Offbeat 30 April 2015
I swear at the computer regularly, loudly and with a fair degree of expressiveness. It is my silent, suffering buddy. It puts up with the many awful things that I have to say to it, particularly slurs on the imaginary sexual preferences of its even more imaginary parents. It never complains.
Fortunately, artificial intelligence has not yet developed to the point where it might take offense.
The flip side is that the computer has not attained the level of artificial intelligence which enables it to do what I want it to do: read my mind, do it before I have to do it and get it right the first time, preferably without having to read the help file, download a patch and then reinstall everything.
Having read all the literature on computers, some of it marketing material and some of it more unabashedly fictional, I believe that I am justified in my expectations. However having had some experience of using both Linux and its bigger commercial brother, I am relieved that we are not yet on the path of Arthur C. Clarke’s Hal 9000, and that I will not have to reboot with a chainsaw. For now, I am content with relief provided by my occasional potty mouth, though less content with the button that I resignedly press in tense, frustrated silence when the silicon beggar freezes during a piece of unsaved work, and my daughter is in the vicinity.
By some bizarre twist of fate, which was my wildest rebellious fantasy at school, but not envisaged by further education and ambition, I have had to give some thought to dirty words this week. Please don’t ask why. My answer may have to refer back to the lists I have assembled.
I have three observations. The first is that some swearwords are intended to hurt. The second is that some swearwords bring relief in moments of stress. The third is that some swearwords are natural punctuation. My personal caveat is that I have mixed feelings towards all three. In order to address my mixed feelings, I have come up with three basic rules.
In the case of the first observation, if you want to hurt someone, it is important to ensure that your words are eloquent, intended as a personal affront, make liberal use of synonyms and are entirely devoid of stereotyping which indicate that you are potentially inbred with a genetic condition that you shouldn’t pass on, for instance racism or a belief that the Illuminati exist.
If you can stick to eloquence you may get away with it, and your life. If you are really good at it, you may even be immortalised in a witty anecdote, like Churchill who in a moment of verbal inspiration managed to almost obscure the fact that he was drunk enough not to recognise defeat, and went on to win World War 2.
In the second case, obscenity as therapeutic relief, refer back to the situation where your computer freezes up losing you an hour or two of hard work, or the last time you knocked your funny bone on a door. If you didn’t at least have to suppress the urge, you need to see a psychiatrist. And ask for a reduction in your antipsychotic or tranquilizer dosage.
In the third case, obscenity as punctuation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, you probably didn’t get much out of adolescence. Were you a prefect by any chance? If you do know what I mean, and refrain as best you can, you probably also appreciate the challenges of parenthood. Welcome to the club.
Foul words have punctuated my existence, though they rarely tasted so foul on the tongue that the sweet taste of the relief they brought was obscured to the palate. I have not lost much by losing them, but I have not gained much either, except the need and ability to string long and baffling sentences together when a couple of colourful four letter words might have done the trick.
Bad words are not bad until they begin to hurt, and other words can serve those purposes as well, as the events in Jos, Nigeria, show. That being said, I don’t want my daughter to know the dictionary of the schoolyard too well, just yet.