Like A Sailor
February 8, 2014 1:39 AM   Subscribe

How can I swear better? I want to learn the art of swearing to broaden the range of my expression, be it to share joy, frustration, boredom or anything else.

Now I've read about people that are gifted at using vulgarity to express themselves, and who swear in a way that really opens up the possibilities of language. But I've no idea how to do this myself.

Some googling shows ways to insult people - this isn't what I want. I want to use a wider range swear words more creatively and perhaps in longer expressions. My current swearing proficiency is scattering isolated expletives through my conversation.

Good examples in video/audio/text are all welcome, as are descriptions of swearing, practical advice or other related material.
posted by squishles to Writing & Language (36 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever seen The Wire? At the time I was watching one season of the series, I was also working my way through a stack of plays by Euripides, and the language of the TV show colonized my inner voice so much that I couldn't help but read the very emotional dialogue with, you know, significantly more emphatic yet artful phrasing, well beyond my ordinary ability to swear convincingly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:06 AM on February 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Channel Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of it / In The Loop ?
posted by pharm at 2:32 AM on February 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hint 1) See Ashley Montague's classic work: The Anatomy of Swearing

Hint 2) Variety ! The secret to good swearing is to avoid the mundane and repetitive. Anyone can say, "Bleep you!" A master of the art would instead say, "Oh, bleep your mother's blank with a maggoty carrot!" The more bizarre and unsavory, the more intimidating.

There is little more boring than someone whose idea of swearing is just to modify every noun with f---ing. Mix it up a little. Try "sodomizing, or "slime sucking," or even "c---- licking" or such.

For a simple expletive, instead of "oh s- - -" try, "Oh c--- suck!"

And as an example of the fact that good swearing need not be profane:
Great invective in literature

excerpted from King Lear, Scene II


Why dost thou use me thus? I know thee not.


Fellow, I know thee.


What dost thou know me for?


A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition
posted by wjm at 3:10 AM on February 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

Make things more vivid and specific. eg no one bats an eyelid when I say 'fucked' but when I substitute with 'fisted' or 'fingered' people hear that. They are technically less 'dirty' words but just more vivid. Bonus points for combining it with a recipient location. 'Fingered in the dick hole' and now you're cooking with gas.

Watch the Aristocrats if you can stomach it.
Use 'Bob Saget' as a swear if you can't.

Non swears delivered well are excellent too. Things that sick in my mind: elderly woman saying 'seahunt!' Colleague at the tail end of a rant saying 'she can go and STUFF HER FEIJOA!' That's all in the delivery.

Master the friendly swear, because these words can all be endearing. This is probably location specific (I'm Australian) but the longer the vowel sound the less venom it has. 'C***********nt' is a greeting, one asterisk is a rebuke.

Don't say 'go away' when you can say 'fuck awaaaay' with some kind of listless-king-in-his-court dismissive hand wave. maybe that one is just something new and my idiot friend do.

Malcolm Tucker is great.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:23 AM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I too have been working on my swearing, and I think our difficulty in today's language is that there are no sacred cows, no way to be profane except through words describing sex and feces. I'm an atheist so I'm not violating any of my own norms when I say Jesus H Christ the way my grandfather could. Hell's bells rhymes, but since hell is other people, it isn't profane. I could call someone a Palin, or a Boener and since political deas are something it turns out that I do hold somewhat sacred, it feels like it has some weight. Of course, it is only effective for releasing the Tourrette's like pressure in myself. I do yell at cars, normally indicating that they are knuckleheads and other politically incorrect terms. I'm doing this more for myself, than my audience, as my wife and children seem to have little appreciation for my art. Bureaucrats.
posted by mearls at 4:16 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmm... I, and most people I know, drop quite a bit of fuck and shit in general conversation. "That quiz was really fucken hard." "That car has really shitty wheels". Ya just kinda drop it in there. But all of this is very fucking specific to the region of the world you live in.

Be wary of the C word.
posted by Diag at 4:18 AM on February 8, 2014

seconding Monsieur Caution for The Wire. more specifically, just watch this scene and see what they manage to do with only a few words.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 4:24 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always enjoyed mixing curse levels too
posted by Trivia Newton John at 5:02 AM on February 8, 2014

Carefully study the Susie Greene character on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
posted by mygoditsbob at 5:40 AM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you want to expand on the range of fuck, I would recommend feck to you, the politer, Irish version of fuck (you can get away with it on tv when you can't use its harsher version). It rolls nicely in the mouth too.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:44 AM on February 8, 2014

Standup comedy. Richard Pryor, Louis CK, etc.

Keep your eyes open for novel constructions eg pig fucker
posted by colin_l at 6:20 AM on February 8, 2014

Vivid, specific (like TNJ said above), and suggestive without too much specificity.

One of my favorite all-purpose swears is to refer to smoking a ham. It's vaguely sexually suggested and like "fuck" or other great swears, is totally context-dependent.

