On Swearing

Swearing is complicated, even when it’s simple. Start with the fact that people use the word swearing to mean two completely different things. There’s the swearing one does when one takes an oath – swearing in a Member of Parliament, or a jury, or a President – and the swearing one does for rather less official reasons. Same word. Confusing.

Quaker: thou art doing it wrong

For extra confusion, the tradition of swearing on a Bible – frequently required for legal purposes in various countries with a Christianized past – is actually forbidden in the Bible itself, in two places (Matthew 5: 33-37 and James 5:12).

The idea behind swearing on scriptures is that the swearer will not lie in case their god gets them for tarnishing his, her or its reputation. It’s hard to see how this is supposed to work with Christians, since the swearing itself would be disobedient regardless of whether one subsequently told the truth or not. Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no – it’s much simpler.

Swear Bear

The other kind of swearing seems less complicated. Until you realize there are all these unspoken rules about swearing – who, when, where, what… The Romans had a very codified structure of who could say what, in the presence of whom. There were some swear-words women could use; some they couldn’t use – but men could use in their presence; and some that women weren’t even supposed to know about, because only men used them, only in male company. Allegedly.

English swear-words are mostly the Early English words for various bodily functions (which makes it rather unfair to follow them up with “excuse my French”). Those that aren’t earthy are mostly blasphemous, and for some reason swearing has not caught up with religious pluralism. Or atheism.

Civilian Conservation Corps - NARA - 195836As Terry Pratchett wrote, “It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, ‘Oh, random-fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum!’ or ‘Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept on a crutch!’.”

While English has a small enough pool of Really Rude Words that they can be identified simply by their initial letters, it has a wealth of minced oaths; what Bill Bryson calls “euphemistic expletives – darn, durn, goldurn, goshdad, goshdang, goshawful, blast, consarn, confound, by Jove, by jingo, great guns, by the great horn spoon… jo-fired, jumping Jehoshaphat, and others almost without number.”

Jehoshaphat jumping

I have an aunt who says “Flaming Norah” when the occasion seems to require it (though Norah has yet to catch fire); and I myself say “blast,” “dangnabit,” and other such phrases. One of my favourites comes from A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble, in which an old woman lambasts her grandson as a nikiranibobo for seeking offshore employment. “‘I dare not translate this word, sir,’ stammered the interpreter when he recovered himself; ‘it is a very old and clever word, but it is not official.'”

At the risk of sounding prim, let me say that I don’t use blasphemy: it’s either disrespectful and offensive to Someone I love dearly, or (if one embraces pluralism) offensive to people who hold other beliefs. I don’t use language of the fouler sort either. After all, if I wouldn’t want to step in it, I definitely don’t want it in my mouth.

Word Count

Do you think it’s true that each step we take, no matter how enormously life-changing it seems at the time, merely serves to prepare us for the next step – one unimaginable before we took the first?

Lake Annette, Giant Steps - July 2008 178-00

I started this blog in order to provide myself with some form of accountability, and (hopefully) others with useful or interesting material for their own writing journeys.

In order to amp up the former, I have decided to keep a daily account of what I write, with the stated intent of writing something every day – aiming for 500 words.

I freely admit that I shamelessly poached this idea from RobynInNZ.

However, given my propensity for Weaselling Out, I feel the need to lay down a few ground rules.

Weasel Poupette

1) Writing out someone else’s words does not count. (Nor does “blah blah blah” – unless in Morning Pages.)

2) Shopping lists and to-do lists do not count, unless presented in a recognised poetic form (e.g. sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, limerick)

3) Diary/journal* entries and Morning Pages do count, as do blog entries (177, 178).

4) Private letters do count (should I be sufficently motivated to tally the words), but emails do not, unless Sparklingly Composed. Because these are my rules and I can be as inconsistent as I like.

5) Manuscript pages (i.e. written by hand) are harder to word-count, and shall therefore be averaged out, per page or per line.

6) Not writing 500 words (or any at all) shall be honestly admitted to, and (very important from the Weasel perspective) no excuses will be given. Taken. Whichever.

7) Unlike the man who relieved himself in a crocodile-infested river, there shall be no half-assedness. (Donations to medical charities operating in third world countries will be Highly Commended, and may earn a day’s respite from word-counting.)

Crocodile Fright Night

So: Monday – wrote page in journal (101 words). Tuesday: wrote 2 1/2 Morning Pages (502 words) and this blog post (387 words) for a total of 889.

889 words and counting…

And a question for you all: Which is preferable as a reader, lots of short blog posts (a sentence, a paragraph) or a longer post once or twice a week?
Comments on this or indeed on anything else related or interesting are welcomed.

*Does anyone else find it strange that diary carries the connotation of daily entries, when journal doesn’t – even though they both come from root words meaning day (diarius, Latin, and jour, French)?