On Swearing (and Why Germans Love the F Word)

Perhaps one of the most shocking things about globalization has been how widely spread English swear words have become. The words that were banned from my mouth as a child are not censored out on the radio in Germany and as American culture infiltrates everything, they’ve made their way into the average German’s mouth without much appreciation of their meaning. I’ve always wondered why a billboard or advertising campaign here could use a curse without anyone blinking an eye. How in the world could a movie franchise include the F word in its title — albeit one intentionally mis-spelled as Fack — and be a hit? And what does that say about the people who keep that word in their mouth without recognizing its emotional impact? Am I prude for thinking I can keep it in my vocabulary (said under my breath, in the privacy of my home) while German school kids toss it around without thinking twice?

After a European office decided that even in its grammatically incorrect form, Fack Ju Goethe is a vulgar turn of phrase that cannot be trademarked, I talked to an expert on swearing, the scientist Emma Byrne, and found out *so many* interesting things about our perception of curses.

It depends on so many things — your age, gender, the culture that you grew up in. You internalize different taboos. In British English, blasphemy is hardly considered offensive any more unless you’re in your 60s and older. At the same time, for people in their 60s and above, things like the N-word aren’t anywhere near as offensive as people my age and younger consider them to be. So there is no universal standard of swearing; each and every person responds to swearing in a way that’s entirely determined by their upbringing.

Her book, “Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language” is now out in the US and it is an absolute gem. Get your hands on it if you can and learn more about why we bi-linguals revert to our native tongue to curse people out.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *