Twitter Discourse 1: Fuck off, swearing is my birthright

[Preface: The idea for this post was originally pitched as an op-ed for ABC The Drum, and the story was commissioned by editor Jonathan Green. But once the final piece was delivered, although there were elements that he liked he wasn't sure that it said enough. It was a line ball call, he said, but in the end he passed. Fair enough. He's the editor, it's his call. Gentleman that he is, he acknowledged his initial enthusiasm and will pay for the story anyway. I'm publishing it here almost exactly as it was submitted -- apart from adding links to the media releases in question. Unlike the ABC, my house style is not to despoil the expletives with asterisks. I would very much like to hear your comments.]

A funny thing happened on Twitter the other night. Someone unfollowed me for being offensive. That’s not so unusual. The unusual bit is who unfollowed and what offended them.

Around 10pm I received two emails.

“The two government media releases I just received, when combined, indicate a rather distasteful piece of opportunism behind the scenes,” I tweeted.

“1. HMAS Maryborough intercepts a SIEV off Ashmore Reef, 34 passengers and 3 crew aboard. 2. ‘Another boat as Coalition “turn back” policy continues to unravel’, timestamped minutes apart,” I said — and I’ll run the tweets into continuous prose to make your reading easier. I am nothing if not considerate, dear readers.

The first media release was from home affairs minister Jason Clare, the second jointly from him and minister for immigration and citizenship Chris Bowen.

I was outraged by the combination.

“Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, YOU are the government, so YOU set policy. And the boats’ arrival is determined by the passengers’ need. Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, any fool who can read a chart of numbers properly knows policy our end is irrelevant. Fuckwits. Dear Ministers Bowen and Clare, we’re the richest fucking country in the world. Show a bit of fucking compassion.”

Having vented my spleen, I moved on to congratulate Russia for trolling Eurovision 2012 and ponder whether, hypothetically speaking, Vaseline conducts electricity. Don’t ask.

A short time later, someone with the handle @ashmidalia tweeted, “@stilgherrian And this is where I click ‘unfollow’. For the offensiveness more than the inaccuracy. But there’s plenty of each.”

“Bye,” I replied and then, to no-one in particular, “I wasn’t aware I was obliged to provide ‘suitable entertainment’ for random arsehats who hadn’t even bothered to say hello.”

And then I noticed that @ashmidalia was Ashley Midalia. The name rang a bell.

LinkedIn soon told me that Midalia is Chris Bowen’s deputy chief of staff. A staffer from one of the offices responsible for my anger! Maybe he was even the strategist in question.

Fuck me dead! This cunt of a political staffer — an ALP staffer no less! — was offended by my language! The poor delicate little petal!

“Well if I’m wrong I’m happy to be corrected,” I tweeted to the world.

“But I still think it’s disgusting that the richest nation in the world continues with this outrageous treatment of desperate people. And I still think it’s disgusting that politicians use their arrival as a trigger to attempt to score party political points. I reserve the right as an Australian to express the true strength of the emotions behind that by using equally strong language,” I said.

“Besides, over my three decades in media Ministers and their staffers have used that sort of language and worse about me so it’s hypocrisy [to complain about my language].”

“My genuine understanding is that the level of boat arrivals tracks the level of refugee movements globally. Happy to see counter evidence.”

Having exhausted my combination of anger and bemusement, I calmed my shattered nerves with a gentle episode of “The Thick of It”.

Now I won’t get into the whole boat people thing today, but this whole “offended by swearing” arsehattery got me thinking.

Australians swear.

Swearing what we do. It’s as normal as breathing.

Our reputation for swearing is recognised around the world.

When I called American internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis a “prick” back in 2008, it caused a minor outrage in the blogosphere. But Calacanis himself understood.

Coming from anyone else but an Australian, he told me, he would’ve been offended. But he knew that being called a prick by an Australian was just foreplay.

Indeed, only a few weeks ago no less a personage than a Minister of the Crown (do we still say that?) told me, “Mate, you need to get a fucking life!”

As a conversation-starter, after offering coffee and a comfortable chair.

Sometimes a few f-bombs and c-bombs are precisely the precision munitions needed to deliver a powerful message.

When I headlined my expletive-laden rant about the Google+ social network Right, Google, you stupid cunts, this is simply not on! that blog post ended up being read by more than 100,000 people, triggering plenty of thoughtful discussion and even an anonymous message of support from deep within Google’s bowels.

I was criticised for it, but the reality is that without those expletives the article would have been just another ho-hum whinging blog post read by a couple hundred people, if that.

A cunt or two cuts through.

And sometimes well-crafted profanity can be sheer poetry.

Besides, Mr Science tells us that swearing is good for you.

No-one has the right not to be offended. And it takes two people anyway, one to give offence and one to choose to take it.

Swearing is honest, healthy and thoroughly Australian.

Offended by swearing? Fuck off!

[Image: Twitter bird drawing by Hugh McLeod.]

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  1. Nick Hodge’s avatar

    The fucking cunts in Cuntberra, and I mean all of the pricks, really need to get off their shitty arseholes & fucking get a clue.

    The politics of he said she said said is about as fucking useful all three bollocks on a milk cow.

    The Government need, and have limited time, to get their fucking act together.

    And the others need to get a fucking clue & a fucking backbone.

    Or else someone is going to fucking ram a large phallic implement down their collective throats come election time.

    … or, just maybe, the typical fucking Aussie will roll up at the polling booth and go “Fuck it, I’ll just do what I did last fucking time”

    Reply

  2. Morris’s avatar

    Are you fucking kidding me? This lightweight bucket of self-indulgant and insight-free wank scored you a kill fee when it was quite rightly rejected for failing to meet even the standards one would expect from a 16-year-old’s Livejournal entry?

    Reply

  3. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Morris: So, apart from the name-calling and the oh-so-original reference to Livejournal, do you have any specific criticisms of the article? Any problems with the logic? Any references you can refute? Any counter-argument you’d like to offer yourself?

    They can be about the role of swearing in pubic debate, about the boat policy, about whether a political staffer complaining about language is hypocrisy or not — anything you like, I don’t mind.

    Reply

  4. Nick Hodge’s avatar

    *pubic debate

    giggles

    Reply

  5. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Nick Hodge: Oh dear. That was almost inevitable, I suppose.

    Generally: One theme I didn’t weave into this article was that the exclusion of these expletives from public debate is very much based on class and making sure that the common folk aren’t heard.

    A chap I know from Twitter only as @johnthelutheran just posted a link to this piece from Mark Shea’s blog Catholic and Enjoying It!:

    Vulgarity in English is very much tied into class. Anglo-Saxon words are swear words (or at any rate, crude words). Words derived from the language of the French conquerors of 1066 are the polite words. Simply do a mental survey of the Saxon synonyms for excrete, copulate, perspire, menstruate, expectorate and such like and you have most of the crudest words in English. Vulgarity is, in English, deeply rooted in class (as, I suspect, it is in other languages too). The upside of the Saxon contribution to English is that use of these older words marks you as plain spoken. Churchill famously said that old words are best and old words, when short, are best of all. The down side of the Frenchified stream pouring into the English language is that, while it taps into lots of Latin and helps us articulate ideas coming from the Roman tradition, it is also the mark of the snooty and pridefully upper crust.

    I’d very much like to know whether, as Shea suspects, this class issue is there in other languages.

    Reply

  6. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Issues of profanity, obscenity and vulgarity were explored in an episode of the Lexicon Valley podcast in September 2012. If you’re at all interested in language, then this podcast is a thing for you.

    Reply

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