I was watching P!NK's new video for her song "Fucking Perfect" when I started thinking again about why we use so-called "curse words", and classify them as such. They're words just like any other, a combination of letters that make up a specific sound. But somehow they have attracted meanings that make people cringe and tell us we have potty mouths.
Words like "shit" and "fuck" and "cunt" are at their core no different from words like "mother", "baby" and "porridge"; it's just that different letters give them a different sound, and the sound has a different meaning. Are we actually upsetting people with a sound rather than a word? It might seem like a silly question, but remember: we used sound to communicate long before languages existed. It has a lot to do with context, of course.
Language is a complicated beast. These sorts of questions can't be answered in a blog post. But back to P!NK. Would the song have had the same effect if it was just called "Perfect" instead? (For those who prefer, that will be the radio version). Have so-called "bad" words become more integrated into everyday language because we have been hearing them more frequently on TV and in films? You hear them more on TV now and less in films, too, which is interesting, because 30 years ago it was the other way around. TV reaches far larger numbers than films, so the potential for incorporation throughout a variety of cultures is so much greater.
I grew up in South Africa, where we use a lot of harsh words. As I've thought about this more it seems to be as if it was part of the culture, ingrained in our language as a means of expression that somehow reflects the troublesome landscape, both socially and geographically. Most people I have met in New Zealand don’t nearly cuss like a Boer, but you know, maybe that's a good thing.
People do still shirk at the use of words like "fuck", otherwise the censoring of songs for radio play like the above mentioned P!NK number wouldn't be necessary. Is the artist using the word because she is trying to reach a culture and demographic that have assimilated offensive words into their personal lingo, their way of communicating, or is she using it to reach a group that would sit up and pay attention because the word is considered offensive and will make them listen? It's difficult to say.
I must think more about this.