Fucking Voldemort

When Andrew Mitchell did or did not say the word ‘pleb’ in the direction of a policeman (or, perhaps, not) he didn’t preface the word – which he may not have used – with the phrase “Anglo-Saxon word”.

But this is what the presumably voting-age adult Political Editor of the Sun alleged on Radio 4’s PM the other day. To all us adults – by “Anglo-Saxon word” he meant ‘fucking’.

I’m not the first to go cross-eyed trying to piece together a world where the Sun prints tits on Page 3 alongside asterisked swearwords (Anglo-Saxon or otherwise) and the Mail Online publishes photos of barely-restrained celeb genitals close to censored fucks and shits.

If there’s a link I don’t want to get into it now – aside from to comment that they both seem like brands of the same tittering babyish discomfort with real human life and real human bodies – because what really fucks me off is the avoidance of the word fuck.

Or shit, bugger, bastard, cunt, wanker, motherfucker, arse, breasts even. Words that live a strange life where everyone (and I mean everyone) uses a variety of them yet society, led by hand-wringing tabloids, pretends that not using them is better.

Swearwords are not the sign of a limited vocabulary, otherwise Shakespeare wouldn’t have the reputation he does now. Repeated swearwords (“Well, fuck, mate it was fucking shit wasn’t it, like totally fucking fucked, you fucking understand?”) might be, but then so are repeated words of any stripe.

Not using swearwords does not make you more intelligent or more scholarly or suggest a wider vocabulary. Stephen Fry, no less, will box your ears for trying to suggest that swearwords are for the lacking, the failing, the unintelligent.

Because swearwords are intrinsically human. But then, of course, how much real humanity (or Humanism) do you find in most newspapers, TV or even radio?

But even this isn’t my big sodding beef with the pretend grown-ups who wilfully accept the cigarette-paper thin skinned knee-jerks of the high-vocal minority of perpetually backward-looking offended. Or who stand with them, tutting vigourously, for profit.

My problem is that the more we (and by ‘we’ I mean all you closed-minded “It was better when…” non-adaptists who plague this wonderful life) pretend or accept that not using swearwords is clever or admirable the more we conjure the Voldemort effect.

Harry Potter’s at first ignorant and then wilfully determined use of the word that no one else will utter begins as just a word. But it then illustrates the crucial factor of discussion in resistance or of questioning in advancing, of open doors in houses you want to enter. Or leave, of course.

Using the word is initially a form of swearing, satisfying and fulfilling on the page when it challenges those establishment figures who, actually, rather prefer things the way they are when nothing brings them discomfort or a requirement to alter, thank you very much.

Yet conjoined with this is the fact that unless you can say the word Voldemort you cannot humanise (or, at least, realise) him as a being, as a concrete challenge and not an abstract and unconquerable foe. How do you organise a resistance when you can’t even explain exactly and pronounly who or what you are resisting?

So not using the word fuck or pretending that using the word fuck is something terribly uncouth and below us (as the overwhelming majority of papers, apart from the Guardian, tend to do) isn’t just agreeing with the people who don’t want to see anything that unsettles them, it denies any discussion with these people about why fucks and shits unsettle them.

I wouldn’t advocate a fucking and bollocking world, of course, but this is exactly the end point of my whole rant – to use swearwords knowledgeably is to know that you can say fuck in many different places but to use it in a job interview would be ridiculous. And why? Because a) there’s no need and b) there’s already an agreed register in that situation.

As there would be with a work meeting, as there could be with a delicate conversation between lovers which requires restraint and consideration. For all the glories of swearing, it is, I admit, umbilically connected to anger, frustration and even violence.

The important thing is to know, in your heart, that whatever word you use in whatever context you find yourself is a word that you are happy to be held to account for. Whether that’s fucking pleb (or not, of course) or bollocking cock spreadsheet, or even something actually controversial and offensive.

This demands self-questioning, self-critical awareness – a resistance to the cosy ‘normal’ lives that we can’t even begin to mount if the self-elected setters of the tone are insistent in demonstrating that fuck is a word that only the rabble (and Guardian-readers) ever use, and therefore denying those in agreement the opportunity to discover their own opinion.

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About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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