Oh, tarnation.

Moderate swearing is actually beneficial to you. It can boost adrenaline, act as a pain reliever, and besides many other things, as an outlet for one’s frustrations and retain familial connections, whereas excessive swearing can de-sensitize one to its benefit. So swear away but stay within the lines.

Understanding the etymology of swearing is interesting. What I find even more interesting is how much the swear words revolve around body parts. From an arsehole to pu****, to di**-head. Almost all the potent expletives are related to our organs. In the 19th century, ‘shit’ as a noun was reserved exclusively for men as it could be applied for people who worked, and since men were employed outside and women ‘worked’ at home, the epithet ‘shit’ applied to only men. Now, of course, shitheads are men as well as women. The 19th century dealt with profanity by dipping into religious-centric cuss words like ‘Hell’, and during the Victorian times, it was all about being obscene or sexual. Imagine if time travel ever became a reality, a human from the Victorian era would be nonplussed with the curse words of today. For them, C-word meant an organ and not a derogatory term for women.

When did we progress from using body parts as generic swear words to using them to single out and demean women, castes, or anyone who is not manly enough? When did we convert gender-neutral body-defining swear words to misogynist ones? When did possessing a vagina move from a biological aspect to one that denoted weakness? And why does referring to a man as a pu*** mean he is less of a man? Why is a man’s masculinity in direct contrast to his innate feminity?

When we often rely on words like mother***** or sister**** or their regional counterparts of beh****** or mad******, or even ‘son of a bitch’, what we are indirectly pointing out is that the women in that man’s household have no honour and, by transitivity, the aforementioned man is honourless. Which is the exact idea behind this article: stop using women, their body parts, and/or their sexuality as the character compass of a household. Or of a country. A country’s “sanskaari” ratio is not defined by women’s sexual needs or exploits, overt or hidden. If anything, a lady’s freedom, happiness, and safety should be defined as the country’s “sanskaari” ratio. What she does with her sex life and with whom is none of the country’s business! Truly, the nation doesn’t need to know.

It is often disheartening to see women abusing other women relying on the ever-dependable bank of women-centric expletives. The idea that as a woman, you are calling out another woman to be weak defies logic, but when one’s gender calls itself weak, intending it to be an insult, it is rich in irony.

Our sexist, worn-out lexicons have levels and layers wrapped around their bawdry language. We abuse by caste, gender (women), the colour of our skin, etc. Being a woman of a higher caste is preferable to being one from the lower rungs. You see, even as the lowly objects we are, we have our echelons, please. We didn’t ask for it; our opinions, like our strength, are of no importance.

I have often opined and will continue to do it that we can never wholly grant freedom to women till we don’t change the way we swear. When we abuse someone it is a reflection of our baser instincts, a mirror image of what we truly want to say, but are held back by societal pressures. Till we use women as yardsticks of pride, we will never grant them the same status as men. Because men’s ‘honour’ relies on the ‘purity’ of the women in his house.

Until we remain under the shadow of freedom we seek, we cannot expect the entire wattage of the sunshine on our faces. And the only way to step out of the shadow, to actually commit to equality for all, is to rely on the gender-neutral language of profanity. As a starter, amongst many, many, many other things.

People have often suggested that women also resort to calling out men as baap-**** or bhai****. But men having rampant sex is considered a sign of their ever-increasing masculinity, which kind of defeats the purpose of demeaning them, right? When I curse you, I want to attack you where it hurts the most, but if my insult is a front-handed compliment, then something is terribly wrong with the equation. That is why men-centric abuses defeat the purpose – neither are they impotent outlets of rage nor do they serve their intended motives.

Of course, with the equality atmosphere gaining strength, women are also calling men sluts or even bitch. The shackles associated with promiscuity extend to men too, but I am uncomfortable with the idea – not men’s inclusivity that doesn’t trouble me. Why are we shaming someone for their sexual appetite? How are we any different from our Victorian counterparts? Just a fancier version of them in I-can-breathe-better clothes and our jazzy gadgets. Our core instinct to shy away from sex-related activities is still the same. Old wine, grandiose-illusions bottle, anyone?

I dream of a day when I can castigate someone irrespective of their gender or caste. By moving towards gender-neutral insults, I am assuring myself that I, too, have equal rights on this planet we inhabit. To utter profanities that will pierce the opponent’s armour. To use foul language without the fear of hurting caste-level, gender-level, or sexual preference.

And bloody hell, no one can deny me those rights. Or take them away from me.

And, wish everyone a very Happy International Women’s Day.

8 responses to “Oh.Tarnation!”

  1. good thoughts…may be that is the reason,we have a tradition , on RANGPANCHAMI , men give vent using abuses ,very explicit & organ related.
    But ,I personally not in favour of abuses in any form.
    There are so many other ways to express…!!

  2. Extremely well articulated with a new and interesting element of our daily usage (abuses). A good parallel. I may respond as a man and also as a social scientist later. Firstly, it is interesting to note that most sexist abuses are around women, because, as you correctly said they hurt the most. A man abusing another man with such abuses arouse two diagonally opposite reactions-‘I dare reach out (in my imagination, though) to the women of your family’ and the other ‘how dare you reach out (even in your wildest imagination) to the women of my family’. The ‘same man’ is being abusive as well as being protective of ‘women’. That’s the dichotomy of a man. In the midst of all this, the women remains as a subject.

  3. Bloody hell woman, that is one rousing article and about time. I loved this line – // And the only way to step out of the shadow, to actually commit to equality for all, is to rely on the gender-neutral language of profanity.// Yes, to be able to utter profanities without hurting a gender or caste and even my moral compass is my right.

  4. What a powerful, profound piece!! Truly amazing, inspiring and an eye opener. You are on fire and I love it!! We women have to bring on this change in our patriarchal society and we will👍🏼
    Happy Women’s day!

  5. Absolutely true… Yeah it is so much in Vogue that it is kind of normalised as a part of conversation…especially in pnjab and northern India…
    Brilliant article Natasha….

  6. Good article Natasha…! Never thought in this perspective about the use of expletives being gender based… But you are right… when you think about it.. you are spot on!
    If we can try.. at least for those who read this article… try to use gender- neutral swear words, that would be a good start to our dream of an unbiased world