Language and Rights

 

I’m not sure if this is a sign of my impending middle age, but I am finding myself more and more attracted to Radio Four when I’m in the car. It’s not the comedy – which is great, but then it always has been – but it is the news shows and interviews that I enjoy the most. It’s slightly worrying. I think I may be turning into my father.

Anyway, it was after listening to Radio Four last night that I was quite pleased with myself that “Moral Maze” discussed exactly the kind of issues I brought up in my last blog ( “Blatter and the Nanny State”). Not only that but Michael Buerk and others seemed to be agreeing with just the point of view I was presenting. This, despite the whole country being united in vilifying Sepp Blatter and his handshaking. For once, I seem to have caught something that others are talking about too.

There were, of course, those on the programme who were absolutely determined that Blatter was wrong and said how delighted they were that the country (Britain) was so outraged that bad/racial language could be excused. But I have to say that it was these voices – the ones who speak for censorship, for banning of the use of bad language – that said the most worrying things.

“I have the right” one voice suggested, “to go to a football match and not feel abused by the swearing of supporters”. When it was suggested that if you don’t like the language then you shouldn’t go to the match, the voices became raised and the objection was raised that they had the right to go to the match and not feel in danger. How long before we have the right to go to a match and not see a player get hurt (too much violence) or a raised voice (what does that teach our children about settling differences?) or expect to see no side lose (competitiveness is not healthy – how would you feel if you were the losing side?). If you feel threatened by such things, to be honest, then you should stay at home.

The last point raised was a woman who said that if she was on a train alone and some youths were sat nearby swearing away with their feet up on the chairs she would never approach them to remove their feet for fear of violence. Whereas, she said, if they weren’t swearing then she probably would. For me,” therein lies the rub” as the expression goes.

I think those that would agree that swearing and foul language should be banned are missing the point. It is not the swearing that determines the violence or abuse, it’s the other way around. Frankly, I would read the signs of how those youths were behaving before considering asking them to put their feet down. If I read aggression in the body language then I wouldn’t go near! The language is irrelevant.

Language is, of course, an indicator – after all, you’ve never seen a violent, rampaging mob running down the street and one shout to another “ooh by golly I’m feeling positively irate and think, by Jove, that I might just take a brick to the young lady’s window. Don’t you agree Giles?” But expletives are used because they vocalise the anger or pain we feel inside.

I’ve seen vicars curse like a trooper when they’ve spilt hot tea down themselves and, lord knows, I’ve done it myself many a time. My gentle use of language is not something people that who know me think of very often. But then, I have a short temper (that doesn’t last long and never gets more violent than a clench of my fists) and expletives come in handy.

I get the temper from my Dad who exemplifies the whole language thing well. When he was alive he used to enjoy watching sport on the TV. Inevitably, just as a game would start, someone would knock on the front door. My father would go purple with rage and say ”BLOOD AND SAND!! Don’t people KNOW there is a match on?!” as if everyone in the world should know that this particular match should never have been disturbed. He would rise from his seat, fists clenched, and go through the hall to the door. In the few short seconds this took, all his temper had dissipated and he would greet the caller with “Oh hello! How are you? So nice to see you” and so on and his pleasantness would be totally genuine. He was a funny chap my dad and I do miss him.

Anyway, his “blood and sand” expletive would have been quite shocking when he was growing up in the 50s but, by today’s standards, it’s rather quaint. I don’t think anyone would ever have accused him of unacceptable violent behaviour. He was just expressing anger. The language came from the feeling – not the other way around.

The human body is built for “fight or flight”. Despite the increasingly ‘deskbound’ nature of many of our jobs these days, the need to exercise these two physical exertions is deeply ingrained in our genes. Sport is the natural outlet for our need to keep these two in check so that they don’t spill out into our everyday lives. We need to be aggressive, we need to want to beat the opposition, we need to let it out. On the confines of the playing field, within the rules, this should be fine. And our spectators should be able to let it out verbally too.

The argument that such verbal aggression easily turns into physical is a valid concern but, again, I think misses the point. When I grew up in the 80s I knew many lads who liked to get into fights at matches. But they went with the intention of fighting afterwards. It wasn’t the swearing they did there that led them to fight. Again, language is an indicator of an emotion that is already there – it isn’t the language that causes the violence.

Banning foul language or making it a crime (which is increasingly the case on the playing field) doesn’t take away the violence, the hurt or the racial hatred that is already there. It just means one less outlet, one more chance that someone will, in their frustration, do something much more drastic.

Rather than stamping out rudeness and racial hatred, the authorities are in greater danger of driving it underground, creating a neo-Victorian era where people are required to “do and say the right thing” except, this time, ruled by the Law rather than by society. The result will not be greater harmony but more frustration. I believe that frustration has to come out somehow. I dread to think how it might manifest itself.

But I have to stop now, someone is at the door. Blood and sand, don’t they know I’m writing a blog. Where’s the axe…?

