The much-maligned C-word

21:51, Aug 16 2011

Today I will be giving a talk to a room full of librarians. Because of the freaky way my brain works, this has prompted me to worry that I will be overcome with sudden onset tourettes. This is the exact same worry I had that time I went on live television. Public speaking - it does funny things to people. By way of combating this I have decided to incorporate a small number of low-level swears, the theory being that this will act as a sort of "swearing safety valve" thereby preventing anything career-endangering from emerging.

But sometimes swearing really is the best way to get a point across. For instance, I find myself delighted when the Silver Fox refers to some gargantuan amount as "a metric f**-tonne". I also try and imagine what that would look like (which, by the way, you could spend quite a lot of time on if you were so inclined). But like so many things, swearing is all about context.

For while I may be pleased as punch with colourful punctuations like the above, I find I have little patience for the youthful swearers. You know the kind, where at least one-quarter of all utterance  is devoted to variations on "f***", another quarter consists of the word "like", and the rest, sadly, has nothing to do with trains or porn stars but usually consists of "no one understands me". But that's probably because I used to be that person. Is there anything so vile as a teenager who thinks they've invented swearing?

So, in that respect I am a total hypocrite. I will happily "eff and blind" among friends, but don't necessarily want to hear other people doing it. Maybe when you're not in the conversation yourself some of the context is lost?

But when it comes to the swear words themselves, I'm an equal opportunist. I love them all. Though if I'm being competely honest I like the C-word the most. It's so naughty. But actually my adoption of c*** as a favourite conversational accompaniment comes from more than just the fact that it's "a bad word". I like using it because it has impact, but also because I don't think it should have as much as it does.

That sounds a bit confusing even to my own ears so maybe I should explain a bit. I've never really understood why the C-word stands above all other swear words as the worst of the worst. If the C-word were an orange-jumpsuit-clad prisoner on a aeroplane it would be John Malkovich. But why? What has it done to deserve such an appalling reputation? Male genitalia gets all sorts of names ranging from tame (dingle dangle) to amusing (peen) to the flamboyant (purple-headed love beast) and while you're probably not going to use any of them in a business report they're not jaw-droppingly offensive either. Certainly not in the realm of the C-word. Not by a long stretch of the trouser snake.

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This seems unfair to me. As the owner of a C-word, I feel a bit sorry for it. It literally has never hurt anyone. Like ever. I'm not sure how it would, quite frankly. So I'd like to see the C-word used a bit more often, so as to soften its effect. I don't feel that it should be placed on a sweary pedestal all by itself as "the worst word ever". I'd much rather see something like "Soccer-mom" placed up there instead or "jeggings" or "Light bladder leakage" although, really that's a phrase rather than a word, and to be honest I'd rather it was banned outright.

But of course, not everyone agrees with me (how surprising). But what do you think? Is the C-word just misunderstood? Do we need to downgrade it, so it's a bit more in line with other genital-related words? Do you have any suggestions on what would make a better el supremo wordo diablo*?

*My apologies to Spanish speakers everywhere.

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