Euan McColm: Kim Sears’ profanity is like poetry

Kim Sears watches Andy Murray in his semifinal match against Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open. Picture: Getty
Kim Sears watches Andy Murray in his semifinal match against Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open. Picture: Getty
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JUDGING by the reaction, you might’ve thought Kim Sears had done something terrible rather than something magnificent.

As Andy Murray clinched the fourth set in his Australian Open semi-final on Thursday, television cameras – as they often do – turned to his fiancée. She was certainly excited.

But rather than directing her attention towards Murray, Sears was focused on his defeated opponent, the Czech star Tomas Berdych.

The microphones didn’t pick up precisely what Sears shouted, but you didn’t have to be a qualified lip-reader to get the gist. Sears had f***ing things to say about Tomas f***ing Berdych.

Shortly after the match, Murray tacitly recognised Sears’s language had been colourful and explained that, in the heat of the moment, we can all say things we regret.

And this is true. But we can also, in the heat of the moment, say things which we thoroughly enjoy, which express our frustration, our rage, our happiness or any combination thereof.

As an enthusiastic swearer, a prolific profaner, I not only understood Sears’s reaction, I revelled in it.

I love swearing. I f***ing love it. And I don’t think Kim Sears has a thing to be sorry for.

I can remember quite clearly the first time I heard my late father swear; well, the first time I heard him use one of the good ones. It was a school holiday in the late 1970s, I was perhaps nine, and my dad – a sales rep of the sheepskin jacket, Ford Cortina and gut-rotting anxiety variety – had no choice but to take me on the road for the day.

This was hugely exciting until around 10am, by which time I’d been sitting in a hot car in a dusty yard for half an hour and I’d finished both my Star Wars comic and my crisps (Golden Wonder sausage and tomato. Funny how these details linger).

When Dad – then punting wood to the building trade – came back to the car, he seemed a little less happy than he had when he’d got out.

The next visit didn’t lift his spirits, and by mid-afternoon he was no longer the solid rock I’d always known him to be. I understand now the frustrations that were playing out, but at the time I knew nothing more than that this day was making Dad miserable and I didn’t find that reassuring, not one little bit.

The temperature in the car was unbearable when he came back after his final visit. I was half dozing when the door opened and he slumped into the heat-cracked, vinyl-upholstered driver’s seat.

He didn’t look in my direction. Instead, he slumped forward with his head in his hands and howled: “F*** me”.

Of course, being a lower middle class suburban child raised on the importance of clean curtains and always doing what I was told, I found this profoundly, time-stoppingly shocking. And I wasn’t the only person taken by surprise. As soon as the words had left his lips, Dad turned to me with a look of horror on his face.

“I’m so sorry,” he said. And then, after what seemed an awfully long time, he smiled: “Don’t tell your mum.”

This little vignette was not, I’m happy to concede, exactly the stuff of the end of innocence. But it was a glimpse into the adult world and an unimprovable demonstration of just one of the many great purposes of swearing: the relief of anguish, either emotional or physical.

Dad’s “F*** me” was more than just two words, it was a little vessel carrying away (at least some of) his distress. A “gosh” or a “damn and blast” just wouldn’t have done the job. This had been a seriously bad day and it demanded some seriously bad language. Dad needed a little f***ing catharsis.

Soon, I began experimenting with profanity, moving swiftly through the gateway words – the bees and the esses – before finding lasting comfort with the hard stuff, including the one that still makes an awful lot of people very angry and that, therefore, I especially enjoy.

People – teachers and bores mostly – used to say that to resort to the use of foul language exposed a lack of imagination. This I took as a direct challenge and began creating new compound words, lavishly dressing obscenities with hyperbolic adjectives, growing ever more fond of the percussive crack of a well-chosen F-bomb.

When, at the age of 18, I entered my first newsroom, I was fully f***ing acquainted with all the classic swearwords and quite a few of the fringe ones.

When I meet kindred spirits, my heart soars. That’s not to say I warm to anyone who spouts an unthinking stream of obscenities. But when someone who knows what they’re doing with swearing really gets going, the results can be captivating. Only a truly great mind could have conceived of cockwomble or f***-knuckle.

And the sheer joy of hearing an obscenity where it simply shouldn’t be heard will never fade for me. When my daughter was born seven years ago, I took with me to the Scottish Parliament a number of photographs. Self-awareness be damned, I was going to show them to whoever I could.

Of course, people were indulgent and kind and cooed about how beautiful she was, but it was the response of a female Labour MSP that lingers longest in the mind. Having carefully studied the photos, she embraced me in a hug, then proclaimed: “She’s f***ing lovely, son.” The fact that her words were entirely heartfelt gave them an extra layer of delicious absurdity.

I don’t advocate reckless swearing. If you do it on a bus, for example, where there may be ladies of my grandmother’s age or children, then you are no f***ing friend of mine. If you use profanity to threaten or intimidate others, then you can f*** off too.

But if, like Kim Sears, you are alive to the magic of those taboo words, if you see the poetry in profanity, then you’re all right with me. If not, then I worry you may be an irredeemable ****. «