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About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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7 Responses to Language and Rights

  1. Sajib says:

    Have you left Bangladesh already? Because there is no Radio Four over here. 😕

    Like

  2. Pingback: Swearing in Mining Terminlogy « I THINK MINING

  3. Vanessa Hall says:

    I have to agree with you Ken. We have many a conversation about the use of swearing both socially and on the TV because Chris’ dad is so against the use of any bad language in any situation and will not sit through a tv programme if any swear word is used. Which usually means that he watches very little tv these days!! He gets extremely irrate if he hears bad language used by kids in the street and it’s usually his reaction to it and his assumptions about the kids involved that annoys me more! I am a little more relaxed with these things and don’t let it bother me. I find that occationally bad language can be necessary in some tv programmes to set the scene or create a mood, and Billy Connoly just wouldn’t be the same without his sometimes filthy mouth :).

    I had an experience once with a bunch of youths from a children’s home who were visiting st Bees beach. I was with my kids in the park when a bus load of these teenagers piled out of a mini bus. They all came loudly into the park, merrily laughing and chatting and swearing a lot. I turned to them and pointed out to them there were young kids in the park so could they please watch their language. I must admit I was expecting an agressive response but the response that I got surprised me. They all apologised very politely and very sincerely and did what I had asked. They weren’t in the slightest bit agressive, rude or arrogant. So I agree that the language used does not necessarily portray the actions or intentions of a person but I guess that it can initiate false asumptions from the onlookers.

    I have recently spoken to Russell about swearing (as you do when they become very aware of these things) and have spoken about where it is and is not appropriate, as I think it’s important to realise that you can’t stop them doing it but you can properly educate them about it. I too do not ‘like’ swearing as a whole but I do think that it has it’s place and have been guilty of the odd expletive at times (but only appropriately of course) 🙂 xx

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    • Thanks Vanessa! You raise some important issues – like assuming that swearing kids will be aggressive kids and so on. I also think that something of Billy Connolly would be lost if he didn’t use those expletives!

      We’ve had the’chat’ with the kids too about language and I have to admit that I don’t hide my expletives from them. They used to think that I was terrible with my language but since being back in the UK they have started to realise that I am quite clean in comparison to what they hear in the Junior school playground!

      I have to be careful here and point out that I am not advocating a use of bad language in day to day life – but just acknowledging that there are places where I don’t think it is wrong for people to use – we’re verbal as well as physical creatures and need release both ways. For me the underlying rule would be “if I use such language in this situation will it cause offence?” if the answer is ‘yes’ then I won’t use it. To be honest, I think if everyone stuck to that rule then the world would be a ‘cleaner’ place but footballers could continue to enjoy their game without fear of the PC brigade.

      Thanks, as always Vanessa, for your support 🙂

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  4. Interesting post, a subject much debated about especially in association with football and profession footballers habits/professionalism.

    The point and arguments you make are all true, and I think if I put myself in your shoes your points are justified. That said, we as humans in general are calm lazy-beings and majority of us live in fear. There are so many different types of fears we as humans have, but we can categorise them in groups. On that basis fear can be measured at different levels. So, as humans we have the ability to recognise fear in others or we can provoke a reaction based on fear in others. Fear is what dictates the habits of humans and its fear that is the foundation where all actions/reactions are based on.

    How many times have we heard or read news about people getting bullied, mainly children or teenagers in schools. Those who bully do it in fear that they gang or group may think they are weak and not tough enough, so they use both language to offend and violence to sink the victim into more fear. In some cases the victim in fear has an equal violent reaction to put an end to the bullying.

    The fear if being recognised as being different to majority is what makes people use foul language followed by their actions.

    In addition to this, I feel in most cases swearing never resolves anything but makes matters worse. It also has the ability to influence others around them. For example, when you are in a crowd and everyone is swearing it easy to get influenced and your actions pick up the same habit.

    I have been present in situations where a simple racist swear word causes a riot, and the racist swear word is used deliberately to offend and have a violent reaction. For me, swearing is a verbal disease which can be treated but never cured.

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    • Thanks for your comments. I think you add a very important point about the association of fear and also that of a simple word (a racist one) setting off a riot. You also make mention of bullying and how swearing is used to intimidate. All good points

      In a way, we’re not far from each other in these points. I think I tend to put the starting point the other way round in that I think the intent – to be racist, to cause fear, to incite riot, to bully – is there first and the language is merely the vehicle or part of the vehicle. If swearing is used to verbalise anger (as I suggest) then someone swearing at you is potentially signifying their anger at you. So fear is aroused.

      But, you know, I know what it is to be bullied – at work – and yet those that were responsible (back when I was much younger) never swore or raised their voice at all. They were too clever for that. Bullying and intimidation would not go away if you got rid of swearing – it would just go underground and be much harder to pinpoint or do anything about it – as it was for me back then.

      I’m not sure I agree that swearing is a disease. Despite my stance here, I don’t actually like it and I object to it in places where I don’t think it socially appropriate. But I think it serves a purpose if used responsibly. I’m not saying we should just allow it without restrictions, but just that the ‘Nanny state’ mentality and the insistence of applying the law in such cases is heavy-handed and misses the point. Both you and I seem to be agreeing that really what needs to be tackled is the root – the bullying, the racist attitude, the hatred – of which the language is merely a symptom and one that is often not present at all.

      Like

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