Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

I’ve Forgotten How To Swear

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Is this a good thing? Well it would be, but for one small problem.

I was up in Edinburgh last week for the UKIPT poker tournament. It began well; I won every pot I played for the first couple of hours (which was quite a few pots, I was in an active mood) and my chips were soon up to 27,000 from the starting stack of 15,000. It wasn’t as easy a table as one might hope for in this tournament - the UKIPT events have relatively small buy-ins, and the opening field is usually quite soft - but I was sitting between Marius Lietuvninkas (who’s currently top of the UKIPT leader board after playing 4 events for 3 cashes and 1 final table) and Joeri Zandvliet (who won the UKIPT Manchester and went on to finish 4th in this one). Lietuvninkas and Zandvliet: if those two names were read out in the Vic, one of the Cockneys would be bound to chuckle “Local boys…”  It is interesting how far people travel to play this grass-roots British tour. These two are Lithuanian and Dutch.

Anyway, relatively strong table but I was doing fine. Then I lost a huge 50,000 pot after flopping a set and losing to a straight. Then I found a pair of kings, reraised all in for a chunky 9,000 and ran into aces. Quite a mind-blowing five minutes of poker, that was. But don’t worry! That is not when I was trying to swear. I never lose my temper at the poker table. Besides, I decided that this was good luck disguised as bad: now I had the chance to wander off into the Edinburgh Fringe and search gleefully, as I have done many times over the years, for weird and wonderful (or weird and terrible) entertainment.

My friend Ben and I hit the jackpot immediately with a show called The Buffoons, somewhere near Grassmarket. Apparently (Ben discovered in a random conversation the next day) these were drama students paying tribute to an ancient French theatrical tradition of “airing society’s ills” on the stage, throwing taboos at the audience to see what happened. But there was no clue in the performance, nor any programme, to indicate such dramatic ambitions. We were just looking at five young people in weird costumes, running around shouting rude words. They were good performers, but the material was right in the gutter. There was a rape sketch. There was a crapping sketch. There was a sketch about an old lady whose womb fell on the floor. There was a sketch about someone in a wheelchair that was ABSOLUTELY NOT OKAY.

And then there was the fruit sketch. This involved one of the actors coming on with a basket of fruit and shouting rude puns. It began with him pulling out an apricot and shouting “RAPE-ricot!”. Then there was a pear: “A pear… of TESTES!”. Then there was a bag of frozen peas (not technically fruit, but why quibble?) accompanied by a cheery cry of “Pea-DOPHILES!”

Of course, none of these things actually is taboo in modern comedy, and certainly not in Edinburgh at festival time. Rape, testicles, paedophiles, whatever; it’s hard to walk across the Pleasance courtyard and find a conversation about anything else. But these kids’ relentless devotion to the grim was quite diverting; we were laughing, if not entirely for the right reasons. I’ll say this (and it’s a compliment, this is the Holy Grail of Edinburgh, and that special place in the Venn diagram where it doesn’t matter if something is stunningly good or shockingly bad): we certainly weren’t bored.

We saw three more shows the same day, went drinking and I forgot about The Buffoons. Forgot about them, that is, until about 45 minutes into a comedy show at The Caves the following night. It was a show that called for lots of audience participation, and it was quite a small audience. By 45 minutes in, when the comedian was calling for two people to join him on stage, everyone had been up already apart from Ben and me. We looked at each other. I’m not massively keen on audience participation. But he seemed like a nice guy and we couldn’t let the silence go on all night, so up we hopped.

It turned out that we were up there for a swearing competition. We were supposed to shout swear words at each other to win a prize. Ben kicked it off with a rousing f-word. Then it was my turn. Ben waited. The comedian waited. The audience waited.

Unfortunately, there was only one swear word in my head.


Yes, from the depths of memory it had emerged, and now clung to my brain like a chorus of I Should Be So Lucky if you wake up to it on the radio. It ricocheted around my mind to the exclusion of all else. “Rape-ricot, rape-ricot, rape-ricot”, sang my inner voice, deafeningly.

Fortunately, I managed to replace it with a loud new train of thought: “Don’t say rape-ricot, don’t say rape-ricot. Everyone will think you’re a lunatic.”

But there were no other words there. So I said nothing at all. The comedian waited politely for about a minute, in total silence, then sent us back to our seats and Ben won a miniature swingball kit.

I am worried that this is now a permanent condition. Maybe all the swear words in my head have been replaced, forever, by rape-ricot? I don’t swear very often so it isn’t a huge problem (if it were my brother, then there’d be trouble) but God forbid I stub my toe in a public place any time soon.

What’s the oddest thing that’s happened to you in Scotland?

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jim carr at 2:37 pm on August 30th, 2010

i had a swearing and fruit episode recently, i bought some “ripen at home” peaches from tesco. unfortunately they didn’t ripen, they got softer, but not riper. it may be that they required a nice middle class environment to ripen, and took offence at my council flat, i will never know. i couldn’t return them to the store, as i had eaten them all. so my only recourse was a burst of anglo saxon. i’m not proud of this, but it made me feel better.

