I don’t swear. I don’t eat red meat either. But if we sat down at dinner together and you ordered a rare steak dripping with blood I wouldn’t mind. You could drop a few F and C bombs at the same time and I’d be fine with it. No offence. No judgement. I just won’t be joining you.
It’s all about me, this decision not to swear. I could say it’s my upbringing. But then I had a similar upbringing to most people I know and they all feel comfortable with a cuss word or two. It’s not an overtly religious choice — I am not an overly religious person. It’s not even a particularly conscious choice. I’m not wistfully looking at a group of swear words and wishing that I had the capacity to utter them. It’s just not me. Swearing doesn’t suit me.
When I was about ten years old, my best friend and I were invited to sit with the “cool” crowd. I think the Queen Bee was away that day. We were told we could stay, but we had to swear. My quick-witted friend immediately replied “You can’t f*&# ing tell me what to do, b*&#h.” I opened my mouth. No sound came out. I turned and fled. I still feel like that when some-one dares me to swear. If I try to incorporate swearing into a piece, I am all jelly-legged. I’m ten years old again being asked to do something I don’t want to do for the sake of the crowd.
I know plenty of women, plenty of writers, who pepper their arguments and their prose with swearing. And it works for them. It gives their work punch and colour. They can curve their writing around the profane and it reads empowered and care-free. I love reading their work. It makes me smile and virtually punch the air and proud to be a modern woman. If I even try, it sounds stilted and forced. Like bare-faced attention seeking. Far away from who I am as a writer and a person. I’m not trying to claim any classier moral high-ground here. I wish that my writing could feel a little dirtier, a little freer, a little less restrained by the polite.
But it’s like wishing the outfit that looks amazing on my good friend looked the same way on me. Some things suit a person. Some things don’t. You can try and force it, try to adopt something that doesn’t fit in a vain effort to be like everyone else. Or you can own it. As I get older, I choose to own those things that set me apart. Even the nonsensical ones like an aversion to swearing.
Words have provided me with so much joy. Aside from my husband and kids, they are the great love affair in my life. I like shaking them up and seeing where they land. Discovering new words, new worlds and savouring them. Tasting different variations of sentences and measures. Weighing them up and being transported by them. I see such beauty in words. There are infinite choices to combine. Permutations to explore. In all that swirling mix of language, swear words aren’t the ones that appeal. There are so many other options. At a purely personal level, they don’t add anything. Unlike other writers, other women, I find those words limiting rather than empowering.
But that’s just me.
And that’s okay.