27/03/2012 18:39 BST | Updated 27/05/2012 06:12 BST



Tee hee! It's funny isn't it, swearing. Classically British, seaside postcard, puerile, child-like.

I am especially aware of rude words being shocking/inappropriate as I work for BBC local radio, where even "bloody" is verboten on air. The BBC has a sweary chart which it published internally every two years (with 'MF' & the 'c' word usually being top dogs. (More recently racial slurs and slang to demonise the working classes have begun to appear).

It's all about context, apparently. I remember a long conversation I had with the head of Radio 4 in 2004 when she boasted of three "c*nts" in an Ian Pattinson play which had garnered just one complaint ("from an old dear who'd tuned in late"). I was amazed. Why? "...because my audience are intelligent".

The inference I took from this is that my punters, a C1, C2, D, E working class audience don't expect swearing from their local BBC station, to hear us swear would be like hearing one's Auntie Gladys swear, and, despite there being no 'watershed' on radio, it's more likely children are listening. The R4 attitude was very different.

This was in the days before the Ross/Brand clip was played out enough times to gain record complaints. Complaints are something the BBC is very sensitive to; the BBC stakeholder is anyone who pays the licence fee. Plus there's political pressures - and the likes of Mary Whitehouse's organisation (now called 'Mediawatch UK') keeping an ear and eye on what they regard as the BBC's duty to 'traditional' values.

People swear in front of each other for several reasons. It's often because a person feels comfortable in the presence of another, injecting a succinct emotional component into a conversation or relationship (so when someone we don't know very well swears unexpectedly we are offended because we don't feel they have the right to take that liberty). To use a sexual or scatological expulsion can be cathartic. It can display several emotions, surprise, anger, self-deprecation, humour or frustration.

It can also, of course, express hate. This is unacceptable, obviously, in any context. Homophobic, racist, classist, sexist etc. barbs are beyond simply 'taboo', they are designed to oppress, hurt and belittle.

Swearing is very common, and it is a very important part of language development; as we learn which words are naughty we learn much about our family, peer group and society in general.

So, with all this interest in swearing (I love Viz, Sarah Millican, I used to be a lorry driver) you would think nothing could offend me. I am not a minority grouping. I am extra aware of offending others (nothing wrong with being P.C., or BEING POLITE as I call it). White, liberal (small 'l') blokes like me rarely hear attack-language designed to oppress. But there is a word that upsets me, and, probably the middle-aged bloke in your life. Ask him. With all the swearing he does, he's probably not had the bottle to admit how offended he is by this disgusting word. If you don't like rude words, look away now.

The word is...


The rude, oppressive words for female body parts, masturbation, and poo (often Anglo-Saxon in origin) feature lots of hard consonants. This is why they intuatively sound nasty and oppressive, hard sounds for something soft or feminine. Therefore willy is the reverse of this.

Men prefer the hard consonants for the penis (c*ck, tool, pr*ck etc.). To soften the sound, when mentioning the unmentionables, therefore immediately offends. The origins are clear: in many parts of the UK 'willy' is slang for 'soppy' or 'sissy', it half-rhymes with 'floppy' and a 'Will' is an old English word for 'helmet'. Plus, since around the time of the First World War, it's been used by mothers (and other female members of the family) to describe your knob when you're small - and it's small.

Sorry, lads. I realise I've empowered women to emasculate. But admit it. You hate the 'w' word.

Perhaps swearing isn't funny after all, eh?