"Derek and Clive", Dothraki, Game of Thrones Season 7, Klingon, Swear words, Swearnet, William Shakespeare
I’ve just watched the latest season, Season 7, of Game of Thrones. Apart from all the excitement, courtly intrigues, the coming together of multiple storylines, the soaring flame-and-fire dispensing dragons, and the impending threat of the Army of the Dead, I noticed a higher incidence of what most people consider the two worst swear words in the world—the f-word and the c-word. The use of these two words, and the additional dreaded n-word (of which, I’ll say more later), in movies and television shows is not new but the incidence of the words has risen considerably over the last seventeen years. I watch a lot of action movies and in the low-budget slugfest movies, it’s de rigueur and, I guess, goes with the image of the tough he-man who long ago stopped smoking Marlboro cigarettes and took up swearing instead. But, in popular television series aimed at post-9PM family viewing, it’s become more and more common.
Consider first the f-word in movies. Apparently, the record for the highest number of f-words, called the f-count, occurs in a film called Swearnet: The Movie (2014). I’ve not watched this movie but it reputedly contains 935 instances of the word. Given the film’s viewing time of 112 minutes, this equates to 8.35 instances/minute or, one instance every 7 seconds. Jeez; there’s not a lot of room between every instance to inject different words. I won’t be seeking out this movie.
But, other more mainstream movies, Hollywood and indies, contain their fair share. Here are some further examples of popular movies with a high f-count: Wolf of Wall Street (2013)—569; End of Watch (2012)—326; Casino (1995)—422; Pulp Fiction (1994)—154; Reservoir Dogs (1992)—269; Platoon (1986)—159.
The BBC has followed suit. In November 2016, BBC4 broadcast a Peter Cook/Dudley Moore “Derek and Clive” comedy sketch recorded in 1978 that contained 15 f-words and 12 c-words. The BBC does have editorial guidelines about the use of swear words but, “The BBC does not ban words or the phrases.” The Peter Cook/Dudley Moore sketch was only 70 seconds long but approval to broadcast went right to the top of the BBC to the Director of Content, Charlotte Moore (no relation to Dudley Moore, I understand).
Okay; so far so good but how about the final taboo, the c-word, long held to be the ultimate swear word whether used in a sexual or a non-sexual way? Has that barrier finally fallen? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes”. The c-word is now quite common in movies and television series, especially those originating from the USA. I didn’t count the number of times it was used in Season 7 of Game of Thrones but it was enough to make me notice. And, it wasn’t spoken just by the beer-swilling roughnecks guarding the gates of Winterfell. It was also used by the knights and their ladies. As with the f-word, this is not new. Jack Nicholson’s character used the c-word in the movie Carnal Knowledge (1971), and again in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). The c-word was edited out of the original version of Saturday Night Fever (1977) to allow the rating to be reduced from R (Restricted) to PG (Parental Guidance). Agent Starling (Jodie Foster) had the word thrown at her the first time she met Hannibal Lecter in the R-rated Silence of the Lambs (1991) and—gasp, shock, horror—the 11-year-old actress Chloë Grace Moretz, was heard to say the word in the film Kick Ass (2010) but that film was rated 15, not R. (They are getting younger. I recently watched The Last Word (2017) and heard 10-year-old actress AnnJewel Lee Dixon say the f-word several times.)
What about the n-word? The etymology of this word is not rooted in sexual origins. It is rooted in race and ethnic sources and is widely regarded as extremely offensive and yet coloured/black people use it frequently amongst themselves, especially in the so-called blaxploitation movies of the ’70s. You’ll also hear it, for example, in the revisionist Western Django Unchained (2012), the war movie Full Metal Jacket (1987), and the satirical Western comedy Blazing Saddles (1974).
So, where do we go from here? If the f-word, c-word, and even the n-word are becoming more and more the norm in mainstream movies and television series, what words can we use to shock, to offend, to add adjectival depth? We are plumb out of euphemisms (“shoot” for “shit”, for example) and homophonic substitutes (Cockney rhyming slang’s “Jimmy Riddle” for “piddle”, “Gypsy’s Kiss” for “piss”). We can invent some new words, such as those suggested by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry: prunt, shote, cucking, skank, fusk, and worst of all, pempslider! Or we could turn to swear words in other languages (French: merde, putain, fils de pute… or German: fick dich, küss meinen arsch, miststück…), or even adopt swear words used in made-up languages such as Klingon, the language used by Captain Kirk’s antagonists in the television series Star Trek: for example, denlb qatlh (Denebian slime devil), p’tok (spineless human child), sa’hut (buttocks), or baktag (shit). If you are unable to pronounce the Klingon words, there’s always the more recent language of the Dothraki from Game Of Thrones; for example, dracarys (dragonfire) but that’s the only Dothrakian swear word I can find.
