“Yobs should not be punished for hurling obscenities in public – because swear words are now so common that they no longer cause distress,” said Mr Justice Bean.
I seriously object to someone making pronouncements about what should or should not cause me distress. Yobs are apparently being given the freedom to hurl abuse at policemen and policemen are told swearing at them is not causing them any alarm or distress.
I beg to differ.
I have been on the receiving end of verbal abuse. It wasn’t a yob, but some woman in a car driving out of a car park.
I discovered quite early on in the visit to see my mum that the wheelchair was too big for the boot. Maybe there was some screw that unlocked and folded wheels or footrests more compactly – but in the end, pushing the wheelchair into town was the only option. She was not a heavy woman, but the pavements were not even, and wheelchair was demon-possessed.
As I said, the woman was coming out of the car park. She was travelling very slowly and I judged that I had time to cross the entrance to the car park in plenty of time, and seeing me crossing, pushing a wheelchair, she would stop. She stopped. She must not have seen me because she acted like she had just performed an emergency stop. There was no squeal of tyres, no smell of burning rubber. She was travelling at less than five miles an hour. She just wasn’t looking, but she stopped in time.
She wound down the windows and a stream of abuse came pouring out. “Silly cow” was in there somewhere accompanied by expletive after expletive. She made a right turn to a set of traffic lights. I was still in view so a second stream of abuse flew at me. She made another right turn at the traffic lights, leaving me with a final stream of insults. It was over-kill. It was unnecessary. Did she really think that I hadn’t got the message the first time?
Obscenities were hurled in public. Just because they were common swear words did not mean that I wasn’t distressed. I got back to my mum’s house and promptly burst into tears. I pride myself on not being silly, or being a cow – but some manic driver had accused me of both – in public!
Swear words may be common and they may not offend some people but they offend me. I realise that sometimes people litter their conversation with them and they really mean nothing. They don’t set out to be offensive. They are more than happy to keep a check on their language if they know someone is offended.
Do you know, I actually wrote a swear word in a short story once? I struggled over the “f” word. I agonised. I sweated. I searched the thesaurus for an alternative, until I finally surrendered and let it stay there – because it was perfect. My creative writing tutor raised an eye brow. I was a nice girl who didn’t swear – but he knew why I had written it, and agreed it was perfect. There are some situations that simply require a well-chosen swear word. They are not everyday situations and swear words should be used sparingly.
Giving anyone the green light to swear at any time and in any place seems to me like some kind of surrender. In some way we have given over ground that we should have held on to.
Verbal abuse isn’t something that we should get used to. It shouldn’t come with anyone’s territory.