Wash your mouth out with soap


My mother was a champion swearer. I’m not sure where she learnt her skills however she never lost them due to her daily practice. We were often subjected to a tirade of swearwords which were even combined with a song at times. The angrier she got the faster and higher pitch the swearing and singing combination would become. I find it hilarious now when I think back though at the time it often left me feeling terrified of what the outcome may be. Despite all of Mum’s swearing or maybe because of it, I never really swore as a child …. well at least not what I considered swearing …. though I have more than made up for that in adult years.

I learnt the art of seamlessly swearing while working in racing stables as a young teenager. It was here that I observed and mastered the skills of adding expletives into everyday conversation. I didn’t think anything of it as that was how all the jockeys, stable hands and trainers around me spoke. I must have been quite proficient too as I remember having a conversation with someone in my late teens where they were saying how rude and disgusting it was to use swearwords however when I mentioned that I did it all the time and apologized for upsetting them they were perplexed. It seems they hadn’t actually noticed how much I was swearing because of the way I used it which was hardly ever in anger.

I was good at reading the situations I was in and would often adapt my speech. After all it would have been a bit hard to get jobs outside of stable life and keep them if I was cussing non-stop. Swearing instead became a recreational pastime for me. The more relaxed I felt around someone, the more I felt I could be myself and as a consequence the more the swearwords would flow. Nothing has changed, even when I don’t really have to factor in keeping a job or protecting little one’s ears. In fact I noticed just the other day, while at our writing group, that I was swearing my head off and realized I had obviously reached a level of comfort with the group. A level of comfort where it felt safe to be me. I’m not sure that everyone appreciated my language however for me it was a sign that I had relaxed to a point where I could be myself without fear of judgement. A compliment to them as accepting women, though maybe trying to explain that wouldn’t quite come out right.

There are definitely words and phrases I don’t use though, words which even to my seasoned ears seem harsh and too aggressive in any context. Strangely enough ‘Shut up’ is one of these, thanks to my Uncle who washed my mouth out with soap after me saying it when I was little. I remember at the time thinking that of all the things I had heard my mother and siblings say ‘Shut up’ was a pretty safe option. Not to my Uncle though and so now anytime I hear it I shudder a little. Hearing the word instantly transports be back to being taken into their bathroom at the back of the house to have ‘my mouth washed out with soap’ and being told that sort of language would not be tolerated. His lesson on swearing was clearly learnt well! I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what the rest of the words are.

While I am actually quite comfortable with my swearing for the most part there is always that little voice in my head that tells me I shouldn’t. That little flashback of soap in my mouth which makes me assess the situation a little more closely. So imagine my delight when a few years back I read some research which indicated that swearing can be a sign of intelligence and then another study which said swearing can help in pain management. In fact there are many benefits to swearing like a sailor it seems. It was all music to my ears I can tell you.

So for all you fellow foul mouthed, intelligent and creative vocabulary users out there, I salute you. Time to do away with the shame and the shushing. Time to revel in the joys of expressing yourself in a way that is yours and yours alone. Obviously no-one wants to actively upset others and we do need to gauge the audience, a little at least, however at the same time you can take this as a reminder that it is OK to be you whatever that sounds like.