Swear words, curse words — call them what you will — clearly indicate that one has abandoned the English language and its rich vocabulary. “Why would one want to abandon the English language?” you might or might not want to ask.
Here are a few reasons: intended humor, no knowledge of — or time to find — the vocabulary that more poignantly conveys the message, anger, and/or “leveling” (i.e., “dumbing it down” for the group members so as not to appear more intelligent than they).
Also, all too often our audience has a short attention span, so we, as speakers, feel compelled to convey our message quickly — and substituting swear words is like getting food from a drive-through: It’s much faster than preparing the food yourself, but it’s not necessarily better for you or your friends. My advice is that we, the audience, be more patient and the speaker be more imaginative and select the appropriate word for the occasion.
I confess that I have occasionally engaged in the art of using 4-letter words, usually under my breath, among good friends, or anywhere else.
Several years ago, I attended a Chicago comedy show, and while there was a lot of talent on stage, the cast nevertheless resorted to making the usual jokes about women, injecting sexual comments, and frequently resorting to cursing. The other part of the show, conveying different, humorous perspectives, was profoundly funnier, more interesting, and creative.
^&*%$#!! (don’t say it),
My English Quarters
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English Literature