There is a persistent myth among the kind of people I desperately try to avoid that swearing is a sign of low intelligence. Frequent swearing shows a lack of imagination and vocabulary.
Fuck that noise.
Research shows what people I would choose to hang out with have always known: swearing correlates with both vocabulary and intelligence. The more words you know, the more swears you know. Profanity plays on the edges of language, it colours outside the lines. The areas that allow for the most swearing allow for the most creative play with language. Being ‘allowed’ to swear is an indication of freedom: you’re not at work (mostly) or at school or in church. I understand that being around swearing makes some people feel genuinely uncomfortable. For others, it’s a sign of that very comfort, our ability to relax and be ourselves. We’re not swearing to be hard, or to try to impress people by how cool we are. No, honestly. This is us.
Yesterday, in the interests of science, I asked people to tell me their favourite swears. And boy was there creative language play all up the walls.
The words I got were all nouns or noun phrases. They weren’t things you might exclaim when accidentally clicking on an Internet Explorer icon or treading in a cat-present. They were things you’d call people, as insults.
To balance that, however, they weren’t all that transgressive or obscene. What many of them had in common was the combination of a sexual pejorative and something else completely unrelated. For instance:
Fuck-knuckle (this is my preferred spelling, but I will accept fuckknuckle and fucknuckle)
And my personal favourite, cockwomble.
The other thing these words share is that, like our old friend twatcock, they’re enormous fun to say. Go on, say cockwomble. Out loud. Now. Doesn’t it have absolutely delicious mouth-feel?
Cockwomble also has a lovely British feeling about it, which the best swearing does, a certain Tuckeresque appeal. British English just seems better at insulting people. Remember this?
"Scotland has the best swears" pic.twitter.com/Gjh9icHbtv— DannyBoy (@_dannyboy77) August 2, 2016
(I had not realised that I actually stole “shit-gibbon”, though I think the addition of “feckless” improved it.)
And one, used for the same person but from a different source, which a couple of people mentioned:
.@realDonaldTrump She's about as respected as your haircut is admired, you hoofwanking bunglecunt. Who you touting next? Jimmy Savile?— TRUMPET (@_d_O_S_s_) December 10, 2015
Hoofwanking bunglecunt. Say it. Buy it. It’s amazing. Bungle didn’t even have hooves. The appeal is nothing to do with the semantics, it’s about the roll of those vowels, the chewiness of those consonants. The bite of the Naughty Words is softened by the silliness of their accompaniment, but also, their originality makes them much more insulting. Think about it for a moment. What would you rather be called, a cunt, or a cock-punching thunder cunt?
Okay, no, don’t, that doesn’t prove my point at all. Fuck.
And yeah, most of the time, we’re just going to come out with the old classics like ‘fuck’. I like to liven things up with a bit of tmesis, but even when I do that it’s normally “Jesus fucking Christ” possibly “on a bike” or “in a shit-hole”. But the glorious language that’s come out of my informal survey has brought home to me the main point in all this.
It’s not the swearing, it’s how we’re swearing. Front-bottoming arse-badger.