“…a word that begins with ‘g’ was used to describe human buttocks- quite the normal word for a normal part of a person’s body. It featured in respectable literature, and even in popular idioms of the time.”
In Asad Muhammad Khan’s short story, Ghussay Ki Naee Fasl, the protagonist Hafiz Gainda has to spend the night in a sarrai in Delhi. At night he is woken up by unearthly sounds, screams and screeches that seem supernatural. Carrying his sword, the protagonist searches for the source of the commotion, finally finding a group of ordinary men and women who gather nightly at the inn and vent out their anger. The next day, the protagonist sees the same people going about their daily lives, docile and calm. By expressing their rage, they have broken free of its hold on their lives.
Letting go of pent up frustrations and anger is surprisingly beneficial for one’s health. This is especially true for swearing. From making communication more effective, to establishing the honesty of the person who is verbally abusing, swearing is an effective tool when a message needs to be persuasive. It may even have an effect on pain management. The next time you accidently close the car door on your thumb, let go of the filth that comes to your mouth. It may act as a painkiller, cushioning the blow.
Any potential benefit that swearing may have comes to a stall though when weighed against the societal taboo associated with it. Not only is it considered rude, obnoxious and crude to swear, but it also raises questions about how well the potty-mouthed individual was raised. Traditionally, swearing is seen as the domain of the less educated, lower income groups. Genteel, upper class people are not expected to use abusive language, less because of their own personal inclination to not use filthy language, and more because of how it will reflect on their illustrious family names.
But it was not always so. Many of the words that we now consider abuses (or, gaalis), were a part of acceptable language used till a few decades ago. Many swear words were descriptive tags for the human anatomy. For example, a word that begins with ‘g’ was used to describe human buttocks- quite the normal word for a normal part of a person’s body. It featured in respectable literature, and even in popular idioms of the time. However, as Urdu evolved, so did its meaning. Now it is a swear word, not to be used in polite company and never to be used in the presence of women. The same is true for all other descriptive swear words. You may describe a body part by its English name, scientific or otherwise – but never by the name assigned to it in Urdu. Perhaps this is another remnant of our colonial complex, that if our lords said it in English, then it might not be as vulgar as the same word in our own language.
Despite the collective upturning of our nose when it comes to swear words, they are more common than we would like to admit. A walk through any bazaar is enough to remove any doubt from the mind about how prevalent swearing actually is. In fact, while taking a tedious walk through the heat, one can witness abuse being hurled down from the comfort of one’s house by switching on a cricket match. There are our heroes, wizards with the bat or ball or both, desperately trying to gain glory for their motherland, giving it their all with their hands and feet and even their tongues. Swearing back and blue, either at the opposing team as part of sledging, or at each other when a wayward throw nets runs for the opposite side. The mic inside the wickets is a delightful little invention. Not only does it let us know if the bowler has netted a scalp, it also lets us see how our heroes are just like us. One day, any one of us will not remain confined to swearing at passing motorbikes, and be raised to the level of swearing for an audience of millions.
TV anchors and analysts, who clinically discuss matters of critical national importance, also slip occasionally. Hasan Nisar, Najam Sethi and a few others have also accidently let a cuss word or two slip by. If not bound by censorship rules and the threat of PEMRA handing over a hefty fine, media persons would abuse more freely, and our TV might just be a more interesting place, or at least a more honest one.
You may have heard the following story as a joke, or as an anecdote. Legend goes that when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to Lahore, he met one of the city’s firebrand politicians, Ghulam Nabi Malik. Bhutto remarked to Malik “I have heard you swear a lot.” To which Malik replied “Which b****d said that?”
Disclaimer: This article is merely about expressing oneself through swearing. In no way, however, does the author or the paper condone abusing others.