Bad Words

This morning, I had an argument with someone I don’t even know. So, what’s new? It happened on the bus. The two young ladies (and I use the term loosely) kept repeating the same three-letter abbreviation for a phrase that their grannies probably use as a prayer, in almost every sentence.

I counted to ten. I even counted to twenty. When they had said these three letters for the fiftieth time between them, I turned round and asked them politely to stop blaspheming. They looked aghast, and insisted that they were “just talking”.

I was adamant that they had been taking the Lord’s name in vain. Alas, they had not even realised it.

The expression is one that has become so common (even ‘beauty queens’ say it as they are crowned… you know, when they cry and cover their faces with their Hands and simper…) that it is now regarded as “just an expression that everybody uses a lot” – which is how the girls explained their excessive use of it. There was a time when these things were not taken as lightly. People who swore, and those who blasphemed, were considered to be the pits.

Nobody dared do it in the presence of a woman, a child – or members of the clergy. Somehow, then, the idea got around that swearing was a “man thing” – and therefore, a woman or a child who swore was destined to be roasted in the fiery pit, but the men could maybe, perhaps, possibly get away with it because of the fact that they were men. A sort of warped sexist outlook, of course, but there it was.

Then someone came out with the idea of minced oaths. We have them in Maltese to, especially since the Name of God, being a palindrome of two syllables made up of the same letters, lends it to many variations. Basically, a minced oath is a “religious euphemism” that is supposed to allow people to give vent to their feelings without actually swearing or blaspheming.

Rather as a white lie is not a lie at all to some – although it is… and white magic is not magic top others… but it is. The idea behind euphemisms is to say something without being indelicate or uncouth…. so we say passed away instead of died (and the Maltese say “the aunt” instead of “the broom” – thereby insinuating that ‘broom’ is a word that ought not to be said in polite society). However, if you have a great command of the language, you definitely do not need to resort to swearing, even of the euphemistic type, top get your point across. In any case, what does God have to do with the fact that you hit your thumb when hammering in a nail? Where on earth does Jesus come in when you find that the cat has urinated all over your new quilt?

I often come across words like gosh, by gum, drat, cor blimey, and so on… in children’s books. This means that not even the authors, the proofreaders, and the publishing houses know what these words really mean. I did, in fact, ask the afore-mentioned passengers whether they knew, and their blank stares gave me the answer. Frankly, I did not elaborate. However, it is a sad sign of the times that people use this type of language in an effort to appear smart, and fluent in the English language and slang, when all they are doing, in fact, is making fools of them with people who know what the expressions really mean

Euphemisms, Christian cussing – call this type of language what you will… but it is not right, it is only swearing and blaspheming by any other name. It is ironic that in today’s politically correct society profanity is acceptable, and yet words that can be taken as ethnic slurs, or references to sexual orientation or mental capabilities, are frowned upon. Moreover, it is acceptable for the good guys in the media to utter a word or two on the very, very, long list of minced oaths (or even their “real counterparts”) because it shows that “he means business”.

But just let him refer to a section of his electorate as people having questionable paternity, or a skin colour that is not Caucasian… and the press will have a field day. It’s time to clean up our act.

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