I read a couple of weeks ago in Construction News, ‘offensive talk rife at work’ (4 April 2014/7) about a new survey conducted by CITB which revealed that sexist, racist and homophobic language is regularly used in the construction industry.
The survey findings are on the link above and are not good reading. Interestingly most of those surveyed described the tone of offensive language as “banter”. So, a lot of construction industry workers may have been conditioned over the years and developed their rhinoceros skin to think that it is “banter” but it’s not really.
I have worked Client side for the whole of my career so far but I regularly go out onto site and hear bad language, however, because I represent the Client and I’m a woman they seem to tone it down a bit. I must admit I have resorted to turning the air blue on one or two occasions but It’s really not a good look.
All of this got me to thinking about the origins of swearing, why do we do it? During my research I came across Steven Pinker who is a Psychologist at Harvard and specialises in language, mind and human nature. His talk on The Language of Swearing on You Tube is f*cking brilliant (all will be revealed if you watch). It’s in 2 parts and the link I’ve posted is part 2 which talks about the 5 different types (yes, there are 5, who knew?!) of swearing. The first part of the talk looks at the psychology of swearing and tells us that taboo words activate brain areas associated with negative emotion and the brain can’t help but register it’s meaning. Use of language as a weapon forces listeners to think an unpleasant or at least an emotionally charged thought.
The 5 types of swearing are:-
Dysphemistic which is the opposite to Euphemistic. A Euphemism is an alternative to a dispreferred expression. With a Dysphemism you want that person to think about how awful something is, the point for politeness has passed, a strong emotion that has to be expressed
Abusive swearing is used to intimidate and humiliate someone in a metaphorical sense
Idiomatic swearing is where is where it is unclear what words are doing in expressions if someone used the f word a number of times in one sentence which we’ve all heard a number of times (like when I made the mistake of going to the local pub on darts night?! Never again!) It is used to ping people’s emotions to be macho and cool or to express informality
Emphatic swearing where you want to emphasise something
Cathartic swearing which lets of steam, releases tension and stems back to when an animal is injured or confined, a sudden angry noise, but, as Steven Pinker points out, we learn the words to say, we don’t know them instinctively!
So, my findings are, people swear to make someone think about how awful something is, to intimidate and humiliate someone, where it’s not necessary in a sentence, if you want to emphasise something or to let off steam.
I’m no angel and I do swear, we all do, sometimes it is funny, I especially love it when the Irish swear and I thought it was brilliant when I first learnt the word feck, especially after watching Father Ted. Also, the movie ‘In Bruges’ with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is fantastic. I watched it with my parents and had to warn them about the language beforehand but they thought it was really good too.
I think sometimes swearing is ok but the key is having the emotional intelligence to know when it’s not. There are other ways of dealing with emotions rather than swearing at someone so that they know how bad something really is, e.g, ‘you’ve really f*cking screwed up now haven’t you?’ We have to remember that we have control over our emotions and how we react to them and we have to learn how to handle them differently so we are not taking them out on someone else.
Abusive language is just disgusting behaviour and it saddens me to think that it is happening in our industry (and others of course).
I would be interested to know what other people’s viewpoints are and what we can do as an industry to change things, I think having an awareness of why we do it is a good starting point which I hope my blog has done today.
Have a flipping awesome week!! Hmmm, not sure about that alternative!