Stephen Fry, Language Enthusiast, Defends The “Unnecessary” Art Of Swearing

Among his countless occupations, Stephen Fry acts, writes scripts, performs comedy, writes books, broadcasts on the radio, writes plays, presents television programs, and writes poetry. Words, it seems, have served him well, or, rather, he’s made industrious use of them. Anyone involved with such a wide range of the verbal arts must give quite a bit of thought to how language works, but Fry has acted directly on this interest. His and Hugh Laurie’s comedy show A Bit of Fry and Laurie featured linguistically themed sketches; more recently, his podcast Stephen Fry’s Podgrams offered commentaries on language. He even went so far as to host Fry’s Planet Word, a five-part BBC television series on language, “how we learn it, write it and sometimes lose it, and why it defines us.”

Given Fry’s position as a bastion of modern British wit who cares deeply about the words we speak and write, you might assume he uses only the highest, most refined kind of English. Not so, it seems; Fry can get down into the verbal gutter with the best of them, and the interview clip above contains his defense — or, to be more precise, his endorsement — of swearing. “It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing, and without enjoying swearing,” he attests. Some would call swearing unnecessary, and Fry recontextualizes their argument like so: “It’s not necessary to have colored socks. It’s not necessary for this cushion to be here. But is anyone going to write in and say, ‘I was shocked to see that cushion there! It really wasn’t necessary’? No. Things not being necessary is what makes life interesting.”

Related content:

Stephen Fry Gets Animated About Language

The History of the English Language In Ten Animated Minutes

English And Its Evolution

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Comments (7)
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  • Growing up in various small towns, I developed a dislike for swearing. For some, it’s 60% of their sentences, and for me it’s a sign of a lazy mind to use it too much. But, when the hammer hits the thumb, there’s nothing that dulls the pain like a good swearing fit…

  • John Bisby says:

    I can only assume a lot of people carry a lot of hammers.

  • I see swearing as a way to disclose a rage/shocked/uneasy expression in order to ease the tension within. It maybe just words that are poorly pronounced/intended, but swearing gets to a state where it’s a reflex/habitual reaction towards those conditions – including the hammer thing.
    What needs to be concerned of is not the idea of swearing itself, but rather the extensive growth of swearing words inventions. Whether it’s deemed as a creative thinking product or not, some people are using swearing words for obnoxious purposes, a filthy repercussion of bad intentions toward others – not a “stress release”.

    It’s a sincere intention that morally degrades from time to time after all.

  • Hal B says:

    At last, a man after my on heart. I like cussing. Swearing seems an inappropriate word for cussing. Cursing sounds prissy.
    There are times in life when nothing else quite serves the verbal intent except a good cuss word. And it is not always from anger or hurt.
    Sometimes it simply feels good to let go with a expletive, sort of like passing gas or belching.
    FU has no equal when you need to let someone know in no uncertain terms you don’t agree with their position on an issue.

  • Bravo says:

    My Speech teacher condemns swears, so my next speech will be on the art of swearing. Can’t wait to see his face!

  • G says:

    Hell, as long as you don’t make a constant habit of it.

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