I’ve been thinking about swear words a lot, lately. Well, for my entire life, really. I always had a knack for overhearing things I shouldn’t and then using what I heard in the appropriate context without needing it explained to me. So, despite being homeschooled, having parents who don’t swear, attending only church-related events, and not being allowed to consume any media that was rated beyond PG, I had learned pretty much ever curse word by the time I was ten. And every single popular replacement for them. I have always been a person who speaks deliberately and intently, a result of being unable to speak unguardedly growing up due to my parents’ neglect and brother’s abuse, so I never swore until high school when I began to experiment with existing outside the bounds my parents had confined me to.
As a high schooler, I dabbled in cussing as a way of bonding with my fellow students, trying something I had been told was a sin and a dirty habit, and as a way of expressing vehement emotions. Up to that point, I had only used the replacement words for the common swears (dang, shoot, crud (crap was also a swearword in my childhood home), jerk, etc) and nothing that approached anything that could be interpreted as “taking the Lord’s Name in vain.” Despite being in a Catholic high school, I managed to start trying out swears when I felt it was situationally appropriate. Only with my peers, of course, because it was against the rules in the student handbook we all had to sign at 14, but also with one teacher (who, in retrospect, was the first good teacher I ever had and I dearly wish we could somehow be friends as an adult despite my deep loathing for my high school and desire to never set foot near it again) who said it was okay to swear so long as we did so with proper grammar, conjugation, and full sentences during the language class they taught. Little motivated independent study so much as the chance for a classroom full of teenage boys to swear without the threat of punishment.
What I quickly discovered, though, was that swear words were just words. They accomplished nothing other words did not. It also occurred to me that there was little point in using a cuss over a replacement word since they were interchangeable and pretty much everyone knew what you meant. That was the whole point of the replacement words, so you could swear without saying the “dirty” word. I experimented in my final two years of high school with replacing swears with other words that felt good to say in their place (“monkey” makes a great exclamatory explitive) but by my first year of college, I had settled in to just using swear words.
These days, I moderate my language to match whatever company I’m in. I’m not going to subject someone to a bunch of words they don’t like to hear or use, and I’m attempting to remove a few from my everyday use for various reasons, so I wouldn’t say I swear with reckless abandon, but I do still swear frequently when I feel it is appropriate. I still don’t understand why people think that replacing curse words with widely-accepted stand-ins is different from using the words itself, but I do understand that there’s a difference in swearing and swearing at someone.
The place I notice replacement words the most is in video games, books, and movies. In books, a lot of authors can avoid using the words themselves by using dialogue tags or describing someone as swearing or cursing, but they also do the same thing movies and video games do when they want to have someone swear without using a swearword: they make an in-universe curseword. Apparently, if the word isn’t a cuss in English or any known Human language spoken in meatspace, it doesn’t actually count as a cuss. A movie could be full of people swearing with words akin to “fuck” and it will still be rated PG despite using the Star Wars version of “fuck” thirty-eight times. The attitude is still there. The emotional impact is still the same. People are still treating other people horribly and calling them something incredibly insulting. Despite that, it doesn’t count as swearing.
Don’t even get me started on the media that chooses to use the “it’s too horrible to translate!” line when it comes to curses in fantasy or alien languages. I get it, it’s a way to ackowledge that they’re cursing while also pretending to protect the reader from it, getting all of the “ooh, we’re in forbidden territory!” fun without any of the “misguided and/or terrible parents making unreasonable demands” stress. I still think that they should just translate the word or use the closest english approximation. It stops meaning something if it is used too frequently, since it clearly isn’t that forbidden or terrible if someone from this culture is using it all the time.
Anyway, I recognize that this is all my opinion and I’m probably only fixated on it because of what I feel is the inherent hypocrisy in raising people to believe that certain words are “dirty” or bad but it’s fine to use stand-ins for them that everyone knows are stand-ins. Better to teach people what those words mean and why using them can be offensive or demeaning rather than strictly forbidding them. I’m always a fan of education and gentle admonishment over prohibition and punishment.