National Column: Why swearing feels so bleeping good

by Rosie DiManno

What the %*$@#&!?

No, really, what the %*$@#&!?

Out of all the reasons President Donald Trump has to fire any of his White House bootlickers – incompetence and craziness come most immediately to mind – why was Anthony Scaramucci bounced after a mere 10 days on the communications director job for the relatively venal sin of phone-bombing profanities?

This is, after all, the president who notoriously cackled about grabbing female “p—-.”

See what I did there? Employing dashes – some prefer asterisks – because a family newspaper generally does not allow vulgarity or profoundly hurtful slurs in print. (I take credit for years ago getting the N-word on the Star’s banned list. A former managing editor deleted the front half of a direct quote – “f—— n——” – from a court story because it would offend readers. But n—– is worse, I argued. She agreed and struck out the entire thing. The N-word, save for exceptional instances, would never appear in these pages again.)

I’ve listened to parts of Scaramucci’s pungent telephone conversation with Ryan Lizza, reporter for the New Yorker, arising from his annoyance over published information about a “secret” dinner between Trump and Fox News. The Mooch certainly did unleash a volley of F-grenades, inserting the common Anglo Saxon expletive all over the place. Although it’s arguably more disturbing to have called White House chief of staff Reince Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic” than threatening to “f—— kill all the leakers.”

Scaramucci may be a lounge lizard but, for him, f— is clearly a verbal tic. He might as well have been saying watermelon-watermelon-watermelon.

One American columnist even situated Scaramucci’s obscenity yips within the context of his Italian ethnicity, a kind of Tony Soprano caricature. It didn’t mean anything, just empty sound with or without fury. That’s a stereotype but not necessarily wrong, though I don’t think Italians are more foul-mouthed than anybody else. The words do flow richly off the tongue, however, and we bring to the conversation an array of semaphoring gestures to go with.

The thing is, everybody swears – 0.3 per cent to 0.7 per cent of the time on average, according to research – even if moderately and euphemistically, replacing f— with, say, fudge or fiddlesticks. But the meaning remains clear. It’s a little lexicon game the prim and pedantic play.

Yet full-frontal swearing is still considered taboo in many places, in many circumstances, where words meet ears (or eyes) even as language evolves culturally.

In increasingly secular societies, blasphemous imprecations such as “goddamn” and “Jesus Christ” have lost their force and thus their no-no heft.

Though occasionally readers still take me to task for it, complaining that they have to keep the paper away from their young children to shield their eyes from objectionable words and phrases. Oh great, sez I, now we’re supposed to write to the level of an impressionable 10-year-old. Have these parents listened to the music making mush out their kids’ brains?

(As an aside on that subject, I was appalled – won’t say offended because there’s entirely too much of that going on – by the Lil’ Kim track blasting in the Blue Jays clubhouse last week. But it’s their space.)

In these times, swearing jargon more commonly devolves from the scatological – a “hierarchy of effluvia,” as one linguist put it: From “crap” and “fart,” which are now ho-hum, to “s—,” which still doesn’t pass the editor sniff-test, to a whole host of bodily function vocabulary, which I won’t list because this column is already tangled up in dash-knots.

And the sexual references, of course, the down and dirty, which flow so easily off the tongue, often for shorthand emphasis.

Why do we talk this way?

You can waste hours reading the academic literature, as I’ve just done, or you can use your own intuitive sensibility.

It effing feels good, mostly. It’s cathartic. It’s kind of bonding. It can literally make what hurts less painful – like swearing a blue streak when you’ve slammed the car door on your hand.

It’s succinct. It’s venting, lets off emotional and physiological steam. In moments of acute anger, it’s certainly preferable as a substitute to physical violence. And just as often, there’s no conscious undercurrent, no cognitive thinking it out before erupting – anymore than you can control a sneeze. F— off as an achoo.

It’s like using the horn on your car – a brief toot-toot warning, a celebratory honk or an infuriated blare.

Scientific studies have shown that teeing off with a spray of vulgarities has a corresponding physical effect – pupils dilate, pores open, heart rate increases. But your blood pressure will probably spike if all those exclamatory words are kept inside.

Contrary to what was once common belief, people who cuss lots are not less educated or from a lower socioeconomic class. But the well-educated, with larger vocabularies, can generate more creative blue miasmas.

Further – oy, so many scientific papers on the topic – foul-mouthed folks are actually viewed as more trustworthy than those who wouldn’t say s— if they had a mouthful.

Scaramucci – back to the beginning – may have been channelling his inner Trump, going all bleep-bleep on Lizza. He f—– up.

But rather a dick on the phone than a schmuck in the White House, no dashes required.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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