26
Jun
08

Is there anything wrong with swearing?

British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has been so foul-mouthed in his series ‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ that Australian senators are considering changing their country’s broadcasting standards. According to one senator, Ramsay used the ‘F-word’ 80 times in one 40-minute show (“And I’m not referring to fondue,” he added).


Ramsay himself is unrepentant, and says he is just trying to reflect the real pressures of working in a restaurant kitchen. Many people have found the controversy funny. Others, like the heavyweight British journalist Max Hastings, think that people who swear in public undermine the foundations of civilised society. (“Every time Ramsay says ‘f***’ on television, he kicks civilised values between the legs”, writes Hastings)

What do you think about swearing? Is it liberating, and honest? Is it always best to say what you feel, even if it involves rude words? Is it MANLY  to strut your potty-mouthed stuff, as this blogger asks?

Would you swear in front of your children, or your grandmother? Do you think it’s OK for prominent people to swear on television? Or do you think there are good reasons behind the existence of language taboos? (It’s the kind of thing we often argue about here at the BBC – in this case I wanted to use the F-word above in quoting Max Hastings, on the grounds that the swearing was to the point and not gratuitous, but a senior manager thought I should be more polite and replace the offending syllable with asterisks.) 

More seriously, is breaking the rules of polite language another sign that selfish individualism has got out of hand? Perhaps the authorities in Rockville, Maryland, where swearing in a vehicle is reportedly an official misdemeanour, are right to be worried.


51 Responses to “Is there anything wrong with swearing?”


  1. 1 Mohammed Ali
    June 26, 2008 at 15:50

    If they feel anything wrong with swearing, then let them pass a legislation banning it.

  2. June 26, 2008 at 15:57

    Swearing generally isn’t part of a huge problem here in Cameroon but the rate at which young people are catching up with the ‘F’ word gives me reason to wonder aloud if we aren’t going to need a legislation on morality soon. It’s all down to imported cultures from abraod.

  3. 3 steve b - uk
    June 26, 2008 at 16:00

    WHYSers

    I think the English language is complex, rich and incredibly beautiful. Yes, I think swearing has a place sometimes, precisely because it is shocking. However, to use it more than occasionally and carefully is lazy at best and, at worst, exposes the paucity of brain power of the person doing the swearing.

    In Gordon Ramsey’s case, surely it is done cynically and deliberately as a marketing tool.

  4. 4 Julie P
    June 26, 2008 at 16:00

    To me foul language can mean the person doesn’t have an argument because the person really doesn’t know anything about the subject they are speaking about. Of course, it speak about the anger, even rage, a person is feeling. In case like this, if Gordon Ramsey dropped the f bomb 80 times in one show, so be it. I’d like to know who took the time to do that regardless. If you don’t like what words are coming out of person’s mouth, then switch the channel or turn the television off.

  5. 5 Tino
    June 26, 2008 at 16:02

    Of course not, they are just words. People care about stupid things too much. I doubt we can curse on this blog, for example, so I never do. Go watch some George Carlin for some laughs on the issue.

    • 6 Margie
      April 24, 2009 at 21:22

      They aren’t “just words”. Words have power, to build up or to tear down. In the case of Gordon Ramsey, he’s tearing himself down as well as the people he’s working with. I can’t enjoy watching or listening to that. It’s abusive to everyone.

  6. 7 Venessa
    June 26, 2008 at 16:03

    Words are exactly that. Just words. You can choose to be offended or not. Of course it can be offending when someone uses it in a derogatory matter but so can words that are not considered to be swearing.

    Mohammed Ali is right. If people think vulgar language is wrong then they will pass legislation banning it. Personally I think there are more important issues than wasting time on legislation to limit a person’s choice for use of words.

  7. 8 Peter Gizzi UK
    June 26, 2008 at 16:11

    There’s a time and a place for everything. Living alone I swear regularly indoors when things annoy me. A wondeful way to let off “steam”. I do swear in conversation with friends when in the pub, but quietly so as not to cause offence to others. Teenagers swearing really load in The High Street I find difficult. I cannot criticise though as I swear too!

