A colleague has spent this past week in Hong Kong so I've spent the past week swearing at her students.
It's a class on communication and ethics and the law and my relief lecture just happened to coincide with the ones on offense and obscenity. Obscene words. And to talk about them you have to say them, to show them on a screen. So I said 'f**k' a lot.
Now, I swear. I do. I've used all seven of the big guns (according to George Carlin's very funny -definitely over 18s only- skit) in the car, although I need to stop that immediately given how good a mimic Dear Boy has become. I swear when I hurt myself. I've even sworn (loudly) when Dear Boy's bitten me hard enough to break the skin. I am comfortable with the use of the C-bomb - I don't really find euphemisms for a vagina all that offensive. I'm even willing to reclaim that one in preference to some descriptions of the anatomy. But I wouldn't drop it into conversation in public places. I wouldn't even use it in conversations with friends because I know some of them don't feel comfortable with it.
But I said 'f**k' way more times than I am comfortable doing in front of students, especially a group of students I've not met before and had no way to gauge the various moral codes and level of sensibilities in the room. The context was all wrong, like someone watching porn with their grandparents. It's just plain weird.
So I put up a funny-ish video of celebrities swearing (below with a warning) in the first few minutes, to break the ice. To get it out there. I made them titter and giggle and chuckle and laugh. I tried to make it okay for them to say 'f**k' in class if they needed to make a point.
**Warning - the video is about celebrities' favourite swear words, so there are, you know, a lot of swear words. From the full gamut of obscenity. You will need to log in to You Tube to verify you are over 18. Don't play it at work or in front of your Grandma, unless she thinks this kinda thing is funny)**
But after that initial discussion and the laughter died down, I put up a powerpoint slide that explained the three categories of obscenity: profanities (religious), vulgarities (sexual/scatalogical) and miscellaneous (which covers all those charming words that are used to describe and denigrate a person based on background and personal preference - with 'bastard' the most mild). And so there on the screen were words I couldn't say out loud and don't even feel comfortable putting them in here with little asterisks instead of the middle letters. The N-word. The other F-word. The K-word.
I was embarrassed. Not just for the words themselves but also because of what they represent. I am embarrassed of and for the people who use those words and the reasons why they use them.
Next week they're deliving further into offense and looking at hate speech and blasphemy. The examples for that are even harder to say out loud.