I’ve been in enough football changing rooms over the years to have heard quite a vocabulary of swear words! Now, I’m not suggesting that only footballers “eff and blind”, or indeed that all of them do, but the rough and tumble and passion of the game seems a good example of how swearing can become commonplace.
In fact, it’s such a part of life nowadays that the F word is commonly used on television. The 1960s clean-up TV campaigner, Mary Whitehouse must be spinning in her grave at today’s fare, such as Mrs. Brown’s Boys. Undoubtedly talented, Brendan Carroll tends to swear a lot and, I have to say, often gratuitously.
He/she is far from alone. The phrase from the Ronnie Corbett comedy “Sorry” would be overused now; if his mother heard him use the language from today, she’d be constantly saying “language Timothy” all day long.
I’m one of those who ridiculed Mary Whitehouse for her conservatism; but as I get older and hear some of the language of today, I can’t help thinking that things have gone too far. I know people who punctuate every sentence with a swear word, sometimes even mid-syllable.
I suppose to be honest, I’m being hypocritical here as I’ve been known to slip into the vernacular, before catching myself on and saying “excuse my French”!
And I’m not being prude. I’ll concede that on occasions, some find a swear word effective for emphasis or humour. And being realistic, wiping out swearing from society is impossible.
Salford Council in Manchester has come up with a scheme, which will surely be laughed out of existence. They’re suggesting a Public Space Protection Order, which means on-the-spot fines for people using “foul and abusive language” in the posh docklands area. Not apparently in the working-class area!
It won’t work.
What I’d far rather see is a system for fining people who cross a line when it comes to vitriolic abuse of other people.
Some of the stuff on social media is pure poisonous hatred, and such is the nature of abuse coming from the keyboard warriors that I’m wondering if Facebook is such a good idea after all. A lot of it is harmless, from videos of cute little animals to recipes and hints how to fix zips. (How does half this stuff find its way on to my timeline anyway?)
But I’m starting to think that all the benefits are being spoiled by the nastiness which people post, and I sometimes doubt if they realise that their comments are read by so many people. Or maybe they do, and thrive on it.
Viciously slagging people off seems to be the norm, now. And the controversy it produces acts as a buzz for celebrity attention seekers.
Piers Morgan, who bullies and slags off anybody he thinks will bring attention, is a fan of Donald Trump and generally abusive of mere minions and celebs alike. His arrogance and venom know no bounds. He can excel at being horrible on Twitter.
Thing is, he has 5.5 million people following him. Many of them (including me!) just on to see what outrageous comment he’ll come up with next!
Equally odious is Katie Hopkins, newspaper columnist and tweeter of insults. Recently, she was sued by Jack Monroe, a writer who was born female but now identifies as “non-binary transgender” and doesn’t wish to be called either he or she. Hopkins hinted Monroe supported vandalising war memorials. She got the wrong person, refused to apologise, and Monroe won £24,000 damages, plus legal costs of over £100,000.
You suspect that this is all grist to the mill for Ms Hopkins.
But while many other people on social media don’t have the millions of followers of Morgan and Hopkins, they should also be wary of posting dangerous messages, whether the offence is of dubious taste or legally actionable.
In Northern Ireland, it’s no less a problem.
Last week, a story was posted that Martin McGuinness was seriously ill. This was enough for some people to post messages of hate, even going as far as to hope he would suffer.
Now, Martin McGuinness’s role in the IRA and his past are fair game for comment and opinion; but how sick is it for people to hope that a seriously ill human being suffers?
So fair play to Rodney Edwards who tweeted: “False claims this evening on social media about Martin McGuinness. Totally incorrect, wrong and hurtful for his family and friends.”
It’s no surprise in today’s climate that Rodney himself was then subjected to abuse, but he replied with dignity: “Gobsmacked reading some of the tweets I have received tonight. I feel very sorry for those who have so much hatred in their hearts.”
There was also coverage on Twitter and elsewhere this week of an event at Stormont to mark European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Terrorism, and two men from Fermanagh told their emotional stories. Noel Downey was 26 when he lost a leg in booby trap car bomb in Lisnaskea in 1990, and it was sobering and shocking to read about how his life and the life of his family was affected. As indeed, was the story of Ken Funston, who spoke about the day his brother, Ronnie, was shot when going out to feed his cattle on the family farm at Pettigo.
Some took the opportunity to post messages which were far from sympathetic; indeed one I saw made allegations which I won’t repeat as it was legally toxic. Perhaps they should consult former MLA Phil Flanagan about the legal minefield of social media.
Suffice to say that people on all sides are still tweeting venomous words, which reveal a hard heart and, as Martin Luther King put it, still “drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”
There are many quotes about the danger of the power of the tongue, which is a two edged-sword.
And technology today seems to have given the keyboard warriors a much greater audience.
Powerful and robust debate are absolutely fine, but it seems the words we use these days are harsher than ever. Perhaps swear words are far from the greatest problem.