“G’day, how much are your rooms,” said an Australian woman as she approached the bar. “$78.98, and no Aussie discounts” was my reply in a very sarcastic yet playful tone. Upon realizing I was a fellow Australian the woman asked how long had I been in America. “Twenty-two years, ” I said, long enough to make fun of both American and Aussies. “Twenty-two years…yeah, your accent is a mix of Aussie and yank I reckon mate” said the Aussie woman. With a smirk, I formally introduced myself, as the Aussie women named Kim shook my hand.
I have always found it rather funny when it comes to my accent. Americans believe my Aussie accent is very pronounced while my fellow Australians hear more of an American tone. For me, it seems most Americans do not know what a real Aussie accent sounds like, and Australians are oblivious to their parroty sing-along pitch. To my ear, the American accent generally sounds rather flat, and at times nasally. This flatness tends to make statements more dramatic and seriousness in nature. The benefit of speaking with an Australian accent is nothing ever sounds sad and our sentences sound more like questions than statements or comments.
As Kim filled out her reservation paperwork, her husband Joe approached the counter to order a beer. With three Aussie accents bantering back and forth, the bar started to feel more like an Australian establishment. I asked both Joe and Kim what brought them to this neck of the woods. “Holidays, it’s our first holiday! We are traveling around North America for eight weeks, we are farmers from Queensland.”
Having grown up in rural Australia, I was surrounded by farming communities. I learned from a young age that farming was more than a job, it’s a way of life, it’s never about the money, it’s for the love of the land and life on the farm. For city dwellers, it may be shocking to contemplate your first vacation at the age of 50; however, for a farmer, it’s a logistical nightmare. It’s somewhat like parenting the land, 24/7. Who will tend to your cattle and crops while you are gone? Who would you entrust your livelihood and way of life to?
Meet Kim’s husband Joe, the unapologetic potty mouth Queensland farmer. Australians are notorious for swearing, and Joe quickly reminded me of our laid back attitude and acceptance regarding profanity.
Every other word out of his mouth was ‘fuck’. As his wife explained, “if you tried to stop him from saying the F-WORD he would be silent, he would have nothing to say.”
Fortunately for Joe, his accent disguised his profanity, no one could understand what he was saying.
While Aussie culture embraces profanity America society generally frowns upon it.
Perhaps it was the founding father George Washington, who influenced the culture of cussing in America. Washington considered profanity as ”a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.”
By George Washington’s definition, Australians are lacking in sense and character and that would also include our political figureheads, who have been known to use profanity on national television and in parliament. I remember former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd using the word “shitstorm” on national television.
This type of language would be unacceptable for any USA president. Yet by Australian standards, the prime minister’s use of the S-word made him sound more like an everyday person.
Is swearing a socio-economic equalizer?
Does it make politicians more relatable to the everyday person?
Could the use of profanity discourage the feeling of elitism in Australia?
Perhaps the perfect example of swearing to discourage elitism came from another former prime minister, Paul Keating.
Prime Minister Keating yelled at Labor politician Jim McClelland: “”Just because you swallowed an f—king dictionary when you were about 15, doesn’t give you the right to pour a bucket of shit over the rest of us.”
Why do Australians cuss so much?
It’s a fair cultural question, what makes profanity more acceptable in Australia?
Can we credit Mother England’s 18th-century linguistic sensitivity to empowering obscene words which addressed taboo topics of the time?
Did these obscene words expose what the middle class was trying to conceal?
Are repressive societies responsible for enabling and normalizing obscene words?
At what point were obscene words used in non-literal ways?
How did words that once shocked and offended transition into words that society could use to swear?
Historically speaking, 19th-century immigrants arriving from England embraced the ”crude” language of Australian convict settlers, in order to assimilate and avoid the dreaded label of ”new chum”. It seems cussing was a catalyst for assimilation in a developing Australia.
Bloody and bugger were the two most prevalent swearwords in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was possible to print the two, even if they had to be disguised as b——y and b-gg-r, where as f——k would have been impermissible. In 1847, travel writer Alexander Marjoribanks noted that ”bloody” was so entrenched in the Aussie culture that a bullock driver he met used it 27 times in 15 minutes.
Bugger was an obscenity used non-literally, with the full flexibility of a developed swear word. It was, in the past as now, a blunt, direct word for anal intercourse.
As a kid, I remember religious swear words were far more offensive than those that refer to bodily functions. It seemed the most offensive language was that which violated the Third Commandment.
Many a lecture came my way if I used phrases like “Jesus Christ”, “God Dam”, not to mention a very frustrated and disappointed mother every time I said ‘bloody hell”
Yes, ‘bloody hell’ was a no-no word of my generation. It was the equivalent of dropping an f-bomb in current times. Bloody hell seemed to offer the same cathartic properties as an f-bomb. Reciting “bloody is in the bible, bloody is in the book, if you don’t believe have a bloody look” was not helpful when it came to convincing my mother it was not a swear word. At times, I wondered if my mother realized that it was the taboo status of swear words that gave them power. Looking back, it did seem the more restrictions that were placed on a word, the more alluring it was to say.
In the past, ‘situational swearing’ helped me highlight a topic that was important to me. Dropping an f-bomb in limbically driven situations was an admission that my emotions had taken over my inner censor.
In my mid 20’s, I feel I was addicted to f-bombing. I was highly aware that f-bombing provided an emotional release from my frustration of driving in L.A. traffic and dealing with people’s stupidity. After the first hit from an f- bomb, another one was cued and ready to be unleashed.
Perhaps swear words don’t just describe your feelings; they manifest them. It was my professor and mentor Dr Crossen, who suggested that swearing demonstrates an inability to express feelings within the realms of a civilized vocabulary. Throughout my youth, I was raised with two feeling words, shitty and crappy. Both words were interchangeable and somewhat situational. Somehow this basic feeling chart that helps develop childhood emotional intelligence and vocabulary, never made it to my house. Who knew there were so many options and ways to express shame, anger, and sadness.
But there was no sense of sadness, shame or anger being felt or expressed during my limited time with farmers Joe and Kim.
Their unplanned pit stop reminded me of how much I missed Australian culture. If it wasn’t Joe’s unapologetic, potty-mouthed, politically incorrect, stupidly funny jokes, it was Kim’s reminder that making fun of friends and family is a sign of respect in Australia.
Aussies by nature love a good laugh and we seldom take life too seriously. Perhaps we are one of a few cultures that are able to find humor in the most tragic of situations.
Since living in America, I had forgotten about the life and hardships of a family farmer. Perhaps I have become so accustomed to corporate factory farming. The image of a family farm seems more like a distant memory than a modern-day reality. Either way, farming has always been about connection. Connecting with people, the land, livestock, weather, crops, and with self.
On this day, these two delightful, fun-loving, sincere farmers from Queensland helped me reconnect with my roots in an outpost town in rural Arizona.
Forgive my potty mouth, proud to be a f..ken Aussie!