What the F*ck?! A closer look at student swearing

Freshman History teacher Mr. Cislo explains, “...I’m never swearing at a child and I try not to use the big bombs.”

Swearing is a common thing nowadays used as either filler for words or used “ ...as an adjective or verb to enhance your speaking ability,”Cislo added. Following this statement, Jessica Baese, a chemistry teacher at Dexter High School said, “ … these swear words are used in a story or to make a point…”

History of Swearing

So, what is the origins of swear words and the history behind them?

Contrary to what some people may think, many of the swear words we use today have been used for many centuries, with the most common swear words having English, Nordic, and Germanic origins. For instance, the most common one, f*ck, is a word that goes all the way back before the 15th century.

Variations of it were used by the German, Dutch, and English, though it was not used as a swear word until sometime in the 1500s. It was originally used as a word meaning “to strike”, though the more common word at the time was swive. Some examples of names and places including the word are Ric Wyndfuk, Ric Wyndfuck de Wodehous, and Fockynggroue.

Like f*ck, sh*t has its origins hundreds of years in human history and is one of the oldest words in the English language. The word sh*t has was originally used in Germanic, Scandinavian, and Old English when it was used to mean diarrhea in cattle or purging diarrhea.

In the 1500s, it began being used to describe an annoying person (schit but wit). In the late 19th century is started being used when referring to something that is trash or worthless. In the 1930s, we begin seeing sh*t being used more as we use it today to mean misfortune (We are in deep sh*t) or if something was the best (This is the sh*t).

Another popular swear word is b*tch. The word b*tch has its roots in Old Norse and Old English when it was used to refer to a female dog. It was first seen to be used to contempt a woman in the Chester Plays of the 1400s in the play “Who callest thou queine, skabde b*tch.” Later in the 1930s, the term changed to also mean to complain. In the sometime between the 1950s to the 1990s it began to also mean that something was awesome (“b*tchin”).

School Board Policy

The School Board Policy states that swearing or profanity in Dexter High School is to be avoided. Swearing in Dexter High School can be punishable by administrator discretion; however, most of the time student profanity is handled inconsistently.

Many teachers or administrators don’t mind profanity, or in some way use it themselves. Kit Moran, Dexter High School’s Principal, said that some words can be considered vulgar rather than swearing or can be categorized as "potty words," but not everything is considered swearing nowadays.

Not all words back in Moran’s early youth were considered words that are okay to say now. Swearing has not always been used in TV, radio, and other media, but now words such as ass, hell, sh*t, and f*ck are more liberally through various types of media.

With these words being used more commonly among Dexter High School being able to understand which words are still professional and appropriate is important, Moran said.

Dr. Timmis, superintendent of Dexter Community schools, said that “...staff should refrain from profanity in the classroom, in athletics, and other settings with kids”.

Looking into songs from the past, in 1938 the lyric “Bucket” was used in the song “Old Man Moses” by Louis Armstrong and was played on the radio. The lyric was heard as “f*ck it” and started an up roar, shocking listeners. As time when on things began to change. In the 1950s lyrics began to become more profane, but indirectly. Lyrics became sexual in the rock and roll genre, and slang words for body parts became common.

In the 1980s hip hop became mainstream. It didn’t have that many swear words but told stories; sometimes it was funny and witty. Groups like NWA started rapping about what they saw with extreme profane lyrics. They made a buzz and many critics didn't even consider them musicians. People couldn’t see past the lyrics and their own name couldn’t be said in full by most.

They still sold three million copies without a radio hit.

Hip Hop quickly became arguably the most influential genre, and its culture took the world by storm. Although this music does influence a lot of people, the people making the music were saying things they heard, and describing things they saw on a day to day basis. Artists were putting their specific city on the map and influencing a whole nation while doing it.

The current generation has continued to grow with a open mind in language, not taking offense to swear words, and using them more prevalently. Kids repeat what they hear, and hip hop has continued to be one of the most-played styles of music, so it is usually what they hear.

With streaming services and YouTube, it is not hard to find the top songs and listen to them no matter what age.

Ricky Chesbrough said music definitely influences his language.

“If I didn’t listen to rap I wouldn’t swear as much,” Chesbrough said. “The only reason I know a lot of the words I say is because I only listen to rap.”

Pop Culture

Within streaming services like Netflix, swearing was there from the beginning. On Netflix you can find shows marked as, “Netflix Originals,” which are shows funded by Netflix. These shows are generally mature shows as 34 of 37 Netflix dramas are mature, and 17 of 25 of Netflix comedies are mature.

If you're looking for family friendly alternatives to playing Netflix Original Roulette, documentaries and reality shows have been found to be family friendly. If you’re looking for good adult shows, Netflix will more than suffice.

