OPINION | Are swear words losing their saltiness?

I’ve become one of those old women who are appalled at the language of the young.

I realise this has been happening for millennia, I just never thought it would happen to me (along with neck wrinkles and a taste for red wine). I’ve worked in foul-mouthed newsrooms most of my adult life (you know who you are), and I thought I was relatively shock-proof. Turns out I had sensitivities I never expected to see tested.

Many journalists can’t get through a spoken sentence without some salty adjectives (not me, of course), but I’m finding that younger people have expanded their repertoire beyond the usual suspects. 

The one that really hurts my ears is a word no self-respecting feminist of the last century would let past her lips (I can’t even imply it in that “fudge, shoot, gosh darn” pre-schooler code – you’ll have to guess), but these whipper-snappers of today incorporate it into their car decals and bandy it about on social media without the slightest blush.

I guess that’s what happens – each generation finds the words that upset their parents the most, for whatever reason. They don’t use them regardless of their sensitivities – they use them because of them.

A couple of generations ago, many of the words that were beyond the pale had blasphemous overtones. Saying ‘damn’ or ‘bloody hell’ would have drawn gasps in the drawing room, but people long since stopped batting a (bloody) eyelid.

Today, sexual themes predominate in curse words, emerging perhaps from several decades where sex has replaced religion at the apex of society. Now, those words are themselves losing whatever powers they retained.

What next, then? I’ll find it interesting is to see which words will eventually shock the young people of today. My prediction is the ones that they can’t bring themselves to say relate to offending minorities. Those words have been off-limits their whole lives (rightly so – I’m not arguing with it), but here’s betting their own children will seize on them, ready to shock and upset Mum and Dad like every generation before them.

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