Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Profane Is Profound: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Profane Is Profound: Comment

Article excerpt

A couple of years ago, my eldest son initiated his younger brother into the art of teenage drinking. He handed him a bottle of Belgian beer, pronouncing it the "ideal starter drink" with the smug air of someone who has moved on to more advanced levels of inebriation. Despite my misgivings, I can see that he helped his kid brother through an awkward rite of passage. Without a mentor, my youngest might have ended up ordering a round of white wine spritzers for his rugby teammates, or a bottle of Babycham to go with his cheesy chips.

Teachers, too, have a duty to model correct social etiquette. Just as younger children look to their older siblings for acceptable routes into drinking, students look to teachers for guidance on using bad language. They often single out English teachers, because swearing has an impressive literary provenance: Chaucer is unashamedly bawdy, and you can't get through a Shakespeare play without bumping into profanities, lewd puns or young men's unsheathed weapons.

Swearing comes naturally to us, so it's natural that our students want to try it out, too. Often they make their boldest attempts during drama lessons. Tasked with playing the part of Curley from Of Mice and Men, they gingerly ask if they are allowed to swear. They've twigged that playing an angry man without the aid of expletives is like playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame without the aid of a hump. Aware that they are skating over thin social ice, they cautiously spell out the risque words they want their characters to say. …

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