I Swear…

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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.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Welcome to America baby.
    I’m offended by censorship. I remember a South Park episode where they were making fun of that while beeping every 2 seconds during the whole episode…
    Do you think if I swear with a nipple out, I’ll go to jail?
    I’d never use homophobic, sexist, racist, etc… Slurs, and I’m actually trying to slow down on the “putain” because, well, I’m not too fond of the first meaning of it, I’ve got nothing against prostitutes.
    I do swear, though.
    Fuck censorship!

    • You know what, I’m pretty sure I did the combo “showing a nipple and swearing” when I was breastfeeding (briefly!). Didn’t go to jail, because you know, feeding my precious snowflake was more important 😆

      Funny you mention “putain”. This is a word I use without thinking much about the meaning. You’re right, actually.

      • Ca m’a fait un choc quand j’ai réalisé que la majorité des insultes françaises étaient putophobes (donc sexistes). Faut que je retrouve une nouvelle routine de gros mots ! 😀

        • C’est vrai que la majorite des grots mots sont sexiste et / ou putophopes :/
          J’ai ete surprise quand j’ai appris le sens premier du mot “con” (en lisant le Marquis de Sade).
          Ce qui me choque aussi en ces temps de coupe du monde c’est de voir autant de gens comparer la victoire des bleus a un viol, ou dire qu’on les a encule… Le vocabulaire de la violence sexuelle reste acceptable quand on parle de sport sur Twitter? Perso ca me choque

          • Quoi?? Un “viol”?? Je crois que le mot “viol” est le mot le plus galvaudé de l’année :-/

          • Martin Penwald on

            D’un autre côté, je ne vois pas le problème d’utiliser « con » comme insulte, il n’y a pas (plus ? ) de connotation sexiste ici. Éventuellement lors de l’emploi de l’expression « con comme une bite » , et encore.

            J’utilise « bordel » et « putain » de la même façon que j’utilise « merde », « zut », « mortecouille », « diantre » ou « fichtre ».
            Notons que notre façon de jurer avec « putain », ça fait marrer les Québécois.

            Ouais, sinon, les supporteurs … Le vocabulaire et l’imagerie qu’ils utilisent ici est l’expression même de l’ordre patriarcal dans lequel l’homme est _par nature_ supérieure à la femme (‘tention, hein, ce n’est pas le cas, mais ce sont les bases du système dont la remise en cause est inacceptable).
            Et la violence sexuelle à l’encontre de l’autre (par pénétration forcée) est l’expression de la dominance masculine.
            C’est consternant.

          • Consternant, tiens, le mot qui convient parfaitement à cet état d’esprit. Et les pubs en média en rajoutent une tonne aussi… j’apprécierais peut-être la “beauté” du sport si y’avait pas les commentaires.

            Pour “con”, je ne vois pas trop le problème non plus, enfin du moins dans ma tête, mais je comprends la logique de l’associer à un mot connoté sexiste.

          • Martin Penwald on

            Vive le caca !

            « Caca de fête, caca qui fouette. » (proverbe du Nouvel An)
            « Tempête à l’aller, t’en chies au retour. » (proverbe marin)

  2. I totally agree with you. It’s not so much the swear words being changed that grate me but the beep haaa, and the whole “there is a nipple, call the police”. When at the same time you see a ton of violence and misogyny portrayed in every Hollywood movie. It’s so hypocritical.
    I remember my first visit (and only) visit at Disney Land (Paris). All that cute cotton candy and the nice music everywhere killed me haha. And I feel like sometimes it’s like that here.
    Life is beautiful, but it’s also ugly sometimes. And while I would want my children to be as protected as possible, I wouldn’t want them to grow in a sterilized bubble.
    Thankfully it’s not as bad here as the States, where you can buy a gun before you can drink…. And where sex education is “save yourself for marriage”.
    Regarding swearing though, my Scotsman uses the word cunt quite often, it’s not considered offensive there…

    • Yes, I know that swear words are different in the UK (like I said, I watched Trainspotting many times :lol:). It’s just not something I would use because it’s quite strong in North America.

      Once again, we are on the same page. I can’t believe the hypocrisy sometime… it’s really depressing. There are so many dark, toxic and shady behaviours, but that’s okay as long as you stay politically correct. Crazy.

          • Martin Penwald on

            Ce qui est marrant avec les jurons québécois, c’est que certaines personnes les considèrent encore très grossiers.
            Le dessinateur Riad Sattouf avait été étonné de choquer des Québécois simplement en dessinant son personnage Pascal Brutal clamant « Tabernacle ! »
            J’aime beaucoup les sacres québécois, mais je ne les utilise pas.

