Until March of this year, my vocabulary had limited swear words, uttered sparingly and with extreme caution. Using the F word in any gathering that’s not your bosom buddies was a thing to frown upon, and you might even get a talking to from strangers and colleagues alike. It’s not uncommon for people to mutter it under their breath, but it was certainly unsuitable to say out loud.
Seven months on, and I now live in Australia. Though my swear vocabulary is still rather limited, I hear them in conversations around me countless times a day, in varying pitches. For instance, my non-Australian housemate, who’s lived here for four years, walked into the kitchen one morning. I was peeling papaya. He hey-ed at me, and I, him. He then opened the fridge and went, “Oh, fuck.”
That’s how we roll here. Most words deemed uncivilised and unfit, even for domestic use are casual and overused in Australia.
You hear these words in places and in situations that have no reason to have them. The reason my housemate said what he said when he looked into the fridge that morning is because there was some food leftover that he’d forgotten about. It was still good enough to eat, though. Besides, it’s not as if he worried about wasting either. Regardless, that situation warranted swearing.
My point is, swear words are so common that they’ve melded into everyday colloquialism. I knew it even before I got here, though. Refer to any website offering travel advice, and you’ll always have a note about says how heavy swearers Australians are.
It’s not just the F word. The C word gets around quite a lot, too. Chances are, you can’t and won’t have a regular conversation with any (or most) Australians without hearing the swear words a fair few times.
I’ve been here a while now, and it doesn’t bother me as much. I’ve come to realise that in Australian speech, these—and the many other swear words I don’t recall—are meant as emphasis words. Like literally in place of figuratively. Like actually, honestly, really, very, and all other adverbs that all writing guides cast away as unnecessary.
It doesn’t bother me since I’ve been here a while now. But I can imagine how gutting it would be for someone new—like my mother, for instance. Once, ages ago, burnt out after work, I swore in front of my mother. Recalling that incident, she asked me a couple of days ago if I’ve stopped swearing now that I’m no longer under the same stress.
“Of course, ma. I don’t swear at all nowadays.”
Well, at least that puts her mind at ease.