Aussies are more relaxed than most nationalities when it comes to swearing – our pollies do it on TV and one of our most famous tourism ad campaigns is centered around it.
Now, a judge has decreed that even word considered by many to be one of the last bastions of offensive language is not, err, offensive to Australians.
Danny Lim, a 73-year-old activist, was convicted of offensive behaviour in a public place after he walked a Sydney street with a sandwich board that read in part “Tony you can’t”. The Tony in question was former PM Tony Abbott, and the ‘a’ in ‘can’t’ was turned upside down to hint at an entirely different and vulgar word for a part of the female anatomy.
Lim appealed the conviction, which was overturned in a Sydney District Court yesterday, with the judge saying that the magistrate who convicted Lim had “not stated a reason why a person would have been offended” by the sign, according to reports. The judge also rejected prosecutors’ arguments that the word was derogatory.
One report said that the judge found the the word being hinted at on Lim’s sign was less offensive in Australia than in other English-speaking countries.
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The judge may have a point.
A University of Queensland language expert once told the Sydney Morning Herald that Australians had the foulest mouths in the world. The professor, Roly Sussex, pointed to the Tourism Australia campaign ‘Where the Bloody Hell Are You?’ was considered offensive in England due to the word ‘bloody’, while in Canada it was the work ‘hell’ that caused offence. Meanwhile, most curse-words that cause no offence in Australia would be problematic in the US because of the country’s more church-oriented society.
In 2015 a book called Cross-Cultural Communication: A Visual Approach claimed that Australian workers were best motivated by “vibrant, humorous and border-line vulgar speech”. It was, the book said, a result of our vernacular having been derived from the Cockney, Irish and Northern English sailors who visited and lived in Australia early in its colonisation.
And in 2016, an Australian judge dismissed charges of offensive language against three marriage equality protestors, who had chanted the words ‘f**k off’ and “f**k off, Fred Nile’ into a loudspeaker. According to a report, the judge found that the f-word had become part of everyday, inoffensive speech, through phrases such as “you f**king beauty”.
All this swearing may make Australians appear uncouth in the eyes off the world, but it could also make us healthier, stronger, and smarter. There are various studies that have found swearing helped people during displays of strength and made them better able to withstand pain and handle stress. People who swear more frequently have also been found to make more intelligent use of language.
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What do you think – is it OK to swear like a sailor? Or are some words, the c-word in particular, still offensive?