The Tim at 5:00 pm on August 31st, 2010

So what’s this with your brother? Are we to expect a four-letter tirade when he lives the Good Life with Sue Perkins?

JoJo at 5:03 pm on August 31st, 2010

I saw my old headmaster near Loch Fyne with someone who wasn’t his wife. I hurried past without saying anything. That’s probably the oddest thing that’s happened to me in Scotland.

Lego at 5:05 pm on August 31st, 2010

You see VC, it’s your middle class sensibilities at play. You’re so terrified of what the neighbours think of you, and so terrified you’ll shout “oh FUCK!!” at your dinner party when you burn the souffle, that you’ve conditioned yourself out of swearing. So much so, that you now have a mental block when you try. You are the middle class, human, Kryten :D.

The oddest thing to happen to me in Scotland actually involved Arthur Scargill. What it actually was, I’m not saying, as I can’t tell all my secrets, but it was more weird than unpleasant, and thankfully I didn’t end up with a sore bum or anything afterwards.

But you know what’s scarily freaky? After I pondered your question and realized it involved Arthur Scargill, a minute or two later, I went back to Twitter, looked down trending topics, saw the new name of Cameron’s new brat, but then I looked down one, and WHOSE NAME WAS THERE?! Yep, that bloke, Arthur. I mean, how weird is that? Has Arther Scargill EVER been a trending topic on Twitter before? When was the last time he was in the news!? Years ago, to my knowledge. What are the mad odds of that?!

Your question has freaked me out slightly. :D

dom at 5:06 pm on August 31st, 2010

My father could swear like a trooper in several languages, and frequently did.
The cure for your condition is to learn a few choice words in, say, Arabic and Russian. They may take a while to learn, so practise some simple French words, such as <<MERDE>> and <<INSUPPORTABLE>>, which isn’t technically a swearword but is very good for the blood pressure…
I hope you get better soon.

VickyCorenAdmirer at 5:06 pm on August 31st, 2010

I am proudly among the 1 percent of British society who still abhor obscene filth of all kinds (and am only 32, so there).  There could be no greater condemnation than being part of the evil, degenerate majority. I recently had the displeasure of attending a depraved show in the fringe which absolutely everyone else in the audience thoroughly enjoyed…If you have forgotten how to swear, very well done, very well done indeed. There is never any excuse for iniquitous vile language - least of all popular acceptance. It is invariably a sign of either stupidity or bad character, if not both - of being part of the ‘normal’ majority. As you are clearly a highly intelligent person, well able to express herself decently, any gutter talk would mean you must be as immoral and corrupt as most.

Martyn Grove (Grog) at 5:07 pm on August 31st, 2010

You’ve forgotten how to swear!? Fuck off

Markjb at 5:07 pm on August 31st, 2010

You’re just a proper lady see!
On a family sailing holiday in Scotland, we moored in a little bay in the Isle of Jura. Woke up in the morning to find ourselves stranded way up the beach - spring tides. Caused much amusement to the islanders. Eventually a farmer with a tractor towed us down the beach, where we waited for the tide.

King John II at 5:07 pm on August 31st, 2010

In comedy, shock tactics are often a final throw of the dice for those devoid of any real talent.
Having a foul mouth is nothing to be proud of in the everyday swing of things. I suspect a freudian slip in respect of VC’s inclusion of a masculine body part with rape & paedophilia. Could it be that what some have posted in response to VC’s Sunday Observer column is not far wide of the mark?

Days of Yore.. at 5:08 pm on August 31st, 2010

Some years ago I attended a specialist conference, as an invited exhibitor/sponsor, in a ‘knobby’ hotel in Edinburgh. Whilst doing some ‘champers based’ networking I spoke to the partner of a senior delegate. She expressed an interest in viewing nearby National Portrait Gallery whilst conference was in session.. hubby didn’t seem to mind and I didn’t want to be rude by saying ‘no’ so along we trogged.. En-route the conversation quickly turned to hubby’s inability to father children and about this time, as we walked along, she took my hand ..

..I subsequently discovered that she was capable of swearing a lot better than myself!!!

Mike at 5:08 pm on August 31st, 2010

Hi Vicky,

I think the odd expletive (say the F or C word) can be very effective if used in anger, but to repeat them as certain comedians and other members of the public do all the time is counterproductive and extremely boring.

As to the oddest thing to happen to me in Scotland?  Probably walking to the top of Ben Nevis and finding it free of cloud, and then discovering I had not remembered to bring my camera.  Oh bugger!

VickyCorenAdmirer at 5:08 pm on August 31st, 2010

Someone who utters the “odd expletive” is just an intellectually or morally inferior specimen of humanity.  Far from making any point, they just incur my contempt, plus my pleasure in whatever their poorly expressed grievance may be. Basically, such a creature deserves all it gets.

In reference to another posting here, a swearing adulterer does not deserve a spouse by whom they can reproduce their filthy characteristics. Far too many reprobates are blighting the world as it is.

VickyCorenAdmirer at 5:09 pm on August 31st, 2010

Finally, it is of no concern to me how much everyone may reject my guidance. A ‘normal’ person wallows in their own depravity, rendering their sentiments worthless.