  8. 9 Catalina
    June 26, 2008 at 16:15

    @ Mohammad

    I hope you’re being sarcastic. Because if you’re not, they definitely can’t do that because the constitution takes precedence.

    On the issue at hand I tend to agree with one of my high school English teachers. I think swearing is fine as long as it’s not gratuitious. It’s honest and blunt, and I don’t understand what the big deal is, simply because everyone swears.

    I do think that children should be excluded from this. Swearing around them only encourages them to act out against their parents and they will then pick up the habit.

    It’s kind of absurd that swearing in a vehicle is reportedly an official misdemeanour. That’s when we have to start being worried. First, we’re censored from expressing a feeling in a certain way, then what’s next? How else will the government restrict and censor its people?

    It’s freedom of speech. TV shows and radio stations in the US are already censored and have regulations pertaining to what words are considered swearing and what words aren’t. For example on some radio stations, the word “b***h” is freely used as is “ass”. On a different radio station, both those words are not allowed on the air.

    I think that it also has to do with whaty’s socially accepted. It seems as though “b***h” has became part of the English vocabulary, and as far as I know, it is rarely censored.

  9. 10 Count Iblis
    June 26, 2008 at 16:27

    Since the F-word can have different meanings in different contexts, I was wondering if a string of F-words can be a grammatically correct sentence, similar to this sentence 🙂

  10. 11 steve
    June 26, 2008 at 16:47

    It’s time for easily offended people to develop a backbone. If you don’t like something, change the station. Don’t ruin it for everyone else because you are more related to jellyfish than to primates.

    PS, I never swear. Not for any moral reasons, I just have no desire to swear, but I don’t mind hearing other people swear. If I hav ea problem with something, I just don’t pay attention. So if you are watching a show with bad language, change the channel.

  11. 12 Venessa
    June 26, 2008 at 16:51

    Catalina points out some very good things and If I wasn’t in to keeping my points as short as possible I think I would say something along the same lines as her.

    I’m with Peter Gizzi UK as well. I swear and it seems to be worse when I drink and get a good buzz or when I am really angry. My mother probably had a lot of influence in vulgarity (she cussed like a sailor and every other word was typically the F bomb) but at the end of the day my choice of words is my own. People need to get thicker skins and realize naughty words are just as meaningless as the others unless you give them such credence.

  12. 13 gary
    June 26, 2008 at 17:11

    There is no more wrong with swearing than picking one’s nose, expectorating in public areas, failing to clean after one’s pet, or making hand jestures at less-skilled motorists. In Mr. Ramsay’s case, I suspect coarse language is either part of a stage persona, or maybe just a cover for verbal ineptitude.
    g

  13. 14 Anthony
    June 26, 2008 at 17:15

    The only reason curse words are curse words are because offended people keep the negative connotation alive. I had this fight with this black guy, because he was “so offended” that I call blacks “blacks”. I asked “what should I call blacks?”. He responded “African American”. Then I got mad and offended, because HOW DARE HE!!!! He’s never been to Africa, if he did go to most of Africa he would have gotten robbed and beaten, so many people have died do he can be AMERICAN!! AMERICA is what made his life so great!!!Not AFRICA!!! How dare he put Africa before America!!! I HATE THAT!!! I’m HISPANIC, not Mexican or Mexican-American!!! He has NOOOOO ties to Africa! Yet he acted like I was a bastard for calling blacks blacks.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  14. 15 Colleen
    June 26, 2008 at 17:17

    I dont think cursing is a big deal unless it is used as derogatory language directed at another person or used to intimidate another person…

    In terms of leaders using it… again maybe it’s not such a big deal once in a while depending on the specific context, but at the same time being excessive with it may show a lack of respect for your audience… there are better ways of using language to emphasize a point

  15. 16 Anthony
    June 26, 2008 at 17:29

    Post Script:

    Swearing and curse words are ESPECIALLY good if you’re having an incredible, exhilarating, hot, passionate night with your partner!!! 😉 It sometimes makes it much, much better!!!

