If you speak vulgarly, do so in all your languages.

I don’t use vulgarities. That’s my choice.

They were never heard in my household when I was growing up. I was taught the usage of vulgarities was in poor taste and simply made people sound silly and uneducated more than anything else.

Some people use them all the time, and that’s their right. I personally think the spoken “f” word in every other sentence sounds foolish. But that’s just me. I don’t care how other people speak. I’ll take care of myself and they can do likewise.

Except I do have one qualification that I’d like to make in that regards. One of my pet peeves is when a speaker of another language high-jacks the “f” word and other vulgarities into their regular English speech. If you are doing it to impress, it doesn’t. If you are doing it for emphasis, it’s a fail after the first ten times. So let me first give you an example of what I’m talking about and then I’ll tell you why I don’t like it.

A few weeks back I was at a fast food restaurant, and there were three high school students sitting there talking. One of them spoke as if he learned that rule that any time a word that starts with a letter after the “f” in the alphabet, then that word must be preceded by another word starting with the letter “f” – a four letter word variety, no less. I could tell that the students were very proficient in English – probably attended an international school, but I could also tell that English wasn’t their first language. As the boy cursed up a storm, I thought how ridiculously stupid he sounded and I asked myself this question: “Would he be speaking the same way if he was in his native language and his mother was sitting with him?”

I’m guessing the answer is ‘no.’ I’ve always felt that language learning gives people license to do and say things that they normally wouldn’t do in their native language. Part of it is the glut of English media which glorifies coarseness and vulgarities – movie, TV, music. We all know the drill. Everyone is so desensitized that those words don’t shock us anymore. They no longer hold the gravitas they used to. Remember the scene from “A Christmas Story” when the boy says “fudge” and the soap is inserted into mouth? That’s what our neighborhood was like. Well, no more. Is it Hollywood affecting how people speak or reflecting how people speak? It’s not clear, but the end result is the same.

I think another reason why some second-language learners may speak so coarsely is because they don’t understand that there still are a good number of people who don’t speak that way and don’t care to hear it every other word. Well, there are.

As a writer, I’ve learned that you can have a vulgar character without having your character speak vulgarities. This, in my estimation, is more effective. It’s a cheap trick which eventually means nothing when choice words become common place. One strategically placed vulgarity is MUCH more effective than 100 vulgarities machined-gunned over the page. In my writing, I will occasionally use a profanity only to make a strong point that cannot, in my estimation, be made otherwise. I think having characters who constantly use foul language is lazy writing. Again, that’s my opinion. I’m sure others will disagree.

But getting back to swearing in your second language, here is the rule of thumb that I think people should use. If you regularly speak vulgarities in your native language, frequently peppering them around in conversations with adults and kids alike, then feel free to do the same in English. After all, I want you to be yourself. Don’t change on my account.

However, if you are only hijacking English in order to spread your vulgar ideas around, then I would say that I don’t want to hear them anymore than your mother does.

Be consistent in your swearing habits.


3 responses to “If you speak vulgarly, do so in all your languages.”

  1. Oh, that is interesting. You whole point of view seems to revolve around your mother’s permission. This could seem a bit restrained since mothers are somehow also the last bastion to conquer before being free. Also, I think that swearers who do it to impress are a bit lame, as per your international student example. Between friends it can be an ice-breaker and lead people into a more familiar register and also complicity. If I say an f word or 4 letter word to someone who is a little bit more than an acquaintance, it means that there is a more mobile confidance, more adaptable relationship.
    I see your point about people who swear all the time, though I think you need to make a little more research into the etymology of a lot of these words, as well as their inclusion in a lot of great works. It is not a cut and dry as you seem to protest. Don’t become your mum- there is already one of those!

      • Of course, I do get the whole picture. Of course it should be just a seasoning to ordinary language; but the reasons behind it I’d like to get more into. It’s kind of sexy sometimes.

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