I fucked up: Man, I really smoked the ham on that one.
You beat me: you really smoked my ham!
don't fuck with me: i will smoke your ham!
You are interfering with me, or making me angry, or turning me on, or just about anything else: you're really smokin' my ham here.
posted by entropone at 6:35 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You've gotta be emphatic and specific.

See: Brian Blessed swearing.
posted by Mizu at 6:36 AM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Swearing is an art, not a science. Anybody can say the words, but like a good actor, you need to own the words. I think everybody has a style that suits their personality. I don't think it is something that can be learned or turned on overnight. For me, I spent years on the trading floors of exchanges and upstairs, and you learn it by osmosis. I use, fuck, shit, asshole and variations to those, but never certain other words such as the c word. I draw a line somewhere. There are nuances to using the same word in different situations. If you listen to the tone and volume of my voice when I say fuck, you can tell if I just stubbed my toe or if I am angry with someone. It is like a baby's cry. The mother learns which cry is for food, which is for I just shit my diaper and which is for I am tired and sick of this shit. I think there is a time and place for it too. If you curse too often, it becomes noise. Oh there is that guy that always throws the f*bombs. I rarely curse in writing especially on this site, but there is a time and place for it such as last night when I responded to more information from an asker in this question.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:54 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are nuances to using the same word in different situations.

I find "What the fuck?" or "What the hell?" to be very versatile. It gets bumped up to "What the fuck, man?" if I'm extra cranky, but is not as versatile in that form."

My friend and I have started using "Well you can fuck that sky high!" (from the Matt Berry show Toast of London to show) our displeasure about things. Emphasis can be on that or sky high depending on the situation.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:29 AM on February 8, 2014

You could add some Yiddish curses to your repertoire, nu?
posted by brookeb at 7:34 AM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need to watch the first half-hour of Full Metal Jacket.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:50 AM on February 8, 2014

posted by goethean at 8:46 AM on February 8, 2014

You need some Southie lessons. Also: most of Good Will Hunting.

Actually, many places around Boston are really good for this, but South Boston is pretty much the gold standard for the art of swearing.

I did hear quite a bit of the above mentioned "pigfuckah!" growing up. Usually if someone was trying to light smoke and had just burnt out his last match.

Other colorful phrases include, "what-the-fuckover, Rover?" (as in, "what the hell?"), "is a frog's ass watertight?" (if someone asks a stupid question), and I'm sure if you also look up Southern U.S. phrases, you will come up with some really creative expressions.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:04 AM on February 8, 2014

HBO's Deadwood has much more prolific and creative swearing than The Wire ever thought about.

Veep is also jam-packed with great insults.
posted by munyeca at 9:43 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by flabdablet at 10:18 AM on February 8, 2014

You, my friend, need to read any Scott Lynch you can get your hands on immediately.

You may be interested in the TV Tropes page for "cluster f-bomb" as well.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:18 AM on February 8, 2014

I am in LOVE with this question.

Option 1: Hang out with me - especially when I'm driving. My husband describes it as "colorful."

I curse like a sailor - only when it's appropriate (say at home, or with friends, but not at work or around children or family.) I also do it for HUMOR! It's funny to say "Jesus fucking christ why don't we just go a little slower!" to the driver in front of me. Again, mostly to make myself laugh, sometimes it's real annoyance but then I say something like that to cool off.

(My daddy's gunna love me answering this question too! Sorry The Deej!)

Option 2: British humor specifically - and this will blow your mind if you're into this stuff -

MISFITS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (free on hulu and in my top favorite shows.) They don't shy away from cursing, yet it sounds natural since they're just young, well, misfits. It's an amazing plethora of curse words and combinations, especially because it's also in a slightly different use of the english language too!
Seriously the best cursing I have seen in my life. It really gets you and makes you laugh, plus shows you how to do it yourself!

Also totally agreeing with The Wire, but I think the wire doesn't combine awesome words. Also British humor doesn't shy away from the C word. (I usually don't either - at least at home.) Oh and Whites is up there too.

Option 3: Comedy

I personally listen to Never Not Funny (now free on Earwolf plus the paid Player's Club for extra episodes). It's literally my favorite show and I've listened for years with my dad. It's vulgar and funny and the cursing is again - for humor- not anger. Sure they use it for insults but it's all in good fun.

Personal favorite recently (unfortunately from one of the recent paid episodes).
"Hey DICK FUCK I'm trying to thank somebody here!" when being interrupted.

I think it's really about combining curse words together or using them in an unexpected way. Just like regular language the words can become all different parts of speech.

Memail me for more!! Best of luck!
posted by Crystalinne at 10:52 AM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make some Australian friends, seriously. I'm an Aussie and just assumed everyone swore as much as the people I knew, until I moved to the US Midwest. The trick is to not just use swear words as an expletive, but also as a greeting, a noun, a verb, an adjective as a term of affection, for a pleasant surprise. Sample though the video quality sucks.