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  16. 17 steve
    June 26, 2008 at 17:41

    @ Anthony

    What would that guy call people from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt?? I remember someone from South Africa who was white listed himself as “African American” because he was from Africa, and liberals went absolutely insane and wanted to charge him with fraud or something due to him applying for a scholarship or for admissions to a university, and basically they came out and said African America means black, and not everyone from Africa.

  17. 18 Roberto
    June 26, 2008 at 17:44

    I don’t understand what the big deal is, simply because everyone swears.
    —————————————————————————————————

    ——– Come on. Not only do you not know everyone, but most assuredly you don’t know me.

    Swearing should be considered a form of hate speech. It is certainly inflammatory and almost always a precursor to confrontations that lead to beatings, stabbings, and shootings.

    I can handle some casual swearing in my friends, but most of the people I’ve befriended basically didn’t swear or smoke cigarettes for that matter. Birds of a feather I guess.

    As soon as someone swears heavily at me though, it boils down to two things for me: 1. How do I remove myself from this situation. 2. How am I going to dispatch this foul offender.

    In short, classic flight or fight response.

    Freedom of speech my ashes!

  18. 19 Anthony
    June 26, 2008 at 17:48

    @ steve.

    I would call them Moroccans, Tunisians, Algerians, and Egyptians. I don’t mind if someone was BORN in Africa, and then came here, but to call yourself African American, when you were born in Whittier California, and never been even close to Africa, then thats a disgrace.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  19. 20 Virginia Davis
    June 26, 2008 at 18:03

    I watch Gordon Ramsey, and don’t mind the swearing now that I’m used to him being bleeped. In a way, it is even funnier. What about Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce to nod to some comics and, of course, Chris Rock?

    I do object to the young, especially when I have to listen to them swearing on their cell phones on the street or the bus. Not so easy to turn off, Steve. To me that’s rude and we both know I don’t like rude.

    I can swear good – “talk street” is what I call that aspect of myself. I rarely swear with my sister, bless her, who does not swear with me at all. But likes me to come up in discussing her work situation (male prejudice) “f***k that s**t! occasionally. .

    Dan Langton, a fine San Francisco poet who ghost wrote Herb Caen some of the time and a professor of mine at San Francisco State once told me to use obscenity in my poetry VERY carefully.

    Virginia in Oregon

  20. 21 Dennis
    June 26, 2008 at 18:40

    I have no problem with swearing…I do it a lot of times….I would not encourage children to do it.

    Should it be limited on TELEVISION programmes….? my opinions is yes on it on publicilly funded television during the time, when children are watching it.

    Dennis
    Onondaga Community College
    Syracuse, New York
    United States of America

  21. 22 Robert
    June 26, 2008 at 18:47

    We all use different languages for different things and to give a different impact. We all swear but whether its a bad thing depends on how frequently.

    During my day to day work I would never swear, simply because I wish to project a professional imagine. During my social life I swear infrequently, but when I do it signals to people that I have a very strong point to make. By keeping it in reserve many people use swearing as a very powerful weapon in the verbal arsenal.

    For people who swear nearly every other word it does tend to reflect badly on them. To me it implies that they are to lazy to search the English language for a suitable word or lack the intelligence to release that there are other possibilities in speech. Although the F word is so versatile in its usage it doesn’t mean that it must be used on all occasions. By doing so you lessen its impact, and in doing so lessens the messages that you are using it in.

  22. 23 Nick in USA
    June 26, 2008 at 18:51

    I don’t think there is a moral issue. Someone using words seen as uncivilized certainly won’t cause a major problem in society. On the other hand, it does say something about the person using those words. It means that they can’t control their emotions. People like chef Ramsay are like 5 year old kids who haven’t learned what it means to be an adult. A lot of people just grow up in homes where people use curse words all the time, and that’s not a big deal, but Ramsay has no control over himself. He’s just a little kid throwing a temper tantrum.

