Martin van Beynen: Kiwi women swear too much

Men curse far too much too and women shouldn't join them, writes Martin van Beynen.
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Men curse far too much too and women shouldn't join them, writes Martin van Beynen.

Opinion: One of my colleagues swears quite a lot. In all other ways she is a refined and delightful person but the swearing does not become her.

I know this is old fashioned – someone has to maintain standards – but I still find women swearing profusely a shock. It demeans them and brings us all down.

What makes it OK for a man to swear and a woman not?

American comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested in 1961 for obscenity. He tried to show that if we use filthy words easily, ...

American comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested in 1961 for obscenity. He tried to show that if we use filthy words easily, they will be less shocking.

For a start I didn't say it was OK for men to swear, although it is somehow less offensive. It's part of male culture and therefore less grating if used in context.

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Make no mistake though, men (and boys) swear far too much too and women should not regard this former male preserve as something they need to break into.

I am not against swearing or cursing. Swearing, expletives and profanities are an effective way of communicating but their power and effect can only be sustained if they are used sparingly.

The now-deceased comedian Lenny Bruce made expletives and obscenities a prominent part of his act in the hope people would become desensitised by repetition.

He was trying to show that if we use these words as we do any other part of language, they will lose their shock and offence effect. People won't get upset and the law need not be involved.

Things have moved on and using bad language as part of public performance is now almost mandatory.

But swear words shouldn't become too big a part of ordinary discourse. This is where Bruce went wrong. He tried to neutralise their impact so they could walk around like castrated pets.

All he proved was that swearing is offensive and too much of it is tedious. NZ comedians are the worst offenders. Swear words can make an otherwise bland comment seem funny but they use the device so often they achieve the Bruce effect. The repetition increases both the tedium and the offence. But public performance is one thing and ordinary discourse another.

I want to give swearing back its bite and verve.

I want swear words to retain their value because they perform a useful function. Swear words can be used to shock and surprise and for emphasis.

They can prick bubbles and make people laugh. They can elevate a conversation or bring it down. They indicate mood and give useful signals. They add a bit of spice and colour but they should be used as sparingly as chilli powder and not in every dish.

So girls, ladies, we all know you're pretty tough and can foot it with the boys.

But swearing, if you do it too much,  is even less appealing when you do it than when men do it.

And don't forget that by f...king swearing too much, you contribute to the sad decline of a facet of speech and communication which has served as well for many years.

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 - Stuff

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