Potty mouth and patty cakes.

My internal patois is a combination of third-rate Regency English and 20th-century swears. For instance, if I’m thinking of “a very large amount” of something, the words I use in my head are “a veritable fuckton.” I don’t do it on purpose; it just happens. This tendency to juxtapose grossly clashing language registers has the distinctive advantage to make me intolerable to most audiences. Some people think I’m an ignorant lout because of the swearing. Some think I’m a pretentious twit because of the occasional archaic term. Some tolerate me, with the occasional eye-rolling. Pretty much nobody is a fan.

I can’t say that the thought of this public disapproval keeps me awake at night. However, my attitude changes when I’m trying to express something to a public audience. For instance, I moderate my language around children. I try to cut down on idioms around non-native speakers. Basically I try to present information so it can be received and processed by those for whom it is intended. Not to do so would seem frankly moronic: if people can’t or won’t understand me, what’s the point in me communicating in the first place? It’s hard enough to express certain concepts without the language I’m using getting in the way.

A few months back, I realised that I’d been slipping badly on the swearing front. I was spending so much time in the company of people who use swearwords as punctuation that I was finding it harder and harder to turn my filters on. I didn’t want to unnecessarily alienate a huge proportion of my potential readership, so I decided to make a conscious effort to lay off the swearing as much as possible. Like a numpty, I made this decision public. The backlash was intriguing.

Apparently I shouldn’t have to moderate my language; people should just put up with it. If they don’t, it’s their loss. In fact, I absolutely shouldn’t moderate my bad language, because doing so deprives my readers of a useful educational experience. My swearing inoculates them to the swearing of others. And being immune to swearing is essential to self-defence.

The first time I heard that “theory,” I was rather taken aback. Had I heard it once, I would have assumed that the person expounding it was very silly, and just walked away from the conversation. But I keep hearing it. I keep being told that the ability to tolerate swearing is something that anyone wishing to enter the field of self-defence must develop, and even that instructors should swear around their students to help the process along.

I’m sorry, but that’s a crock of shit. In fact, it’s several crocks of the stuff, badly stacked on top of each other, so that their content is spilling all over the floor and making an ungodly mess.

First of all, most of us know that swears are still broadly recognised as Bad Language. The vast majority of the time, that’s the only reason they are used – because they shouldn’t be. Crowbarring permutations of the F word into a sentence adds nothing to the meaning; it’s done for emphasis or for style, because of what the usage of the word indicates, not the meaning of the word itself. It can also be done out of habit, but even those who swear habitually generally know that it is still broadly socially unacceptable. And even many of the people who swear “all the time” because “it’s OK” somehow manage not to do it in from of children, their grandma, the clergy, the cops… Weird, that.

Secondly, swears are not linked to the ability to self-defend. Swearing won’t improve how hard you hit, how fast your reflexes are, or your environmental awareness; training might. Not freaking out if someone swears at you is a useful skill to develop; that’s why some systems use woofing, which can combine aggressive language and aggressive body language. I’m seriously doubtful that increasing one’s written output by inserting an F word in every other space could achieve the same result.

Thirdly, swears are also not linked to the inclination to self-defend. People who don’t swear are not necessarily too emotionally weak to defend themselves if required, or too fussy to want to deal with messy stuff. They can quite simply be people unwilling to unnecessarily compromise on their standards of behaviour. I know plenty of grandmothers who would never, ever let a bad word pass their lips, and are rather unimpressed if anyone uses that kind of language in front of them; yet you go to their homes and often find them happily engaged in mucking out a stable, or butchering a home-killed animal. They tolerate death and blood and guts because they are essential parts of a useful process. They don’t tolerate the F word because it isn’t.

….you know what? Scrap the last two paragraphs. If I’m wrong, that would only confirm my theory.

Let’s assume that an aversion to swearing really shows a lack of ability or inclination to self-defend. Wouldn’t this makes the use of swears in teaching self-defence even less appropriate? If you truly believe that an aversion to bad language is a sign of weakness, of excessive fragility, of an inability to deal with reality as it is, then by using bad language you’re deliberately alienating the students who most need your teachings. As gatekeeping behaviours go, this seems particularly nonsensical.

Oh, and you’re also automatically excluding the children, the young teenagers who’re just about to learn how hard this world can punch, people’s elderly relatives whose victim profile is changing… So you might find yourself teaching only those who need your lessons the least. On the plus side, you’re guaranteed to look like a badass while you’re doing it.


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