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Home > Culture and Society

Fuck: Wad

24 February 2006

Just as you clutch your head and weep when you realise that hardline Muslim protestors are playing directly into the hands of fascists, so you cringe when something occurs that will clearly make the Daily Mail go into spasms of ecstasy. When it's something over which you yourself will go into paroxysms of exasperated crossness, thus forming a tacit link between you and the organ of blackshirted doom, it's all the worse. This week London's Metro - by lineage the Diet Evening Standard, itself the Lo-Carb Mail - carried the front page headline 'I got 80 fine for saying sweet FA'. Sure enough, a young man had been penalised for using a common profanity, and suddenly even prim corseted papers were instinctively embracing filth.

Not that anyone actually spelt out 18-year-old Kurt Walker's crime in so many godforsaken letters - it was all 'f***' and 'the F-word' as per. And to think that a year ago there were a flurry of articles suggesting that John Lydon, swearing in the jungle to the world at large, had single-handedly stripped 'cunt' of its power to shock. Anyway, Kurt's crime was to quite literally say fuck all. The conversation, held in a Kent street, went thus:


Walker (a student and therefore the bright-eyed future of our great nation, whatever we might have scurrilously implied about the feckless swine heretofore, who is wending his way to the youth centre where he works as a volunteer... no, but really, he sounds like a good kid, doesn't he?): Hello mate.

Mate: Hello mate. What have you been up to, mate?

Walker: Fuck all, mate.


This was Walker's fatal error. A nearby policewoman overheard the expletive and, since applying soap to gob wasn't an option, slapped an 80 on the spot fine over Walker's astonished pottymouth. If only he had said 'Well, mate, I've mostly been wanking myself into a stupor', he might only have incurred 30 for saying 'wank'. (25 for 'I've been working all hours on this essay, I'm buggered', 18 for 'I've been working my arse off on this essay, I'm shagged', or a tenner for 'I've been watching David Cameron's progress with interest'.) With impeccable blank-eyed by-the-bookishness, the police have since quoth: 'The public expect us to tackle anti-social behaviour. If Mr Walker is not happy he can have his case decided by a court.' Walker does intend to challenge the penalty, which is about what you get for being drunk and disorderly or causing 500 of damage. Swearing, though, comes under the heading of anti-social behaviour and as such is an offence under the Public Order Act, the sort you think can't really be one, like spitting. Although, unlike spitting, swearing can't really be held partly responsible for the resurgence of tuberculosis.

Of course, swearing can sound horrible. Even seasoned swearers can feel intimidated or mildly violated or just sort of skin-crawly discomfited, by swearing burly men or swearing tiny girls. Everyone who swears does not commit graver offences, but everyone who commits grave offences swears. Criminalising it, then, exhibits the same pre-emptive, bass-ackwards thinking as considering cannabis a 'gateway drug'; ask most junkies and they'll shrug that yes, they started off using cannabis - thus it must follow that cannabis + time = 'Trainspotting'. Either that, or it's just that using certain words in public represents, to the swooning Labour sensibilities, a basic lack of respect for others that must be punished. But while spitting is vile and offensive, and littering possibly even more so, swearing is... swearing is self-expression. Swearing *at* someone is aggression, incitement, abuse; swearing *to* someone is conversation. There is a vast gulf between 'fuck all, mate' and 'fuck you, you cunt, I'm gonna fuck you up'. Unfortunately, worryingly, such subtle nuance is lost here.

The natural reaction of most of us - law-abiding in all the important non-murdering, non-child-porn-accumulating ways - would probably go something like this:


You: Fuck, it's cold.

Cop: Right, 80. And put your hood down.

You: What the fuck?

Cop (taking out notebook and small calculator): That's another 80, sir.

You: Oh, come on, this is fucking ridicu....

Cop (prods calculator sternly): I'd advise you to calm down, sir.

You: THIS FUCKING FUCKSTAIN OF A COUNTRY! (brandishes sawn-off table-leg, is taken out by sniper)


It's staggering that someone figured fining people for being profane would cow them into saying 'oh, beans' instead. All it will do is aggravate, humiliate and upset. It has nothing to do with respect and everything to do with being aggressively patronising, literal-minded and mad. The only sensible alternative is to impose an asterisk tax. Or just start fining people for actually fucking. 80 for failing to use a condom; 50 for being either unimaginative or suspiciously enthusiastic; 2000 for doing it with Mark Oaten.



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