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"FOR F***'S SAKE, MIND YOUR LANGUAGE!

13-08-2007

Overheard - well, it was at full volume - in Bilston High Street the other day:

"Will you keep hold of that f****ing ball? How many f***ing times have I f***ing told yer?"

This was to a two-year old child. By his mother. Yes, she was bottled blond, ample flesh on display, fag in hand and cheesed off, but is that any way for a child to be spoken to? He was a small child, for goodness sake! He was also a boy with a football, doing what two year-old boys with footballs do: bouncing it on the pavement, probably looking forward to playing with it properly.

If she was so concerned he was going to lose it (presumably because it would cost her to buy another, rather than considering it might be dangerous for him to be besotted with such an unpredictable toy so close to a busy road), why didn't she put it in a carrier bag for either of them to carry until they were at their destination? Too simple!

No, she'd rather express her range of Anglo Saxon forcibly, thus communicating to that child that the f- word is just another word and totally socially acceptable.

I'm no prude and I can turn it out with the rest of ‘em, but there is, surely, a time and a place for expletives. Between adults in the heat of an argument or for emphasis in a stressful situation or for comic effect, these are times when it is more acceptable to swear. I know there are some people who would rather we didn't use such language at all, but ever since the Angles and the Vikings set foot on our shores bringing with them the -ing suffix to denote action, we Brits have sworn like troopers. We can't remove swear words from the language completely, but we can choose when and where to use them.

I heard a group of teenagers talking recently and every other word was f***. There seemed to be no point to its usage, indeed it seemed to be being used as an adjective, an appendage to a perfectly ordinary word. It is being absorbed into the language, possibly until we no longer notice it.

Even adults, who look capable of stringing a sentence together with a whole range of techniques, seem to punctuate their sentences with the word. Are we becoming incapable of constructing sentences without its use?

Who can forget the public outcry when Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, being interviewed by Bill Grundy back in 1976, leered knowingly into the camera and uttered the immortal phrase: "You dirty f***er!" The Daily Mail headlined this as ‘The Filth and the Fury', yet from the age of punk shock, we have become numb, less willing to make a fuss.

I do make a fuss. I get lots of abuse for my pains, but I still do it. At a car boot sale, I once asked a stallholder if he had to use such foul language. I pointed out that there were children about. "What f***ing kids? I don't see any f***ing kids. What's your f***ing problem?" was his reply. The only way I halted his tirade was to suggest that his fags stall might just be a teeny weeny bit illegal, which led him to packing his stall away rather quickly!

And I had to be steered in the opposite direction in Walsall town centre one December when shoppers were bought to a standstill by a mountain of a woman screaming down at her small child. "You'll have no f***ing Christmas presents! Father Christmas won't be f***ing coming to you!" I was so incensed that she thought that this was an appropriate way to speak to her son. He dissolved into tears and so did I.

It's the use of bad language in front of and to children to which I object the most and I think we, the public, should use all the means at our disposal to make our disgust clear. In other situations, with groups of adults, I'm not sure what the safe solution is, but we need to work towards it.

The one incident that sticks in my mind most was a mother (have you noticed that most incidents I have related have been mothers?) to her child:

"How many times have I told you to stop f***ing swearing?" This was not in a comedy sketch. It was real and what was sad was that she hadn't even realised what she'd done.

Ah, the language of Shakespeare

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