Excuse my flippin’ French

I finally went to see Bridesmaids yesterday and, as predicted, enjoyed it throughly. As we drove home, my man (who enjoyed the film much more than I think he’d anticipated) said, “There was a lot of swearing in it.”

When I reflected I realised yes, there had been a lot of swearing. Particularly from Melissa McCarthy‘s hardnut Megan — a long way from her turn as Sookie St James in Gilmore Girls. But it hadn’t necessarily stood out for me while I was watching the movie. I think this is because I didn’t feel like the language was gratuitous; it felt natural, that’s just how people speak. I’ve known people who use the  still-taboo C-word in every other sentence, often as an affectionate way of referring to friends. And newsrooms are no place for anyone offended by colourful language (perhaps because, as Jack Waterford noted yesterday, they are traditionally the home to Irish-Catholic ne’er-do-wells and assorted eccentrics and trouble-makers).

[Interestingly, despite the newsroom vernacular (with the frequent use of that delightful word that can be verb, noun adjective, adverb and a whole host of grammatical pleasures) most papers are still traditional in censoring their output to not offend the dear readers. Though I guess it has loosened up a bit. Most Australian papers seem to have a rule of thumb that you can print anything except f— or c— (despite the best efforts of court reporters and music journos). One paper I worked at, the editor censored the words “cock” and “wang” — which (in my opinion) completely ruined my story based around a councillor’s used of the American Pie 3 quote “rock out with my cock out and hang out with my wang out”.]

So why did the swearing in Bridesmaids stand out so for my man? I suspect (although I didn’t mention this to him) that it’s because the words were being said by women. Swearing and women still seems to be one of those touchy areas no one really talks about for fear of been seen as anti-feminist. Yet the taboos of women using foul language or men using it around them persist.

Swearing didn’t come naturally to me for a long time, not at least until I’d finished high school. And I still try not to use it unless I feel particularly provoked. But I have no qualms about retelling something someone else told me that includes swear words (if they’re necessary) or about reading the words out loud where they’re part of a passage. I’m conscious though, on the odd occasion, of an awkwardness especially from men a generation or two older than me. For them, still, a lady does not swear. It just shouldn’t happen.

The other day I was in a lift with a colleague and two photographers who I’d only just met. All men. My colleague was off on a spray about something or other and I noticed the older pair looking uncomfortable and glancing at me for my reaction. Which made me, in turn, feel awkward. I’m never sure if people think I should be outraged or be one of the blokes and let it flow over me. I usually opt for the latter because despite the industry’s feminisation, it’s still a blokey world out there and if you can’t cope with a bit of blue language then you’re going to have a hard time. I suspect. And, as I said, I’ve got friends (male and female) with equally dirty mouths, as I think many in my generation would have.

I guess a lot of the sense or need of taking offense is, for me, in the tone. If someone sprinkles these words throughout their speech casually (and, often, naturally), I find that less offensive than when they’re used to wound and insult.

How do you feel about swearing? What about foul language from or around women? Would you tell an off-colour joke in mixed company?

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