The old adage ‘sticks and stones will hurt my bones but words will never hurt me’ is probably the most inaccurate saying in the British language.
Though clearly being beaten around the head with a stick will be fairly painful, the words used to us, against us and behind our backs can damage, no matter how hardened you consider yourself to be.
Sometime it’s the tone used, but often the words themselves can cause offence, which is where the politics of swearing come in.
What is swearing to one person, may not be to another.
Even the word ‘swearing’ has different connotations – it can mean to make a solemn promise or, of course, to use offensive language.
Here in the newsroom, swearing is still a pretty common occurrence (newsrooms may vary...) and usually used in frustration, without any intent to cause major offence – which is not particularly politically correct – but offence is rarely taken.
It makes for an adjustment when around children or more sensitive scenarios – what goes in the newsroom does not elsewhere and we all know it.
But in a deadline focused environment where a degree of robustness is called for, swearing is pretty normal – not of course that this makes it right.
Words have degrees of which they are considered rude – connotations which vary not just from country to country but from region to region, though these differences have blurred thanks to the world-widening impact of the internet and social media.
Bloody for instance – swear or not?
And the American saying of ‘being p****d’ at someone has now entered common British parlance where ‘being p****d’ has an entirely different meaning.
But it’s our reaction to the words, and our emphasis on them, that give these words and sayings their potency.
If we rebuke children for using them, we are authenticating their badness and their power.
Banning something makes us rebel.
Often swear words started out with entirely normal meanings – often anatomical parts – which became rude because we let them.
Maybe one day we’ll decide to be nice to each other and swears will be void.
I bloody hope so.