from the mere force of intent. My own father is not a swearer, but when he calls someone a cretin, well, he means and says it with a force so much greater than the other C-word.
My point is that words are not intrinsically offensive (yes, racial slurs are different) but the intent behind their usage is. And when you decide to omit the word ‘basterds’ whilst informing people of the name of the film ‘Inglorious Basterds’ then, frankly, you’re a dick and you’re treating us all like a fucktitude of wankerly cuntyballs.