Roku, the virtually unknown predecessor to Netflix, came out in 2006 - a year before Netflix’s streaming service - but went virtually unknown and sunk into the relics of the beginning of an era. While you can still purchase a Roku today ($30), it acts more as a Smart TV, a hub to access services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video. If you’re looking for a service with more child-friendly alternatives, Hulu has lots of show for children like: Steven Universe, Adventure Time, and Spongebob Squarepants.

In TV, which had started before streaming services, swearing became mainstream as shown in shows like South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy, where adult content is part of the show, and, undeniably, what generated the large audiences those shows have today.

A pair of freshmen interviewed (Victor Li and Katherine Betz) said that their friends swear around them. They also agreed that swearing is bad, but isn’t the worst thing in the world if used by yourself and not towards others. They said they use swear words to release frustration.

Victor said that he thinks it’s fine while Katherine said that she probably shouldn’t be swearing. Victor said “ya” when asked if he swore without hesitation. Katherine, on the other hand, gave a long stretched out “sometimes.”

They both agreed on the consequences of swearing in school, a talking to from the teacher, but Victor also threw in the idea of detention if it’s bad enough or too repetitive.

The other influencer that you might think of is TV. There has been swearing on TV since 2008 and the number of words in each show has just progressed. That said, does TV really have an impact on the amount people swear?

"I already knew the words before I heard them on TV," said sophomore Lauren See said, adding that she swore well before hearing the words on TV.

From talking with Dexter students, swearing didn't appear have a large impact on their swearing. Studies did show that swearing on television has been known to lead to aggression in kids more than an increase in swearing.

The Washington Post said that the only way in which TV affects people in swearing is if there is a popular saying in a show that has a swear word, people are most likely to complete the saying with the swear word included.

Swearing in Movies

In 1967 the movie “I'll never forget what's insane” and “Ulysses” where the first movies to use the f*** word. But “Sink the Bismarck” whispered f******. In 1969, the movie “Kes” used the words ba***** and T***.

M.A.S.H. (1970) was the first major studio movie to say f*** and it was okay. Red Dawn (1984) was the first movie to be rated PG-13 and include f***.

"I personally think that movies that use swear words can express the situation they are in or how they are feeling," sophomore Quentin Hurdle said.

We had the great pleasure of interviewing psychologist Katie Collins, a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Employee Assistance Professional in Dexter, Michigan. Collins' specialties and issues include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, career counseling, behavioral issues, school issues, and life coaching. During our interview with Collins, we asked her questions about swearing and the brain.

Q: What goes on in the brain when a kid swears?

A: “I do think that a lot of times it comes from when a teenager is kind of emotionally overwhelmed," she said. "I’ll give you a run down about what happens in the brain when a person gets overwhelmed. The front part of the brain, which is called our prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain is in charge of what we consider, high-level functioning, so planning out what we’re going to be saying or decision making, our logic, all of that stuff is part of the prefrontal cortex. Then, when a person becomes emotionally overwhelmed, like if they got a bad grade on a test, that part of the brain essentially shuts off. So, when that part of the brain shuts off, we are not able to think through the things we are saying or doing. We’re just kind of reacting. A lot of times then, that will bring about people saying or even doing things that they might later say, ‘wow I really regret saying or doing that’. So, a lot of times we’ll see people swearing about or at each other when they become emotionally overwhelmed like that.”

Q: Can swearing be linked to aggression issues/ long terms effects or benefits of swearing?

A: “So interestingly enough, there's actually a lot of research that talks about pain tolerance," she said. "And this is actually as it relates to physical pain, that who used were words while they're going through physical pain actually are better able to manage that. And so, without having done a ton of research on that, the fact of emotional pain, my guess is that, you know, people are able to express themselves using swear words while they're emotionally going through some pain, they may be able to hopefully deal with that a little bit more or like kind of process through that a little bit more. And so, really depending on a person's personality or what they've been brought up to believe about. So using swear words, that has a lot to do with the person's ability to use those effectively.”

Q: Is swearing a side effect of mental illnesses? Could a reason for someone's swearing stem from something else they suffer from?

A: “I don't necessarily think that swearing is a definitive side effect or symptom of a mental illness, but, if a person is experiencing anxiety or anger or depression, they might cope with some of those symptoms by using swear words," she said. "But I don't think, I don't believe necessarily that, that swearing as a symptom of a mental health issue.”

Overall, what we have found that swearing is a more common thing in Dexter High School and around the Dexter school district as a whole. Students tend use swear words as filler words and words for emphasis. It's also clear that music and media has some influence on swearing; however, with most media directed to a more mature audiences it's still a factor to consider. The biggest thing students need to work on, it seems, is being able to distinguish appropriate words from inappropriate words rather than just a punishment where nothing is learned.

This article was a collaborative effort from Mr. Mack's third hour intro to journalism class.

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