05 Aug

Colloquialisms/swearing in speeches and scripts

I saw a very good talk today, by a lady called Karen Sterling, of Blaze Firewalking. The talk was about how much money the happiness and positivity industry makes from people these days, and how it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. It included some simple ways of thinking, and a simple exercise, to avoid having to fork out loads of money on books, coaches, courses etc.

What I liked most about the talk, however, was Karen’s style of delivery. It was full of colloquialisms, it was easygoing, and – here and there – the odd swearword sneaked in, but this was completely in context with the talk itself. It made Karen appear more human, and if you’re delivering a talk on the subject matter that she was, you need to appear that way.

A wee while back, I saw the MD – Brad Burton – of the UK-wide business networking groups I go to, talk at the launch of a brand new group.
He’s a motivational speaker, and speaks at events nationwide. He’s very proud of the fact that, at one point, he had no qualifications, no finance, and built his business networking empire from scratch
. He’s also proud of the fact that people often judge (or misjudge) him on his jeans, t-shirt, and tattoos and get it wrong.
Again, though, what I liked about his talk was the fact that – in context – he wasn’t afraid to swear here and there, but it all had relevance to the stories he was telling.
A couple of the more ‘prim and proper’ individuals in the room tensed their shoulders a bit, but most people just took the colloquialisms and any swearing as part of the anecdotes he was relaying. It made him / the talk more engaging – more real.

In some cases, it seems more contrived not to use swearwords than to use them.
Look at the soaps on TV: sometimes the characters are placed into situations where anyone would swear, but the programme is being shown before the watershed.
You then find the ridiculous scenario whereby someone’s partner has cheated on them, their dog has been run over, and their kids have set fire to each other (standard Eastenders plot), and they say ‘oh, bloomin’ ‘eck’…. yeah, because we’d all say that if given the same set of circumstances.

And think of all the fantastic films, dramas, comedy series, books that contain swearing as an entirely necessary part of natural dialogue. Now remove the swearing from them – do they still have as much impact?

In fact, I’ve never really understood the concept of dividing words up into those we can and can’t use, and judging people on whether/how often they use them.
We (humans) decided that some words are taboo and others aren’t: it wasn’t preordained by some divine being.

If the words ‘poo’ and shit’ exist, in their own right, why is it bad to use one over the other? Why was ‘shit’ not removed from the English language as soon as it became apparent that it was considered rude? Or is it just there to be used as a social marker – to judge people or stick them in a social class based on the use of that word over the alternative?
Is it another social construct along the lines of, wearing a suit = smart? Using the word ‘shit’ automatically = stupid, vulgar, of a lower social status?

I’m not sure I’ll ever fully understand why we categorise some words in the way that we do. What I do know, is that a liberal sprinkling of colloquialisms and swear words within a speech or script isn’t the worst thing in the world – it can make a speech more colourful, more engaging, and more human.

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