            Beaucoup (tous ? ) ont une origine religieuse et sont donc blasphématoires, j’imagine que ça vient de la perte d’emprise de l’église catholique sur le peuple, dans les années 70 surtout.

          • Ils sont juste trop longs, je trouve. Un “merde”, ça sort tout seul. Pour moi, un “câlisse de tabernac'” ça devient dur à prononcer dans la colère.

  3. Oh, censorship, North American style. While I understand that there are topics that are better not discussed until the children are older, I take issue with the choice of things being censored in North America. I especially find it bizarre that sex is not okay to portray, while killing people is totally okay. In my opinion, I’d rather see a sex scene on media than bloody warfare, the former being more natural than the latter, but apparently that’s not how the review boards think about it.

    • Totally agree with you.

      But honestly, I can’t think of mainstream topics that you shouldn’t exposed kids to. You don’t have to volunteer lengthy explanation, but let kids ask questions if needed. I remember, growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS was one of the main concerns back then, and I was told about it in a language I could understand. Probably not a kid-appropriate topic but hey, it’s there, we weren’t going to turn all the TVs off!

  4. My husband and I swear occasionally between ourselves (but not typically to each other!) because we find swear words to be funny, they look something like this (!”$%&*?) in our minds! 😉 It not the words themselves that are offensive but the intentions behind them. What I mean is that you could call someone “oh blessed you!” with the meaning of “go to hell motherfucker”… then who’s the hypocrite? The one who simply says what he means with colorful language or the one who pretends to speak clean with the dirty mind?
    So in the end, it’s better to clear away as much as humanly possible from the bad stuff and look at the good around us. It’s healthier!
    In one of his sermons, hubby was giving an example of a pretty gift with beautiful wrapping paper and a nice bow, full of horse shit. Those are the hypocrites among us. (Guess who felt offended?)

    • I absolutely love your rational and the example used by your husband. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but I guess it’s how I see things too. Like I said, “words have meaning” but we humans are the ones injecting the meaning in them and it’s pretty easy to see the difference between a heartfelt “thank you!” and a resentful one.

      I try to have good intentions. I just use strong language to express myself, but these words are rarely directed to a person.

  5. I curse too much! I curse in front of my kid. One day he will repeat it. Until then, I try as much as I can to resist but temptation is too great at times !

  6. Martin Penwald on

    Nom de dieu de putain de bordel de merde, t’as raison.

    The mandatory Matrix reference in this case

    What I find the most idiotic is that now, you can find the word “effing”, which mean F (like in Fuck)-ing. It is completely ridiculous. Everybody knows that when one writes F**k or f-ing, the word fuck is behind. Why is that different?

    About gay : I’ve read in a comment that some people don’t like being called homosexuals, but are fine with gay. To translate a related insult, you can use “fag” or “faggot”, which are very insulting and would have the same meaning than « pédale » or « pédé ».

    • This is one of my favourite scenes in The Matrix 🙂

      As for “gay”… I think it’s fine to call an homosexual “gay”, much like it’s fine to call a black person “black”, I’m just not a big fan of saying “of, this is so gay” when talking about a movie, etc.

      • Martin Penwald on

        Ah, exactly. It is the same than « putain », I use it as I use « merde » , but never to adress someone. And for the same reason, I don’t use « fils de pute »/”son of a bitch”. By the way, I really really don’t like how “bitch” is used, because it is the most frequently applied to a person, and the sous-entendu is sexist.

        • I don’t like to use the word “bitch” either, it sounds like something mean girls at school would say. However, I do say I “bitch” about something.

  7. sorry, I didn’t get it. Is the singer Canadian? and she/he should change the word because the F word? in my country, if it is an American singer, they will “beeeb” the F word in songs and in the movies.
    But if the artist is Indonesian, they will banned the song. we are (pretend to be) religious people :))
    Now I wonder if the artist is Korean (which nowadays, the idol among the youngster in Indonesia, K-pop fever), will they sensor the bad words? I don’t think so, few people know Korean.

    • The singer is Thom York from the band Radiohead, a British band. The original song says “fucking” and I was used to this version being played in Europe, but in North American “fucking” was replaced by “very”.

      I’m against censorship because I think people can choose what’s best for them to listen/read, etc. How do Indonesians feel about it?

      • Depends.
        Some people will agree, some will against. Too many people here.
        ah, forget to add. I do agree. Disney Princess story is unreal…girls must depend on themselves not prince charming with white horse =))

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