Or, we could all just stop swearing but how then would we express our anger, our surprise, our disgust, our disrespect, our astonishment, and our delight? There’s nothing quite like the classic Eff Off retort to express surprise or suggest someone leaves your presence. Maybe we should return to Shakespeare for inspiration: “Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish!” ( Henry IV Part I – Act II, Scene iv), or the shorter but possibly more insulting, “Away, you three-inch fool!” (The Taming of the Shrew – Act III, Scene iii.)
Where will future swear words come from? As the man with a contraceptive on the end of his nose replied when asked his name, “F**k knows!”
As one who never swears! I thing that it is all a load of well written p.s.i.g bol…cks
Valerie Cullers said:
I usually feel that the more swear words are used, the less creative and insightful the writer. Let’s face it…gratuitous sex, violence and profanity are just fillers for a lack of good writing. Do we always have to dumb down the audience and shoot for the lowest common denominator in language and plot? I don’t think so.
Ben Bennetts said:
I agree although, occasionally, a profanity or obscenity serves to emphasise a point beyond that afforded by the use of milder words. You’ll find lots of discussion, and many varied opinions, about the use of swear words—sexual, religious, insulting, racist, or just plain vulgar—on the Web and, as I pointed out, even Shakespeare enjoyed his curses. I am appalled however by the casual way the f- and c-words are slotted into situations that don’t merit them. Here’s a case in point.
I am currently watching the television series, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, and yesterday was the day for Season 1 Episode 3. In the opening minutes, Offred (Commander Waterford’s handmaid) visits her friend Ofwarren (Commander Warren’s handmaid). Ofwarren has just given birth to a girl and, apparently, Ofwarren bit the hand of Commander Warren’s wife when the wife went to snatch the baby away while she was feeding. Offred reprimands Ofwarren for doing this whereupon Ofwarren replies using the c-word to describe the wife. Now, I was curious. Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, wrote this book in 1985. Atwood is a renowned author and, to my mind, would not find it necessary to use the c-word in her works so I checked. I found and downloaded a Kindle version of the original book and searched for the word. It is not there, although I did find eight instances of the f-word used variously as a verb, a present participle, and an adjective. So, how did the c-word creep into the dialogue of the 2017 televised series? Margaret Atwood is listed by IMDB as one of eleven people credited with creating the script from the book. Did she agree to the addition, or did she object but was over-ruled by someone who believes the use of the c-word would add flavour to the exchange between Offred and Ofwarren?
Your guess is as good as mine but, to my mind, the use of the c-word added nothing to the scene and, in fact, seriously detracted from the exchange between the two women. A milder term—”She’s a cow/bitch.”—would have sufficed to convey Ofwarren’s feelings towards the wife.
It’s odd. Adding unnecessary or over-dramatic f-words and c-words to movie and television scripts is clearly something scriptwriters feel is required by modern audiences but, in almost all cases, the words add no value and overuse has diminished their shock value. On the other hand, authors such as Lee Childs and Tom Clancy sprinkle these words like confetti throughout their literary creations and lots of people read their books.
With one letter change, we could turn the proverb, “Where there’s muck, there’s brass,” into something racier but, unfortunately, still true!
Thanks for your comments.
Valerie Cullers said:
Yes, I see your point. I am not put off by the occasional epithet, but I don’t believe the ones used more to vulgar side are necessary. I know people say that art reflects life, but I think in this day and age that life reflects art. Young minds are not as discerning and discriminating as they need to be, and have the tendency to mimic what they see performed in the media.
Living in the U.S., we have seen young people mimic many scenarios they have watched on a movie or a television show and it is truly disheartening to see them perform random acts of violence in a copycat fashion.
Writers must know they are influencing people and they have the responsibility to influence them in a more positive direction not a negative one. They may not take this responsibility seriously but they still have it.
I’ve been pondering this one as it is something I feel strongly about. I agree with the comments and I really do not like the infiltration of these words into our everyday conversation. I have given up watching a few of my regular, so called ‘light entertainment’ programmes, due to the increasing use of the f-word. There are some very funny comedians (of both genders) who are really funny and the inclusion of such language into their act adds nothing.
I think there are many words that we can use to express our feelings and I’m still fond of ‘troglodyte’ if someone aggravates me!
Ben Bennetts said:
Troglodyte; now there’s a good word. I’ll have to work that word into a future blog. Thanks for your comments, Mary.
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