Within the strictures of Modern Western Society, there are words that cause offence. Prior to parenthood, this fact only flitted briefly through my consciousness, but as my daughter becomes more lucid, more aware and more curious, which coincides with my working in an educational establishment, it numerously falls upon me to attempt, often unsatisfactorily, to ‘explain’ why some words are okay and some are unacceptable, especially in particular contexts – the school playground or in class, for example.

Recently it has become evident that my daughter has a potentially burgeoning interest in cars – the faster, the shinier, the sportier, the better. Consequently, upon spotting a copy of ‘Top Gear’ magazine at a car boot sale, the mother of my offspring decided to purchase said publication, unbeknownst to her at the time that it contained within the packaging a set of fridge magnets, with which one could construct and stick up on the fridge such phrases as “Oh cock.” Naturally the parent of a five-year-old does not particularly want their daughter going round saying “Oh cock” to all and sundry, but… well… it’s only a word, it only means the same as “willy” (or “william,” being her term of choice for the main dangly part of a boy), and as long as she doesn’t go round saying it to her teachers (which she wouldn’t – she is far too conscientious for that) or to her friends, such that they will then say it to their parents, who will, with possibly some concern, pass it on to us, then where’s the harm?

“It’s only a word…”

Because words are only words, aren’t they? What’s in a “cock” or a “fuck” or a “cunt” or a “bastard” or a “shit” or a “piss” or an “arse”? Even my predictive text won’t accept these delightful terms, unless I program it otherwise. How judgmental is that?! There is probably some historical or cultural significance in expletives and their degree of offensiveness, but does anyone think about this when using them? I doubt it.

I baulked at writing the c-word. Please don’t make me write it again! It makes me feel… ooh I dunno… funny. Somehow, though, I can hear Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones say it and it feels okay, appropriate, funny even, but I shall dip my tongue in a pot of putrid pirhanas before the word passes through my lips. Why? Why do I accept my daughter’s utterance of the odd “bugger” (which, if you think about it, has pretty, um, graphic connotations) or “willy,” but consider “cock” to be pushing it, and the f-word or, at the top of the list, the c-word, would certainly be going too far?

I don’t believe any of these words have any particular intellectual or semantic resonance with me, but I suppose my “feeling funny” at their utterance (in particular contexts) probably filters down from general cultural perception to the level of the individual (ie me). I am who I am, because society made me that way. But I don’t want to be! I don’t want to conform! And I don’t want the children in my charge and my daughter to (feel like they have to) conform! These words are just words, they are expressive – if not overused (as any words should not be overused), they can, in the right contexts, be the best available words to express a particular emotion, feeling, action, state of mind or being. So why do we censor? Why do particular strings of letters “offend” (to varying degrees, which I reckon could be numerically expressed), where I suspect that most folk would be unable to elucidate why they offend?

I am forced to conclude, in the end, that the argument is circular. There are words that offend, because people find them offensive, and if we don’t want to offend, and we don’t want our charges or our offspring to offend, then they should be avoided. Of course, there will be times when we want to offend. But I can’t be effing bothered to talk about that now.


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