The first time I swore in front of my inlaws I said "Bugger me that was a great lunch, I have never seen people blush as much as they did. Back home bugger isn't even really considered a swear word.

I have heard people greeted with How ya goin' ya mangy c*nt. I've heard whole conversations that seemed like they consisted of the word fuck with different intonations. It's not what you use but how you use it. You don't need to learn new swears, just make the ones you have pull multiple duty, just randomly sprinkling the words in doesn't work, you need to use the swear word/s of choice in fun and creative ways using only the way you emphasis or draw out the word to show the meaning. Pick an expression you use a lot and consciously try and replace it with a swear expression/word you like, once you've got that one rolling off your tongue.

To end this some Aussie comedians views on the word c*nt and how to use it in every day conversation.
posted by wwax at 11:36 AM on February 8, 2014

Watch the first half of Full Metal Jacket, the drill Sargent is an actual former Marine Corp Drill Sargent and has mastered the art of swearing. Opening scene.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:03 PM on February 8, 2014

I've noticed English swears tend to have a lot of hard consonant sounds. Ks and Ts and Ps and such. And there are relatively few softer consonants like Ls and Rs. Ss can go either way. So if you're trying to come up with new swears to use keep that in mind. The sound of the word has a big impact on its harshness.
posted by fishmasta at 12:26 PM on February 8, 2014

From Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: "Dickbag? Tell me, do you just take random obscenities, and pair them up with equally random nouns? "Cock Lamp?" "Ass Taxi?" "Shit Rooster?" Is that the way it works? "
posted by anaelith at 12:28 PM on February 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Cocklamp, Asstaxi and shitrooster are actually all great swears.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:00 PM on February 8, 2014

You could add some Yiddish curses to your repertoire, nu?

I respectfully disagree with this suggestion.

First of all, there's a certain...cadence that makes it effective and it can be difficult to pronounce. I've noticed a few people on TV lately talking about "kih-BUTZ-ing" with their friends. It just sounds dumb, to be honest.

Second of all Yiddish can be nuanced and using it successfully is not simply about learning the words or how to pronounce them. I wasn't really going to comment on this at all except I just saw someone in another thread casually use the word shiksa. Yes, it technically means a non-Jewish female but it is a serious insult. (I once heard a Jewish co-worker use the word shvartze during a personal phone call, and asked him to please not use it again at work. He played dumb, claiming it was just the word for black -- and that "they" didn't know what the word meant anyway -- but it basically "The S-Word" and he knew it.)

I'm not saying that only Jews should use Yiddish, and there are plenty of fully-assimilated words in the Engish language, this is just some food for thought.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:27 PM on February 8, 2014

Oh yes. Deadwood. You must watch it. Most of my favorites were delivered by Swearengen.

An insult: "Gabriel's trumpet will produce you from the ass of a pig."

An observation: "You can't cut the throat of every cocksucker whose character it would improve."

On love: "He don’t know if he’s breathing or taking it in through fucking gills; he is that fucking cunt-struck. They’re afloat in some fairy fucking bubble, lighter than air. Him, her snatch and his stupid fucking badge."
posted by xyzzy at 10:29 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Limericks are a good source of colorful swearing.
Language is music, and if you can get a feel for the musicality of words, swear and otherwise, you can paint beautiful, obscene pictures with your potty-mouth.
And limericks, by virtue of their clearly-defined structure, are a good way to tune your ear for musical cursing.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:43 AM on February 9, 2014

Charlie Brooker.

Get creative; move away from just using the standard few swearies. Meld them, you cackgobbling arseclot. Use them in unusual contexts, like calling men bitches and slags, or slagbitches. Merge swearwords with other innocent words in such a way that your insults sound slightly surreally aggressive, you cocksplitting fuckspanner. But seriously, Charlie Brooker:

"Nathan Barley, a fuck-haired, swaggering cock-about-town"

"A cabal of despicable, quasi-human shitcreeps"

"Join Joe as he introduces non-stop, tinsel-draped musical shittery from Atomic Kitten, Westlife, A1, Victoria Beckham and whichever other bunch of mouse-eyed little popcunts are currently crawling from the promotional petri dish."

And so on. The boy's a genius.
posted by Decani at 4:38 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been bingewatching Dexter and Deb is GREAT character to watch.
There are eight season on Netflix.
posted by rubster at 10:11 PM on February 9, 2014

Perhaps you need to gt to know Malcom Tucker.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 11:13 AM on April 29, 2014

These answers were brilliant. Thanks all! This has helped me build up a bit on the presence of profanity in my life. The art of it is something to be developed over time...
posted by squishles at 8:55 AM on July 5, 2014

Very appropriate: a sweary blog about swearing Strong Language (via languagehat's blog).
posted by squishles at 11:15 AM on December 19, 2014

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