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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