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Do Fishing and Swearing Have to Go Together?

Another fishing story. Just another in an ages-old list of ways that fish become lost.

But it was the telling of the story that struck me most. The teller possessed an incredible grasp of the most vile regions of the English language.

"The (expletive deleted) lures had just (e.d.) gone out (e.d.) behind the (e.d.) boat, when a (e.d.) marlin (e.d.) popped (e.d.) up and (e.d.) grabbed one of the (e.d.) lures. We (e.d.) were so (e.d.) shocked that we (e.d.) rushed (e.d.) around like (e.d.) headless (e.d.) chooks. The (e.d.) hooks were (e.d.) not (e.d.) set (e.d.) properly. So of (e.d.) course the (e.d.) marlin (e.d.) jumped (e.d.) off. It (e.d.) was a (e.d.) big (e.d.) fish too. Biggest (e.d.) we have (e.d.) ever (e.d.) hooked. Boy were we (e.d.) slutted. You (e.d.) should have (e.d.) heard the (e.d.) swearing."

One of my pet peeves is the intrusion of swearing into all facets of life.

Movie makers these days seem to find it impossible to make films without an endless stream of obscenities. Ordinary conversations are littered with curses.

There was a time not too long ago when swearing was the prerogative of blokes, most of whom refrained from swearing in front of women. Now women, younger women more especially, cuss with the worst of them.

I am old enough to remember when Germaine Greer, the feminists champion, was fined for saying 'bullshit' at a public meeting in Auckland.

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I guess what gets to me, as someone who derives some pleasure from using words, is that most swearing is hiding a lack of vocabulary. Far too often swear words are used as adjectives, descriptive words, when their original intent was exclamation. Explicit, conversation stopping exclamation.

Often the opportunity to use a well chosen, telling explicative is debased by the general noise level of the swearing that surrounds it. A heartfelt anguished oath is lost in the cacophony of curses.

The biggest problem with the glut of swearing in too common use is the downgrading of the power of a good oath used when really needed.

Sometimes a good cuss is exactly what is needed.

But the list of provocation that could lead to the acceptable outburst of an oath should be short. Short enough to ensure the potency of that oath.

It is clear that fishing should be included in any list of provocation which may excuse language that would normally be inexcusable. Usually non-profane people, who would stoically face the pain of thumb-screws without a murmur will shout out an oath at the loss of a fish.

Fishing is an activity that has the potential, to bring about many opportunities to expel a well chosen obscenity.

A suddenly shouted, well rounded, truly redolent expletive, can help heal the pain of a lost fish. Help to communicate to all around the catastrophe.

The rattle of a ratchet, the splosh of a jumping fish in the quiet evening, followed by a sharp loud curse, can tell a story of clear meaning to listeners.

A story known and experienced by all fishermen. Every one of the listeners' stories summed up in one pointed profanity.

Sympathy, not censure, rolls like a comfort blanket across the water. In one word, all anglers are as one with the profaner. A whole book of words could do no more.

A line, caught tight to the bottom, pulled and tugged to the inevitable crack as the line parts, is just cause for a loud 'bother', 'golly' or 'gosh'. Few anglers would take violent offence.

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Then there is that slithery, fluffy, muffled, rattle as a cast is interrupted by a backlash under construction. A half hours line-picking is cause enough for a staccato 'for goodness sake'.

Most anglers would ignore the cursing, too busy thanking their God that it was not them.

Not that an oath always needs shouting. Sometimes a low hissed swear word can cut through the air to reveal the hurt.

Once fishing with a friend, and his friend, a vicar, we were plagued by fish who resisted hooking up with truly remarkable tenacity. Bite after bite was followed by nothing. Finally the preacher hooked up and the fish raced off. He reared up on the rod, and the line snapped.

The under breath, low muffled "damn" slashed through the air, cutting the banter like a scalpel. A mild explicative, made powerful by the swearer, more powerful still by his embarrassment.

An explicative almost breathed out, stealthily whispered, has the conversation cutting power of the preacher's "damn". There is great power in the 'did I hear you say what I think you just said' oath. Uttered by those who do not, or are seen to not utter such crude oaths, then the curse has profound effect.

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There is evidence to back my assertion.

The lady was in her mid sixties. She looked every bit the retired school ma'am, which I later discovered she was; only recently retired as Headmistress of a well known girls grammar school. Very straight-backed prim, blue-rinsed proper, well spoken and old English accented.

We fished nearly side by side at the top of a Tongariro pool (North Island, NZ).

She had fished for two days without success, without a touch actually. She had endured with polite congratulation as I landed a couple of fish, but now it was past time for her to leave for dinner with a friend before her journey home early next morning.

I was watching my downstream swinging line intently, when out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw her line tighten with that little rooster tail that confirmed something was attached to the line.

But my attention was diverted by her barely audible but beautifully enunciated murmur of "duck". Instantly I hunched down to avoid what I thought must be her hard-pulled fly slashing back through the air.

On raising my head, her limp line on the water still in front of her, and beetroot red face, confirmed that her pronunciation was not quite as good as I thought.

The two anglers on the other side of the pool were bent over, laughing themselves sick. Her low profane bleat of agony at missing her only chance of a fish had wafted to the other side, over the chuckling of the river. Her embarrassment knew no bounds.

That evening, by coincidence, we met at the same bar over after dinner drinks. Several drafts of Sir Jonathan Walker-Black's fine Scottish wine were passed to me, as I think an unasked for blackmail of silence.

There may be a time and place for a ripe rude retort, but these days these seems to be too many times and places.

Our English language is rich enough to provide the words to more than adequately replace profanity with wry wit and colourful description.

Mark Twain made a wise observation: "When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear."

Wise enough; but for me another short story may make a more pertinent point.

I was out to a post-fishing dinner with a group of hard men from the trucking industry. As the alcohol seeped into to darker recesses of the collective brains, and the stories of the day's mud, blood and beer, grew more raucous, decorum subsided.

Subsided to the point where some other patrons complained about the language emanating from our table.

The Maître D quietly but forcefully made the other guests feelings known to the host of our table.

Our host's communication of these complaints to the rest of us at the table was a remarkable illustration of the power of a few well chosen words, "if you don't stop swearing you can all @&%$# off"!

Bloody well said, I reckon!


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Article written by Tony Bishop


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