On Swearing

Interesting to muse on the role and effect of swearing in making an argument, in the light of the ongoing responses to Litza’s recent STFU article.

I have only edited out one comment because it didn’t say anything other than STFU plus a few other choice epithets.  Having set a pretty low bar on language, I didn’t delete it on the grounds of decency, but rather that the author failed to indicate who should STFU – the affirmative or the negative side of the debate.

If we all were to STFU there would be no website.  But maybe he just wanted us to STFU about that particular issue?  Which is not an unreasonable position.  But he offered no further editorial guidance, just a STFU and SIUYA while you’re about it.

I made a cautionary comment about swearing in response to Phil Dimitriadis’ piece on growing up at Victoria Park a couple of weeks ago.  But that was a different type of swearing – more profanity or crudity – than invective and abuse as is the case with the current STFU and SIUYAWYAI.

I didn’t realise that swearing served so many different functions.  My only concern about Phil’s engaging memoir was that some parents and women in particular might not like the “c’s” that accompanied his Derek and Clive memories.  I didn’t, and my kids are in their 30’s.

I like the idea that the Almanac is a broad and inclusive community across ages, genders, beliefs and cultures.  My comment at the time was a plea for reflection by authors to consider the scope of their audience, not a plea for censorship except in extremis. Liberty is not licence.

Litza’s STFU piece used strident invective language to emphasise the strength of his opinion.  The sort of final emphatic voice that a publican or policeman uses to quieten the unruly mob.  The volume and repetition grabs punter’s attention, while the strong language adds emphasis.

My habit is to reserve swearing for the golf course (extreme provocation, your honour) and being a footy spectator.  Footy as reversion to childhood, where my mild-mannered grandparents turned into raving loonies once they stepped onto the mound at Thebarton or wherever we watched our West Torrens Eagles.  The footy was a place where you had licence to express and release all the frustrations that were pent up during the week.  Legalised insanity for 3 hours a week.  It was enthralling as a 7 year old, and probably still the major reason I regularly go to footy of all types, over 50 years later.

This footy as spectacle and athleticism stuff is over-rated.  I go for the adrenaline shot.  The frisson of rebellion that says I’m not quite dead or conforming yet.  Generally I direct only 10% at opponents (Purple Scum excepted); 10% at umpires (they’re almost human after all) and 80% at Sharrod, Shuey and other underperforming miscreants on my own team (my psychologist says it’s some form of reflected self-loathing thing).

Not everyone likes it.  The Avenging Eagle has learned to tolerate it.  Though there is the occasional gentle coat tug when she fears my florid features indicate an impending coronary risk.  The nice lady in the row in front appears not to like it.  She only ever claps her hands and says “come on boys” as we sink further behind.  But her STFU glare reminds me of Mrs Johnson in Year 10 with her stern Scottish “Peeeter Baulderstone – you’re getting far too big for your booooots” after I stuck chewy in Ernie Abinett’s hair.  I sit down and STFU.

When I was a senior manager in a large organisation I determinedly maintained a calm demeanour 99% of the time.  On the rare occasions when I did let go with language, staff were left in no doubt that they had done the wrong thing.  “But you never swear”.

The weapon is more powerful for being rarely used.

The trouble with escalating the volume is that it leaves the accused with nowhere to go.  A recent poll indicated that 17 out of 18 Almanackers fervently agree with Litza.  One of 18 do not.  There are a few outliers like Rod Oaten and Steve Baker, but when was being Mensa qualified and Dalai Lama certified a requirement for footy club membership?

When backed into a corner by the baying mob what do most of us do?  “Fair cop guv, you’ve got me banged to rights”, doesn’t come easy to most of us.  “If I’m going down, I’ll take a few of you with me” has more immediate appeal.

The tribunal stepped in today to take the rare step of suspending a comment that I had allowed.  My permissiveness reflected a sympathy for the miscreant cornered by the mob.

Perhaps suggesting that you don’t like a certain journalist’s voice over the radio was an overreaction on his part.  But what’s a “my country right or wrong” patriot to do?  You’ve cancelled the Sage subscription and sold your soul to the Hun.  You’ve tried only watching Ch7, but BT, Basil and Darce have you in full retreat.

You’ve toyed with ABC radio but Gerard does an even more refined line in forensic, sanctimonious justification.  So it’s back to 3AW, and the fishwife voice even grates with me when she turns up on Offsiders.  I’d turn the tranny off too.

As ever in footy the bloke that provoked the incident gets away with it, and the recipient is ‘suspended by the tribunal’ for an ill-considered response when the red mist descended.

Playing to the home crowd will always get you cheers from the gallery, but if your goal is to convert the ingrained or unconvinced to your side, it’s better to stick to the game plan and leave out the speccies.


“No you STFU.”

“I’m right.”

“What’s that got to do with it.  Anyway remember when you stole the bike from behind the footy sheds.”

“That’s not what we’re talking about now.”

“I am.”


“No you STFU.”

I told you I loved footy and the Almanac because of the opportunities for reverting to childhood.

Offended by the cheap shot response from the bloke backed into the corner?  You reap what you sow.