  23. 24 Janet T
    June 26, 2008 at 19:12

    @Roberto- swearing as hate speech?? come on——

    It has it’s place- mostly to get a point across strongly- if a person cusses all the time it loses it’s effectivenes, like people who drop darling or baby into every sentence.
    We give weight to certain words- otherwise they are just a jumble of letters
    I swear most when I’m driving >:O

  24. 25 Scott (M)
    June 26, 2008 at 19:21

    Nope! Why can’t we all just do it? Make it go away. Don’t say that. It’s a mean terrible, terrible word. What power we give to language! We let these words control us. Sacred cows. Moral dividers. Death to you!

  25. 26 Pangolin- California
    June 26, 2008 at 20:18

    Swearing has about the same function as barking. If you issuing a string of f-bombs you might as well be saying woof, woof, woof for all the good it does to your public image. Swear all you want; it helps the rest of us identify the idiots.

    Surprisingly I find that outright growling can elicit far more emotional tone and appropriate response than swearing. Of course, I rather resemble a badly shaved bear so nobody is actually surprised.

    The best solution would be to actively develop an appropriate emotional vocabulary and then practice using it. Erudition in a stressful situation is also surprisingly effective.

  26. 27 Tino
    June 26, 2008 at 21:03

    “As soon as someone swears heavily at me though”

    Roberto, when did anyone say anything about swearing at a person? If you have a problem with someone saying “s***” after they stub their toe, I do not even know what to say. Get over it perhaps?

  27. 28 Roberto
    June 26, 2008 at 23:21

    Roberto, when did anyone say anything about swearing at a person?
    ———————————————————————————————————-

    —— The topic was about swearing, period.

    Cabbies in NYC were recently banned from swearing at each other and pedestrians.

    Maybe you feel like it’s your right to swear around other people who find it grossly offensive.

    Hey, whatever blows your skirt up. Already indicated I was OK with some mild swearing that comes out in general conversation on occasion, but too many use it as a form of hate speech and intimidation.

  28. 29 David
    June 26, 2008 at 23:22

    I like Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. Yes, for me the swearing really gets out of hand. I know that Gordon can express himself better. I wish he would chose to do so. I can tell by the emphasis in his voice that working in a kitchen that is going under is a grueling emotion filled job.

    Gordon has brought the same to Hell’ s kitchen here in the States on nationwide broadcast television. The shame of it is that my wife will not watch either program due to the excessive foul repetition of Gordon. She thinks that he is juvenile in mindset and his constant foul mouth proves it. No matter how good he maybe at what he is trying to accomplish.

  29. 30 Tino
    June 27, 2008 at 01:54

    “Maybe you feel like it’s your right to swear around other people who find it grossly offensive.”

    I find burqas grossly offensive. I find people who refuse to speak english at a hospital parking lot (the attendant) grossly offensive. I find PC-speak ESPECIALLY offensive. Offense is not a valid reason to prohibit behavior or categorize something as hate speech. Especially when hate speech is directed at a certain group, would it be hate of language? I do not get it.

  30. 31 Nick
    June 27, 2008 at 03:22

    It is a sign of class to use moderate language (and to be moderate in general). I don’t think that swearing should be done away with, because sometimes a strong word is warranted (not to mention the fact that I am just fascinated with the linguistic phenomenon of curse words). Indeed, at times, and in the right hands, swearing can be quite an art form; it is just one of many tools of good oration and talented conversation. (Take, for instance, Stephen Fry, who uses it very well, with thought and creativity, but not to an extent that would reveal a lack of class or brainpower.)

    However, today, it is used entirely too much. It degrades the rest of speech and even emasculates itself: with overuse, words become weak. Also, if one is in company in which such language would be found offensive, basic courtesy demands you find another way to express yourself.

    Like spice in the culinary world, used at the right time and in the correct degree, a little swearing can pack the right (rhetorical) punch. On the other hand, if Gordon Ramsay cooked like he speaks, his dishes would be so incredibly salty as to be inedible. He is an adept in the culinary art; he should spend some time working on artful, classy, and effective communication.

