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Over the weekend, Straits Times editor Andy Chen wrote an article about his experiences with his daughter and swearing. Aside from reconciling saying swear words like “shit” with parenting, it also made the point that “fuck” is generally off limits:

I’m pleased my daughters don’t drop F-bombs, which are still widely frowned upon and which I have emphasised repeatedly is a “really bad word” because it is often used in anger, as an insult and/or as a provocation.

What he has missed out is that there is a time and place where “fuck” is acceptable and sometimes, even necessary.

For example, if someone is being a fucking asshole, you should call him a fucking asshole. In a situation like this, it is not important to be socially acceptable.

Instead, you want to shock and offend that person into a realisation of their own shitty behaviour.

So, generally speaking, using “fuck” is okay as long as it matches the emotional intensity of the situation.

“Oh fuck! I left my handphone in the cab!” has been a familiar refrain since Nokia released its 3210.

While the charm school alumni might frown upon this, no one is really going to fault you for expressing your annoyance at this situation. Who doesn’t feel frustrated when they lose something important? Only sociopaths remain calm and objective in moments like these.

But this doesn’t mean that we get to use the word liberally either.

People who don’t understand this end up crossing the line from normal upset to vulgar boor. A prime example is when you have someone who uses “fuck” to string sentences together.  

it only feels good to say it when you don’t say it all the time

“This fucking guy who sat next to me was fucking digging his nose the whole fucking journey. What’s his fucking problem man!”

We all know someone who does this all the fucking time.

When “fuck” becomes a conjunction, it loses its emotional impact. In other words, nothing is fucked up anymore when everything is fucked up. Like those people who call everything “amazing” or “awesome,” it’s hard to tell when they’re truly amazed by anything.

So the trick is to use it sparingly and save it for occasions when it’s called for. Apart from how it’ll make you less annoying, the fact is that it only feels good to say it when you don’t say it all the time.

When it comes to swearing, the hard part is having self-control. I’ll be the first to admit that saying “fuck” is extremely cathartic, and regardless of how bad it’s supposed to be, it can feel so good to express your emotions.

However, this is a slippery slope. If you’re not careful, it can become second nature to use it on anything and at anytime, and this is when you end up sounding like the irrationally angry person in the example above.

So instead of training ourselves or our kids to not say “fuck”, it’s far more important to help them develop the social awareness and the appropriate restraint to know when or when not to use it.

After all, when something fucked up happens, I’d like my kid to be able to call it what it is. Sometimes, there’s just no better way to put it.

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