I’ve had swearing on my mind lately, and not just because I’ve spent most of my summer holidays staring at a bloody computer screen. I’ve been reflecting on it a bit.
I like reading Jean-Marc Dewaele’s stuff, especially the papers about swearing. See, I love to swear. This is probably down to social awkwardness and/or the milieu I grew up in. According to the British National Corpus, ‘fuck’ is used more among males, the working class and the less educated. (McEnery & Xiao, 2004 cited in Dewaele, 2017).
I, I was thinking about two bits of language use in my classroom. One of my students submitted her learning journal with a diary with a quite incongruent use of “her [reference to student’s friend] fucking face”. The other has been my use of songs with “fuck” in them (Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and I think it was a section of Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’). All made me a bit squeamish.
I teach at a university but, what if students misuse swearing. Everyone seems to know “Fuck you!”, which in the Japanese context is almost a greeting, because it’s always kind of used like sarcastic “kirai” (“I hate you”) when somebody has had something slightly unwittingly derogatory said about them. But honestly, I’d hope they wouldn’t swear in a bar somewhere just in case they got their arse kicked or something. With songs, it seems like water off a duck’s back, and in hip hop, definitely part of the genre marking. So any smirks were about my possible discomfort in dealing with people who like Disney songs and who listen to songs by Austin Mahone about shagging all night in the context of ‘follow your passion’, which, you know, it could be.
Anyway, a couple of presentations on Eminem’s ‘Rap God’ and NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ passed over without event or sniggering. But, and I’m about to get to the real point now, should we be teaching swearing/emotional language? It could be incidental – “Bloody air conditioner!” or such, along with a contextual note or something. It just feels like we hide bits of the language from students. They see “fuck”. My junior high students know a lot of extremely shocking sexual words (it’s a boy’s school- bravado). But if there’s never any chance for practicing in context, at learner request or a recognition of need, then surely we’re leading them into a situation where they won’t know bugger all about how to respond, let alone whether their own effing and blinding is called for, weird, or outrageous.
Dewaele, J-M (2017) “Cunt” : On the perception and handling of verbal dynamite by L1 and LX users of English. Multilingua: Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication. Doi: 10.1515/multi-2017-0013
13 Replies to “"A crazy motherfu…"”
for EFL students like yours and mine i think swear words are always a nice way to attract their attention although i have only used swear words in a lesson once (too long ago to remember what i did exactly though)
i think we can say that generally (notwithstanding needs of your particular students) that swear words for receptive use can be useful
so thanks for this post as it given me idea to include swear words for a language trivia lesson warm-up (thinking of also using the “cock” dialogue in Game of Thrones season 7 final episode)
Ah, cheers Mura. On a listening tip, it’s amazing how ‘if I can’ sounds like ‘a/I fucking’ in songs.
I’m not a Game of Thrones viewer but I might have a look. Cheers!
hehe misheard lyrics are fun btw here is a starter list of swear words culled from basewrd32 list of Paul Nation’s BNC/COC wordlist:
Love this. I also love them in CAPS.
Michael Swan uses ***s to indicate the “strength” or “shockability” of swearwords in the Taboo words and Swearwords section of Practical English Usage. For example: .:
Thanks for reminding me about that, Geoff. I think it’s similar to Dewaele’s list.
I think it depends on your students, but it’s certainly a useful thing for them to know. I swear a lot too, and I sometimes hear students swear at inappropriate times or in inappropriate ways. It’s important for them to know that, as the list Mura posted shows, swearing goes beyond fuck and shit, the two words they’re most likely to have heard based on what I hear them use.
I had a group of students I taught intensively for three months. When they had a problem in class or did something silly, like walk into a table, they’d use a swearword in their language, most of which I spoke. Each time I heard them, I’d tell them the swearword I’d choose in the same situation. Eventually they asked if we could have a full lesson on swearing, so I obviously obliged. After this, they still used their own language to swear, but were able to supply a ‘correct’ equivalent in English when pushed.
I also think I’m an exception when it comes to learning foreign languages, as I don’t learn the swear words first!
Thanks for writing this,
Thanks Sandy, especially for reaffirming a practice of mine: rephrasing L1 in L2 without censorship. It’s definitely worth pointing out the bother that it might cause, too. In Japanese there aren’t the same kind of taboo interjections so much as taboo descriptions, usually offensive and discriminatory language or taboo topics. I imagine central European language norms to be closer to English norms. I don’t know if that’s right, though.
Poland and Russia are very anti-swearing, though some teenagers use it in class to try and shock teachers. The students I was talking about in my previous comment were from a range of French-, German- and Spanish-speaking countries, where I feel like swearing and the use of offensive language might be closer to English norms.
Thanks for saying me right. Cheers.
The first video of hers I saw was about sex. Cracked me up.
Thanks for the link. That’s brilliant. I’ll have to have a gander at her other videos. Cheers Tyson.
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