Everyone’s swearing, nobody gives a damn

It happened right there on the bookshelves. British psychologist Oliver James began it with his parenting book They F* You Up

Everyone held their breath to see if you could really do that. 

Then, like a kindergarten playground exploding with bottom jokes came The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*, the Zero F* Cookbook, and the rather nasty bedtime book for millennial parents, Go the F* to Sleep.

All this bookshop blasphemy parallelled real world trends in the potty-mouth department. 

Where once you’d be thrown in the lockup for swearing in public, now grown women with Pauline Hanson vowels swear like troopers on buses and trains.

A big question seemed to go unasked in this welter of naughty words. The whole point of swearing is to shock, to be edgy. 

So what if there isn’t any edge left?

Have we reached peak blasphemy? 

By my calculations we have one last swear word to go, and it’s only a matter of time before a political memoir titled C*s I Have Known! soars up the charts. Possibly penned by a retired PM.

In fact, swearing and politics go hand in hand. 

There is a macho tradition, a very precise taxonomy of badness, exactly as there was in the playgrounds of my childhood, starting gently with D, and worsening to complete B (as opposed to just regular B), ending finally, and with an awed hush, with the C word.

Uttered among a group of 12-year-old boys, it was the moment you knew blood was going to flow.

The nuclear option of swear words, universally used to denote serious lack of human feeling.

In my day, people conserved their swear words for times of great need.

They humorously deployed “almost” swear words, that turned into something else in the nick of time. Oh my gosh. What the heck.

Religion came into it – bloody was a shortening of By Our Lady. Damn meant what it sad, it was literally a curse.

Also back then, profanity was a male domain.

It was actually a kind of stammer, muteness posing as toughness – generations of inarticulate males bought time, using cusswords while their brains searched for the actual next word.

To be honest, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn.

There may be no going back, but swearing – too much of it – was an indicator of someone who had trouble with boundaries. 

If they couldn’t control their mouth, they probably couldn’t control their actions. Someone you wouldn't marry, employ or lend money to. 

Now it’s just commonplace. Nobody takes any notice. 

We have used up our ammunition, and only actual clear speech remains. 

Perhaps that’s not so bad.

Steve Biddulph, who doesn’t usually swear, is author of The New Manhood, and Raising Boys in the 21st Century.