The Curse of the Swear Word: Censorship

Who'd have thought this kid would grow up to be a potty mouth?

Who’d have thought this kid would grow up to be a sassy, potty mouth?

When I was about 10, I remember trying to explain to a kid younger than me when it was okay to swear. Doing the calculations in my head, I told him that it was okay to swear when you are 12.

A mom (not his, if I recall) overheard me saying that and said to me, “You should never swear.”

I just remember looking at her and thinking that was bullshit.

And even in high school, my best friend convinced me to take on the challenge of no swearing. For every swear word I said, I would pay a nickle or something like that.

All I remember is I always had to pay her.

It became more clear to me when I started learning other languages how I used curse words. I don’t feel the need to be out-and-out vulgar. Using swear words for every other word you use is like putting in “like” in the same situation. It is grating on the ears. A well-placed “fuck” is similar to a beige tiled floor, with a blue tile every three feet. It changes how you look at that floor and there is an expression that is different there. It is complementary yet you take notice. It makes you rapt with attention and sets a certain tone. Too much and you are saying absolutely nothing at all, swearing only for the effect it garners. I now swear quite naturally in Spanish (“ay güey” is a subconscious part of my repertoire) and I suppose it is curious to see a very Asian-looking woman, cussing like a tequila-drinking cantina patron.

Jimmy Page described The Edge from U2 as a “sonic architect.” And branching off from that, I’d like to think I am a verbal mason, putting together words to build a House of WORD, adding a pop of color-blocking contrast with a well-placed expletive.

So you might be able to imagine my surprise when I saw Conan O’Brian interviewing Diego Luna for the movie “Elysium.” In the interview, Conan asked Diego to teach him survival Spanish and Diego taught him two different Mexican phrases: no mames and que pedo. What surprised me was that they bleeped the word “mames” but left in “pedo.” The word “mames” comes from the verb “mamar” which means “to suck.” “Pedo” means “fart.” So technically speaking, these are words you can air. It just seemed rather curious to me that they would have bleeped something on American TV that, years back, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have.

Which brings us back to several questions: why are swear words censored? Why did Miley Cyrus get slammed for the VMAs but you can have a meth cook-out on “Breaking Bad”? Yet it’s okay to ridicule Charlie Sheen’s meltdown? Laugh at Britney when she shaved her head?

Because people need to get a fucking grip and understand everyone has a 50/50 chance. Even you.

The great Stephen Fry and Craig Ferguson talking about swear words.


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