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Australians are known for their colourful language; indeed, it’s been called part of our national identity. But why are we considered a lover of swearwords and from where does this emanate?
To discuss these issues, Campus Review is talking to Australian National Dictionary Centre’s chief editor, Dr Amanda Laugesen. Her new book, Rooted, an Australian history of bad language is out now and charts the history of swearing in Australia.
Laugesen contends colonial Australia provided fertile ground for a whole host of swear words to be created to describe the harsh environments in which convicts found themselves, even though they were generally frowned upon by upper society. By the end of the 19th century, however, a shift towards the attitudes and types of swear words used reflected not only Australia’s involvement in war, but the country’s love of the bush ranger and the bullock driver, working long and hard hours. It was at that time, “that bad language became more justifiable”.
During the second-wave feminist movement, as well, swear words were seen as ways of “defying authority” and reclaiming such words for their own needs.
Finally, while people swear for a variety of reasons - emotion, anger, emphasis and abuse - they can be equally used to foster friendships and become part of a group. For instance, the generally frowned-upon ‘c-word’ now features is compounds such as ‘Mad-c’ as more of term of affection than abuse among friends. This is what Amanda Laugesen calls “a process of amelioration”, subverting the power of the word through combining it with other words or modifiers.