  1. Peter,STFU

  2. The People's Elbow says

    Who’d be an editor/moderator…?

    Personally I took no offence from said comment on my piece — have been called far worse and have come to expect no less.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    It is a interesting debate and very hard to determine re what some people think is fine offends others and trying to cater for all audiences and capture kids but I totally agreed with editing that last bit out that wasn’t swearing but was personal and idiotic , Litza and had nothing to do with the article , Thank you for everything you do , PB

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Good points well made PB.

    But I don’t think that he was referring to radios; that’s the bit where the responder crossed the line in my opinion.

  5. Gregor Lewis says

    Swearing is a failure of the imagination.

    Given how imaginative most of the writers I have read here are, I think that is something to consider.

    But that’s not what tP’sE piece was about.

    As Peter says, it was invective laced for the sake of emphasis not insult. That’s down to the preference of the reader, as to how they take it.

    But personal insults are another thing. Not only a failure of imagination, but an unwillingness to think, let alone understand.

    That’s not only dangerous, it’s pitiful too. Stop the stooping and think about what you’ve done. It’s not about being fair, or about reaping what you sow. It’s about taking a step back to consider, before chowing down on the flow of invective.

    Recognise bait for what it is.


  6. G’day All,

    I’m not sure which comments have been edited following Litza’s piece – other than the ones I have edited.

    I removed a sentence from one comment as it referred to a person not involved. That person did not deserve that personal attack.

    The point about robust argument over personal attack has been well made by all.

  7. Dave Brown says

    Well said Peter, I heartily endorse and identify with what you have written (although my invective filled rants at the footy have been greatly curtailed by sitting in the ‘family friendly’ area of late).

    For those of us that weren’t on that thread in time, perhaps the Almanac needs a virtual ‘sealed section’ so we can see the ugliest of non-relevant abuse in all its glory, should we choose. There is a prurient teenaged girl hiding deep within each of us…

    As for Litza’s piece, as you suggest, I would say it comfortably achieved its objective. A more moderate piece would not have had the same impact and would not have elicited the response from some quarters that goes a long way to proving his point.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    That sealed section is called BigFooty

  9. Neil Anderson says

    I know this is all about ‘to swear or not to swear…that is the question’ but I want to mention an example of low-level swearing from the Bulldogs/ Demons match last week.
    Unless you are a Melbourne supporter the comment directed to Jack Watts from over the fence was in good humor without the real bad language.
    The very-loud Bulldog supporter yelled at Jack Watts as he was lining up for goal from 25 metres out on a bit of an angle, ” Number one Watts! Remember number one Watts! ”
    And when Watts hit the post he roared, ” Yeah, that’s right! Number one dickhead! much to the amusement and relief to the Bulldog supporters.

  10. Dave Brown says

    The trouble with BigFooty though, Swish, (can’t believe I am comparing the two) is that, on the personal invective front, little is forbidden so nothing interests. This however is like the flash of ankle in a 1920s movie.

  11. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Context, intent, tone. Swearing bores me now and I do find it lazy laced with an element of narcissism and lack of confidence in expressing oneself. It’s interesting that the anglo saxon swear words have an aggressive emphasis on the consonant at the end which can lend itself to cacophony. Greek and Latin swear words can be much more euphonic as the worst end in vowels.

  12. matt watson says

    I’m not allowed to swear at home anymore because my two year old is a great mimic.
    I’ve had to invent new words or sounds to voice my displeasure. It works.
    When I read Litza’s piece, and given our employment backgrounds are similar, I found myself agreeing with him.
    And I figured the response would be swift and blunt, particularly from those Essendon fans who seem to be in denial.
    They seem to think swearing and personal attacks work whenever their club is called into question, and why not, given Hird tried the same with Demetriou.
    Despite my own censorship, I believe in swearing. It has a purpose, yet also has a time and a place.
    I also believe in censorship. It has a time and a place, too…

  13. Swearing has always been a shortcut.There is very little thought involved in those who use it to the exclusion of measured and witty insult.It grates on me.I think that this is because it doesn’t mean anything, in its most common practice.In contrast,when I heard someone call Zac Dawson a soupbone with boots, I was happy to hear it
    Because of its almost unlimited use in society today,it seems remarkable that it still has such an ability to offend.
    If you go back to Lenny Bruce, who was banned for saying in a stage show in the 60s? F you,mom…F you dad,in an affectionate manner,then come forward to today,where its ubiquity is a varnish over a lack of thought, it’s a matter for concern.When it’s just nasty and accompanied by vein-popping,teeth-baring,spit-spraying rage, I walk away. But if it’s self-directed and/or reflective and considered, sure, it’s got a place, like the parson’s stealthy damn. Under the breath is good, too

  14. Most online advice is to never read the comments thread. The fact that one of the best parts of the Almanac is the comments thread speaks volume for what has been created – a sense of community and a sense of ownership. I come for the articles but I stay for the comments. Some issues (such as this one) will certainly bring out some of the worst in some of us and I think any personal attacks should be removed but by and large we are in a good place here at the Almanac and I am sure that I will continue to get as much enjoyment out of the comments as from the pieces themselves.

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