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I Swear…

Unfinished business, graffiti in Ottawa
Unfinished business, graffiti in Ottawa

We were in the car when I first noticed it. As usual, the radio was on, one of these Ottawa stations stuck in the 1980s and 1990s. I turned the volume up when the intro of Creep started playing. Finally, a song I knew. I wasn’t yet familiar with popular Canadian hits, like any song by The Tragically Hip or Crash Test Dummies or American oldies—Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc..

I sang along in my head. I know, the band’s biggest hit is overplayed, much like U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit or The Offspring’s Self Esteem. So what? They are still great songs.

“Eh!” I said suddenly. “That’s not the lyrics!”

“What?” Feng asked, puzzled.

“Thom York says ‘you’re so fucking special’, not ‘you’re so’… wait, listen.”

We waited to the second pre-chorus and sure enough, Thom York’s angsty voice sang “You’re so very special, I wish I was special.”

“I guess that’s the clean version,” Feng shrugged.

“The what?”

“The clean version, the PG version. Can’t say ‘fuck’ on radio, so the word is beeped out. Or changed.”

“You can’t do that!” I protested, indignant, as if Feng was somehow responsible for this major offense to rock and pop music.

Feng shrugged again. “Whatever. Same thing on TV. Didn’t you notice?”

Come to think of it, I had noticed the high-pitched note that sounded like “bleep”. I was still new in Canada and I enjoyed channel surfing late at night, amazed by the number of channels and the sheer emptiness of most programs. I had watched The Jerry Springer Show, where most interactions quickly went down to “oh you BEEP don’t even BEEP me because I swear I will BEEP you.”

But this was different. I couldn’t believe that an artist had to change lyrics of his song because of a single “fuck”. You can’t censor an artist! Words have meaning, a purpose, even swear words! What was next? Painting over the naked bits at the art gallery?

But apparently, North America’s delicate ears shall not be assaulted by strong language, much like delicate eyes shall not be exposed to nipples and delicate taste buds cannot stand foul unpasteurized cheese.

I swear. Not a lot, but I do use strong language, in context. I’ve always had. It was a bit of a rite of passage at home. As kids, we didn’t dare to use “gros mots” (literally “big words”, i.e. “swear words”) in front of grownups. Far from parental supervision, we would say “merde” (“shit”), call someone a “con” (“idiot”) and even claim that such and such teacher was very “emmerdant” (“a pain in the ass”). Of course, we also use a bunch of sex-related terms for the thrill of it, even though their exact meaning was still a bit fuzzy. And then, at one point—I can’t remember at what age it was exactly—it became okay to use some of these words in front of our parents. Of course, each family has it own rules. My parents were pretty liberal so as long as we actually had vocabulary and use proper conjugations, we weren’t called out for cursing.

When I came to Canada, I knew most of the swear words in English through uncensored songs and media. I just didn’t know how to use them and how offensive they were exactly. If I hit my toe against a chair, I was more likely to shout “putain-de-bordel-de-merde!” than “fuck!”. My brain still processed French and something as instinctive as anger, pain or surprise was best expressed in my mother tongue.

I think I first started swearing when arguing with Feng, probably because 1) typically, I was mad 2) I often ran out of arguments and couldn’t express myself in English that well. Then, little by little, my vocabulary started to include curse words.

A few profanities were funny for me to use because their literal translation would have sounded very old-fashioned in French, for instance, any Catholicism-inspired expression like “holy shit”, “Jesus Christ” or “oh my God”. Quebecois “sacres” were even stranger and very unlikely to offend any French person. I just couldn’t take them seriously, they sounded so funny to me, a bit as if a very angry person had screamed “table, chair, carpet!”

Today, I make liberal use of profanities. I don’t swear because I lack vocabulary, I swear because it adds something to my vocabulary. I rebel against this hypocritical censorship and the family-friendly attitude we should all display at all time. It annoys me. I’m a grownup, I know the meaning of words and I use them right in the appropriate context. There are thousands of attitudes, gestures or facts that are more offensive and express more violence than the word “fuck”. Is it me but dropping an actual bomb and watching resulting devastation on TV is a tad more serious than dropping the f-bomb live on TV?

I have my own rules. They are words I refuse to use because I find them too offensive and demeaning: “cunt”, all the racial slurs, calling something “gay” or “retarded”, among other. But fuck? Fuck, I’d say it.

Cursing is a freedom. I love words, and these swear words have a meaning. Above all, I’m tired of the Disneyland world we created, in which supposedly bad behaviours and uncomfortable realities are hidden. No booze, no cigarettes, no sex, no homeless people, no poverty, no illogical or ambivalent attitudes, no jaywalking, no loud noises, no impudence, no disagreements and no arguments, no sadness FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN, PLEASE!

Life isn’t always saccharine sweet. We aren’t the cast of A PG movie.

I don’t want to live in this sterile world. Fuck no.

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