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Whats In A Swear Word?

by Hugh Joughin

You’ve seen that ad on T.V. right? The latest one for Pink Batts®. The scene is a house being renovated or built, and the guy painting the room gets down from his ladder and steps straight into a full pail of paint.

“Who the #### put that there” he says, followed by “It’ll take someone a long time to clean up this ####ing mess”! At the crucial moments, a co-worker walks by with a bale of Pink Batts®, blocking out the tirade of foul language and thus demonstrating the effectiveness of the product to eliminate unwanted noise!

It’s a pity not all companies and broadcasters are so careful (or imaginative) when it comes to the use of borderline language.

My first memory of swearing in the mass media, was opening (what I considered to be) a family friendly magazine many years ago, and seeing the first of the Land Transport Safety Authority anti drink driving advertisements.

This flagship phrase has been the basis of further, often graphic, campaigns involving variations on the message.

The latest ones emphasize the value of looking after your mates through designated drivers and providing places to spend the night, recognizing that blokes (and sheilas) are still drinking and are unlikely to stop in the foreseeable future.

“Bloody idiot” becomes a “bloody good mate” if he stays off it and drives his totally inebriated (and most probably totally foul mouthed) friends all around town.

Another memory involved hearing the song “Jet Airliner” by the Steve Miller Band on the radio. I really loved that song and I still do. Near the end of the song in the third and final verse, there is a line

“And I’m goin’ with some hesitation

You know that I can surely see

That I don’t want to get caught up in any of that

Funky kicks going down in the city”

Years later I was in a financial position to actually afford to buy my very first record (remember them?). Solid Gold Hits Volume 17.

Seven dollars and forty nine cents. I remember it well. Anyway, Jet Airliner was the first track on side one, and I think that might just have been the deciding factor in the purchase. I was quite surprised to learn however, that the vinyl version was slightly different to the radio version. Funky kicks became “Funky s### ! It was a profound introduction to the lawlessness of rock music.

My adolescent journey had begun ! Judging by some of the music videos showing at 8 o’clock in the evening now, that was most definitely ‘then’.

So it all seems innocuous enough, and the message of course is universally condoned. Then along come children. Adults have contact with those children, who in turn have contact with other children. I believe it’s called socialization, and it’s all very healthy of course.

That was until my four year old daughter started liberally using the “B” word on returning from Kindergarten one day. Many have said that I was lucky that the swearing didn’t happen much earlier. I blame the cops naturally.

Then the fateful day comes, and off they go to school happily (or screaming, kicking & crying). If it hasn’t happened already, and it’s a fairly big “if”, it’s only a matter of time until swearing becomes either an issue, or a much bigger issue than it was.

Kids have sworn since time began, and I don’t think the language you hear in the school playground at lunchtime has got any better or worse since my Grandparent’s generation. It probably hasn’t changed much over the centuries, in fact. If the colourful language hasn’t changed much however, the above example illustrates to me that the acceptance of swear words in society certainly seems to have. And it’s getting worse.

Radio sport is a national sports lover’s radio station which has quite a large talkback quota. I hate to admit it, but I listen to it quite a bit. The “B” word gets a fair old workout on this station, and not just from the callers. Even the advertisers are allowed to use it as often as they like.

I have since learned from first hand experience that the “S” word (a common word for horse excrement) also escapes the mute button. So what? I hear you cry. Well, these words invariably come across my car radio at just the precise moment when my children fasten themselves into their car seats. Nothing is said at the time, but hey presto, 24 hours later I hear swear words flowing from the bedroom.

One of Radio Sport’s principal broadcasters is Murray Deaker. It was with a degree of irony then, when I read in his autobiography about an interview he had with world champion boxer Jeff Fenech who is described as somewhat of a rough diamond. Deaker writes…

“One of our constant concerns is that someone will swear (on air) and we will have to break our record and edit the show for the first time. This was never more on my mind than after I first met Jeff. We were to film it at his house and, as we entered the foyer, I put my hand to him and said, Hi, I’m Murray Deaker.

He looked me straight in the eye and said, How the f### are you? Not a promising start and, indeed, for the next fifteen minutes, while the crew set up, Jeff showed me his momentos, describing the fights and opponents they represented in language that would have made a shearing gang blush.

Just before we began filming I managed to whisper to Greg Billings (crew) that there was no way we could possibly get a useable interview out of this bloke”.

The story continues, describing how as soon as the cameras started to roll however, Fenech changed his disposition. He was the complete professional, articulate and concise, and no swearing. If you’re going to swear on air, it seems that you have to pay for the privilege.

My impression is that censorship seems to be a different four letter word these days, and from opinions I hear, is very unfashionable at the moment. However, I do think there needs to be a thicker line drawn in the sand from state broadcasters, because rightly or wrongly too many kids are being exposed to too much visual media (television, video games, internet).

The anti-censorship brigade endorses freedom of choice, which is fine for an adult able to make (mostly) well informed decisions. For a child I think it’s just confusing. We hear a lot about the child’s right to clean healthy air (through the anti- smoking messages to name one). In my opinion, audio pollution can be just as damaging to a child’s overall wellbeing.

Continued and increasing swearing in the media (and at home) contributes to that audio pollution.

Eventually it can become so ingrained in a family, that the atmosphere at home becomes more and more hostile, and ultimately becomes just another form of violence, albeit a mild one.

Logically, there will come a day soon when the “F” word will be allowed on prime-time TV and radio. How does that make you feel? I’m incredibly uncomfortable with my six year old telling me something is crap. I’ll really cringe if they allow foul mouthed sportspeople to give after match comments unedited at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Call it censorship if you like, or call me naïve, but in an age where recent research is suggesting that girls are reaching puberty earlier and earlier, I want my children to retain as much of their innocence for as long as possible. I don’t want my daughters needing a mobile phone for whatever reason when they’re six years old (oh **** that’s now!), smoking when they’re seven, or feeling pressured to find a job when they’re eight, thanks very much.

I often feel a sense of helplessness in all of this. What can one person do after all? It’s just the way life is these days, right? Don’t sweat the small stuff I’m told. We live in such a high pressured, high stressed, busy environment, with no time to do anything that’s really important, right? Wrong. With that kind of thinking, nothing changes.

To hark back to a well worn cliché from the 1980’s – “act locally, think globally”. I can choose different words whenever I feel like letting rip with a verbal tirade. Ban the so called mild swear words from my vocabulary, and the other more potent ones tend to disappear too. It becomes a habit really, a good one that is. Mild swear words (like the “B” word) said often enough do have an adverse affect on little ones.

Like a lot of things, pre-school kids have the right to choose how they express themselves, without socially unacceptable stimuli getting in the way. Good and bad habits need direction, they don’t stay stagnant. Today, that direction more often than not is upward (more) not downward (less). There’s a time and place for everything, and the playpen is no place for four letter words.

I just hope like anything that my stance on swearing can be flexible as my children grow up and mature, and I can be more tolerant as they experiment with everything that life throws at them.

I also hope that the line in the sand hasn’t moved too much to the left, or else a career in sweating the small stuff might just become my calling in life.

Next: Dads in Drag

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