  31. 32 Mark
    June 27, 2008 at 05:54

    The trouble with swearing a lot is that it becomes so diluted from over use it loses all impact. “Hi, how are ya?” “Have a nice day.” “f*** you.” What does it say? Nothing? Now if you save it for those rare occasions when it’s most appropriate and nobody expects it from you, then you have something. “Yes your majesty.” “No your majesty.” “If it pleases you your majesty.” “F*** You your majesty.” See what I mean? This is why it is important not to use it in front of children. They will use it all the time just to be cute and it will have even less impact than it already does. But is Max Hastings really any better? “…kicks civilization between the legs.” If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the coyness of someone who doesn’t say what he means. Heck, we all know what he wanted to and should have said. Bland journalism and in the case of Ramsey, I wouldn’t eat in his restaurant for fear that his food is every bit as bland as his language. But then what would I expect. The British do have a reputation for boiling food until it is so gray and tasteless you hardly know what you’ve eaten. Boiled beef and boiled potatoes. Boiled language. Blah.

  32. 33 Mark from kansas
    June 27, 2008 at 09:17

    The late great George Carlin nailed this one. I stand in solidarity with him. He had an unimaginable grasp of the english language (he american version). Im sure you can find his monologe for free on the internet somwhere, it’s entertaining and enlightening.

  33. 34 Katharina in Ghent
    June 27, 2008 at 10:35

    I try not to swear big time in front of children, but I do allow myself (and them) to use words like stupid and silly. You have to be able to name a bad thing just that, and if that f*** device is not working, then I must be allowed to at least call it stupid… when sensitive ears are around. Otherwise… I swear until the device grows red ears. 😉 Even if it still doesn’t work, I start feeling a lot better.

  34. 35 Mohammed Ali
    June 27, 2008 at 13:03

    @Catalina,
    I am dead serious. If people will keep complaining about how people use their language and bein fully cognizant of the fact that the constitution guarantee that right, what should I say. Senators have the right to enact laws and if a Senator is complaining, all he has to do is to draft a bill and submit it to plenary and lobby for it to be passed as law. Simple.

  35. 36 cinefile
    June 27, 2008 at 14:20

    I find that swearing is very much a cultural issue: in Ireland we are fairly liberal with our F words and have been known to invoke the C word – and I don’t mean craic, from time to time. I can see why it causes offence and I think Gordon Ramsay uses swearing in away tso as to enhance his image/brand of alpha male. It’s pretty sad. But as a man who practises the fine art of swearing it certainly helps to get a point. And to offend people.

  36. 37 John in Salem
    June 27, 2008 at 14:20

    Swearing has it’s place. When I hit my finger with a hammer I don’t say, “Oh, my goodness!” – I let out with something that makes my dog run for cover.
    Swearing can be funny as well but most of the time it just falls into the same category as “y,know” and “like” – poor substitutes for a good vocabulary.

  37. 38 Des Currie
    June 27, 2008 at 14:58

    Well, for starters, swearing at the guy with the gun would be wrong. Bad, bad mistake.
    Des Currie

  38. 39 steve b - uk
    June 27, 2008 at 15:58

    WHYSers

    You should never swear unless you are a Brit and you have just lost to the Aussies. Or other colonials – like America.

    But that is unlikely.

  39. 40 kristianechappell
    June 27, 2008 at 16:10

    I personally swear here and there and I don’t see what the fuss is about. What is offensive is transient anyway, many words that were “foul language” 30 years ago are not now.

    http://kristianechappell.wordpress.com/

  40. June 28, 2008 at 06:24

    I don’t think swearing is at all wrong,it all happens when something is not right.But swearing all the time as part of your speech even in public or officially, will not earn you points in public speaking, so I think it has the time and place.

  41. 42 Rick
    June 28, 2008 at 07:33

    Fuchsia
    This is the most on topic blog I’ve seen in a long time.
    @steve b-uk Must have go a lot of use during the last ashes test then. Better start brushing up for the olympics.

  42. 43 parth guragain
    June 28, 2008 at 12:32

    i think that swearing is one’s habit.it is a bad habit and bad habits die last.but we should not discuss in these issue becoz if anyone is using swear language he is demeaning himself not others.

  43. 44 steve b - uk
    June 28, 2008 at 13:11

    Rick

    no – the last ashes series was so bad I gave up swearing and just wept

  44. 45 Isaiah Thomas
    June 28, 2008 at 13:21

    This is Isaiah Thomas from Kenya.

    There is nothing better than a well-placed swear word in an argument!

  45. 46 Mark
    June 29, 2008 at 01:19

    Isaiah Thomas, it’s so F***ing true, that was my point.

  46. 47 Joe Polly
    June 29, 2008 at 11:28

    Swearing is usually the result of the abandonment of reason. In the case of Ramsay its a simple case of sheer stupidity and pathetic hype.

  47. 48 Robert
    June 30, 2008 at 14:37

    I don’t have problem with swearing but when it is used in the way Ramsey uses it, it’s not only ineffective, as it were, but just dreadfully unnecessary. I’ve watched his (silly) overrated show and I think the whole show is put on, i.e., not real. he tries to make moments of drama happen. I’ve heard all the beeps and know what they’re beeping out, the so called F word, and I find it detracts from everything else that is going on. The man is on a roll making loads of money as are many of these overrated chefs in their reality shows but then, why not? They do have an audience but it ain’t me. Even stupid people are allowed to have television shows for their entertainment, I guess. And in this age of rule by the stupid, well there you go, they got the shows they enjoy. Pendulums swing and some day sanity will return…we hope!

  48. June 30, 2008 at 16:10

    Swearing (in some languages, chiefly English) has the power to shock a listener into paying attention. But this can only when it is used carefully. When speech is unnecessarily sprinkled with swearing, the concept loses its power to arouse thought and grab attention: it becomes not just insulting but a demonstration of a vocabulary-challenged speaker.

  49. 50 Taniya
    February 22, 2009 at 21:29

    I recall reading a post where one person compared two cities, saying one isn’t as “prestige” as the other, their schools aren’t as “prestige” and the city isn’t as “prestige”. It drove me insane to hear him/her use the same word in the sentence. I found that just as irritable and lazy as most people find others excessively “swearing”.

    They’re simply words which should be treated no differently than any other. Your child won’t be corrupted by using them. It isn’t the terms themselves that create stupid, rude people, but being demeaned as such a terrible thing, “bad” people will have them in their vocabulary. And of course, why blame ourselves when we can pin it on what we create? People can say what they want, but I’d be just as annoyed by someone who uses the same term multiple times within a paragraph whether it was “fucking” or the name of a person.

    My standards of what’s appropiate aren’t the same , so I would swear in front of my children. But I’d use that word (along with any other) in moderation. Society isn’t any lazier or stupider because we replace “adversities” with “bullshit”. If you look at our general language now, even without swears we have dumbed down in how we communicate. Don’t blame a few words that you deem innapropiate and judge others for using, blame your own inablity to use a fucking broader language that doesn’t just include swears but all other simple words.

  50. 51 adimirea
    March 1, 2009 at 22:24

    Personally, I have left two jobs, and I have a lot of stress recently just because people around me swear. I sometimes even wonder if I will ever have a normal life, find a job, etc. [ having just graduated from college ].

    All this, because some idiots find it “ok” to swear in public at their workplaces. [ or to watch porn.. but that’s completely another matter ]. I WILL NOT tolerate that where I am.
    If I do I feel I will lose a part of myself!! I am extremely serious on this subject.

    Swearing is never good, never to be tolerated. But I also do not like to tell others what to do, to impose rules… So I guess I am at a dead end here.

    Anyway, just picture this boy who just graduated from university, wanting to become a game programmer, getting a job at a big game company like Ubisoft, and leaving a few days later.. just because of that!!!

    You might call me whatever you like and think whatever you like. Actually I am sure this makes no impact on anyone whatsoever.. It’s just that I wanted to have my say on this matter.

    It’s just that modern (in)culture has lead to these types of people… or maybe that’s just how it always was.

    And one more thing: some people say that they swear to ‘blow off steam’.. well.. that is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard!!! You can just use some other words!!! SCREAMING blows off steam, not those foul words!!!


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