Swearing is an art but not everyone is an artist!
If you know how to swear properly it can add colour and flavour to your words. If you don’t, you’ll quickly find yourself persona non-effing grata!
Swearing is not a modern thing. The residents of Ancient Pompei routinely used the F word in their graffiti although the earliest recorded reference to it in English dates back to at least the 14th century. Sh!t was used to refer to an obnoxious person as early as 1508. And in 1889 a witness in a Texas case once described the defendant as a ‘God damned motherf**king, bastardly son-of-a-bitch.’ Using swear words in court always still makes me snigger.
When I was younger, words like ‘crap’ and ‘bloody’ could not be used even in print, whereas now they are not even considered offensive. Today children begin their swearing journey from the age of six, and the word ‘sh!t’ has so entered our natural lexicon that it is now quite probably the single most versatile word in the English language. Think of its many varied uses:
“I’ve got sh!t to do”
“Leave my sh!t” alone
“You, piece of sh!t”
“Yo, that new album is the absolute sh!t”
(Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola delivered possibly the funniest one issue comedy sketch of all time about the word)
Swearing has a practical purpose too. Aside from helping you express emotion with greater emphasis, research suggests that teams that are comfortable swearing with one another have better morale.
Intelligent people are more likely to swear (thanks to the University of Rochester for that one!). And tests with MR scans have shown that people are better able to bear pain if they can shout out an expletive than when they try to handle it in stoic silence. So, when you stub your toe on your way up the stairs and scream out ‘MOTHERF**KER!’ (or is that just me?), that is actually your physiologically intuitive method of pain reduction (wish I’d had that explanation for Dad when I was a kid!).
But there is swearing right, and there is swearing wrong. So what are the rules for using profanities? When is it acceptable to drop an F-bomb? How can you say A**hole without actually coming across like an a**hole?
Here is my 4 point quick guide on how to swear like a boss!
#1 – Consider the context
Obviously, the first thing to think about is the context. Where are you? Who are you speaking to? What’s the occasion?
Some moments are built for swearing – don’t take your kids to football games if you don’t want them hearing some pretty salty words usually within a familiar song. Some audiences can handle a little, but not a lot of it – lawyers for instance quite enjoy a mild expletive now and then.
And some occasions will not bear any profanity whatsoever – a priest’s sermon, for instance, isn’t the time for bad language; and a welcome address to a group of new mums at a maternity celebration probably isn’t the place to use the C-word.
You also need to consider the relationship between you and your audience. The simple rule is that the wider the gap between you and your audience, the more difficult it is to get away with swearing. Two managers can mouth off at each other without consequence, but if an intern swears at a CEO, he’s likely to be fired on the spot for insubordination. If the CEO swears at the intern, she will rightly be regarded as a bully that punches down.
So, rule #1 is pretty straightforward: Think about your surroundings before swearing, and if there is any doubt, don’t do it!
#2 – Swear for a purpose
Swearing for swearing sake gets old pretty quickly. You can shock people once, maybe twice, but make every third word a profanity, and people will just tune you out.
It’s like watching a horror movie. The first scare tears your guts out. The second gets your heart racing. The third, not so much.
Swear for a purpose. Use it to break the ice when the tension is too great. Use it to shock people into action. Use it to make people laugh when things get too serious.
Just don’t use it gratuitously. Don’t do it just because you can. Don’t waste a good ‘f*ck’ for no good f**king reason. You get my point?
#3 – Mix it up
There is no shortage of great swear words to choose from, so change it up for maximum impact.
Sure, you can rely on the good old faithful ones – the F word; the S word; the B word (careful with that one!). But if you really want to know how to swear with style, it happens when you get creative and dynamic with your swear words.
Yes, you could call that silly man an effing idiot, but where’s the originality in that? Try instead to combine words and phrases to create something distinct and unique. Take a cue from Wesley Snipes in the excellent ‘White Men Can’t Jump’. Notice how the only semi-naughty word in this fantastically effective put-down is the word ‘ass’, and yet what a fantastically effective insult?
You can combine two unrelated swear words together to form an artful new invective. If you’re into The Walking Dead, then you’ll know the character of Abraham Ford who specialised in creative swearing with great phrases like “Mother D!ck” and “there’s a vast ocean of sh!t that you people don’t know sh!t about” and “I don’t a monkey’s left nut!”. If you’re struggling to be creative, you can always use a swear generator tool, which will help you come up with phrases like “you, c*ck wielding fart zombie dictator”.
If you’re looking for inspiration, you can always get Shakespearean on their ass: “Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood” King Lear.
The point is that swearing is only effective when it surprises. So, get creative to keep it fresh.
#4 – Stay away from the C word unless…
It may seem strange to carve out an entire set of rules for one particular word, but the C word still packs such powerful emotionally visceral punch that it’s difficult to think of any circumstance in which it can be used outside of extremely close company (I’m talking best friends for 20 years level) or if you are actually spoiling for a fight.
I’ve got no recommendations on this one. Use it at your own risk!
#5 – Find Your Signature Swear Style
We can’t all learn to say ‘motherf**ker’ like Samuel Jackson but we can all develop our own personal approach to swearing.
In my humble opinion, the word ‘w*nker’ is the most cutting of all invectives, but I am yet to nail my own delivery of it. I think it requires just the right combination of irritation, irony, and condescension (I’m playing with 30%, 50% and 20% respectively but it’s not quite there yet).
Find the swear words that flow the sweetest when you speak them, and perfect your own style of delivery.
There you go. 5 rules on how to swear with style. Now, get the f**k outta here and try them out!
p.s. if you need to up your presentation skills, you’ll want to check out my free webinar: “How to become an outstanding public speaker even if you are not a natural presenter“
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