lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, January 27, 2006

Flipping heck!

Why do we curse, call names and use bad words?

I was reading a David Gemmell novel. He writes heroic fantasies, and very well. Warriors in his novels always rush into battle shouting something like "Come on, you whoresons, if you dare."

But today I stopped to think a bit about the word whoreson.

Why is it more evocative than a plain bastard?

I think I have the answer. A bastard is merely an illegitimate off-spring of unmarried parents. But a whoreson, why, the implication is clear. Your mother slept with so many men you don't know your father. Definitely more cutting than saying your parents were not married!

I don't know many women who swear or curse a lot. I think women don't need to. We can manage without profanity and blasphemy. At least, women of my age group. My own speech, if I am being nasty, tends towards referring to intellectual capacity rather than parentage. I might say that cretin, or you numskull.

Perhaps it's because it's a woman I will be insulting indirectly if I mention parentage and legitimacy of birth. And a woman of easy virtue and negotiable affection is still a woman and why should I insult my own gender to just to incite or irritate somebody else?

And why do we swear, anyway? Does it really relieve our frustration or anger? Blasphemy has long ago lost it's power to shock, and Hinduism does not have a prohibition against taking the name of God in vain. We are indeed told to invoke the name of God, a lot.

Cursing is creative in Indian languages, I feel. 'May you be wormridden' is my personal favourite in Telugu. It's much more satisfying than 'May you rot in hell', which is after all a doubtful proposition, and you won't have the satisfaction of seeing it; not that I'd ever invoked it or any other curse at anybody.

But profanity to incense the listener is another thing. We curse in frustration, exasperation, helplessness; we also use words to goad and provoke. Even here, I think women are milder: in the sense that we manage to express ourselves without resorting to words referring to fornication, excretion and genealogy.

I grew up without hearing swearing or bad language. Perhaps that has shaped my thinking, but I think scatalogical terms and casual swearing that children resort to in order to infuriate their parents is just a tactic. My son, when he is home on holidays, starts off vacation time unable to string two sentences without a swear-word, but his language gets cleaner by the day, and he resorts to irony and sarcasm, same as his parents.

He obviously reverts to using the F word as an adjective and adverb once he goes back, but lack of response other than raised eyebrows seems to wither the swearing.

Profanity is perhaps only necessary if you have a paucity of language skills. But, on the other hand, there are times you need to express your feelings forcefully, and succinctly. Read on...

Besides, when you hit your thumb with an eight-pound hammer it's nice to be able to blaspheme. It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, "Oh! random-fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum! or "Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept-on-a-crutch!

Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms.

That is probably why we swear.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Negotiable affection" - fascinating usage.

12:51 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Thanks goes to Terry Pratchett, I must say. It is his phrase. I am chuffed to find that somebody is reading my oldest posts though, I don't mind telling you. Thanks, DNA.

1:48 am  
Anonymous Srikrishnan said...

I've spent most of what should have been a busy Monday falling in love with your blog. Only an ...erm... numskull of rare merit would stumble upon one of your posts and not feel the urge to keep reading.:-)

You'd better believe your posts are being read - oldest and otherwise. And with a great deal of enjoyment at that! Thank you, Missus Em.:-)

Egad! To think I might have missed you entirely if I hadn't Googled "Kshetrayya"! All right, so it wasn't a VERY busy Monday.:-)

5:39 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Srikrishnan- Thank you, for the comment. It made my day.

'Kshetrayya', eh? I'd better write about him pronto then. :-)

11:06 am  

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