A time and place for cursing

Pratibha Guatam


We all remember being taught not to use certain words as a child. Yet, these “bad words” somehow found their way into our vocabulary.

Now, some of us avoid those words, and others seem less inclined to do so. However, we all agree that they have found a niche in our language. A “four-letter word” may be used anywhere from complaining about your noisy neighbor to exclaiming about that roller coaster you rode on last week.

Non-native English speakers will agree that simply knowing a language is not enough to communicate effectively. Informal conversations, which make up most of our communication, require certain mannerisms that can only be learned through observation over a considerable period of time.

This is when many realize that some of their native colloquial terms do not have any English translation. In fact, even native speakers sometimes seem at a loss for words while expressing some sentiments.

It is not the hunt for exact translations that drives us toward coarser words; rather, it is the search of something that provides an extra “oomph” to a statement. After all, comics wouldn’t be as interesting without the “POW.”

“I only use curse words when I want to emphasize something to its most extreme”, said Grant Robinson, a freshman nursing student from Birmingham.

Fahad Farouque, a junior computer science major from Dhaka, Bangladesh, says he never felt the need to use English expletives before coming to the states.

“I could always speak in Bengali if I wanted to make a bigger impact,” he says. “There were also tamer words.”

Gina Girgis, a freshman computer science major from Alexandria, Egypt, believes otherwise. Although she does curse more in English than she would in her own language (Arabian-Egyptian sub), she says that is because she is not as attached to it as she is to her mother tongue.

Michael Orlofsky, a professor in the English department says expletives’ usage can be discussed in two situations: fiction writing and daily discourse.

“In fiction writing, one well-placed expletive can establish characterization,” he said. “Too many can make it offensive.”

In daily conversations, who we are around largely governs our use of language.

“You have to keep in mind purpose and audience. I think audience gets turned off really quickly with any kind of suggestive language,” Orlofsky said.

However, he does agree that there is something in us that grasps for that coarse colloquialism rather than “proper language,” especially in environments where we are comfortable enough to reveal our honest opinions. Very few feel the need to curse out loud around their teachers or bosses, but many use it almost unconsciously around their friends.

Clearly, expletives are not always used to insult or offend the audience. But their usage does present a somewhat “less refined” picture of the speaker. After all, we cannot learn everything from comics.

At some point we have to learn to appreciate other books and learn things without the “POW.” So, it is always better to dig into your vocabulary and use more specific words rather than curses or even slang.

But that does not mean you cannot enjoy comics at times. If your new phone slips out of your hands and greets the concrete with an ominous crack, you deserve to drop an F-bomb.

Related posts