John at 5:09 pm on August 31st, 2010

I think if you say ‘rape-ricot’ in the style of Scooby Doo, you should be OK.  You know, I got my morally inferior hands on the first draft of a classic a few years ago.  Scribbled in the margin was the line - Last night I dreamt I went to fuckin’ Manderley again…

themanicflea at 5:09 pm on August 31st, 2010

Did balderdash or piffle not come to mind?

Oddest thing in Scotland (not really odd) was giving up on finding any parking spot in Edinburgh and driving to the Falkirk wheel instead.

dh at 5:10 pm on August 31st, 2010

Come and lie on my couch… I’m a good listener.

JazBenz at 5:10 pm on August 31st, 2010

That made me laugh… cuz I can just see your facial expression when you said “rape-ricot”

dg at 5:10 pm on August 31st, 2010

Keep going, vca, I’m sure she’s impressed by your vehemence.

On the subject of intellectual inferiority, surely apric**t would have been better, or am I missing the point..?

I remember one time I was up in Scotland and it didn’t rain. That’s the best I can do, which is one of the reasons why I don’t write blogs. Now, if you’d said Yorkshire…

Psychojon at 5:11 pm on August 31st, 2010

I’ve noticed recently that I’m replacing my normal swear words with things like crikey, flip, blimey and cack. Or just inserting letters in the regular expletives like crunt, or cramp, or funk. It’s a bit weird. And I’m only a young lad.

Chris at 5:11 pm on August 31st, 2010

On the bass of current ‘most interesting happenings’ submissions, I can quite see why so many Scots turn to alcohol and battered Mars Bars!!


..I’ve never actually met any Scot called ‘Jimmy’ ..does that count VC?

Mike at 5:11 pm on August 31st, 2010

OK, so it seems that I deserve everything I get and I will wallow in my own depravity, as VickyCorenAdmirer suggests.  In actual fact I have quite a lot, and if I deserve it then I am happy, but is VC admirer?  It does not sound like it.

So what the fick am I going to do today with the rain passing down outside and and no ficking food in the fridge? Oh billicks to it all I say!

A Trooper at 5:12 pm on August 31st, 2010

Whenever I stub my toe, I substitute any swear word with the phrase ‘oh baby’.

Rog at 5:12 pm on August 31st, 2010

As once said by a member of the Monty Python crew:

‘Well, I would definitely never say the word fuck in a church, but I certainly would fuck in a church’ !


Wildride at 5:13 pm on August 31st, 2010

You know how to swear, don’t you?  You just put your lips together and—Oh, no, wait, that’s how to whistle.  Oh, well, fucked if I know, then.

pejaycee at 5:13 pm on August 31st, 2010

My comment after stubbing my toe, or kneeling on a screw even, is:  “Tut tut I shall have to be more careful in future” (or words to that effect).

FYI wrong url at 5:13 pm on August 31st, 2010

FYI VC: Your web link on the ‘Writing’ page on this website for today’s Observer column doesn’t work

Stephen at 5:14 pm on August 31st, 2010

A lot of stand up comedy bores me now because it is riddled with swearing. It just feels too easy, like there’s no craft.

I do say ‘fudge’ a good bit, though, just because it feels more amusing and calming to say that with emotion about things that don’t really matter, than to curse with emotion about things that don’t really matter.

Funny story, made me chuckle.

Victoria Coren at 5:14 pm on August 31st, 2010

Thanks FYI, the link should work now.

Chris at 5:14 pm on August 31st, 2010

Very much enjoyed your column this week VC ..although I do feel for poor ol’ Brent just a tad :-)

Alan Glaum at 5:15 pm on August 31st, 2010

The last paragraph of the book review made me laugh out loud.

MDW at 5:15 pm on August 31st, 2010

There is only one swearword left in the English language and you know what it is - girls and wet people are too scared to use it.

I use it occasionally for someone I really don’t like (and that’s not many people). At times I use it just to see the look of horror on people’s faces - it’s a precious word that you can’t use often as that will dilute its impact, so please continue to not use it - yes that’s you the scared people.

I had to do a 24 hours in Edinburgh thing last year - I wanted to send back pictures of me getting hammered on cheap lager, eating kebabs and fighting (you know, really blending in) but instead the magazine got lots of shots of the castle and other such mundane things (having said that I did spend all day at the castle and loved every minute of it)

The Reviewist at 5:16 pm on August 31st, 2010

Proper swearing is a much lost skill.  Swearwords should be used definitively and to effect. This can be achieved in all company if done properly, rather than used as punctuation which seems to be the norm.

Strangest thing ever to happen to me in Scotland? I was born there, everything else seems to pale in comparison.

RomanticRecluse at 8:05 pm on September 1st, 2010

Yorkshire?  Someone mentioned Yorkshire.  That place makes me want to swear.  Well, not so much the place as the people: “Yorkshire folk”, a term that could easily be swearified.  Yorkshire could give Scotland or anywhere else a run for its money in the oddness stakes.

As for odd things happening to me (in Yorkshire), being sworn at and threatened in a supermarket by a man I’d never met in front of his three small children was fairly odd…

dg at 11:37 pm on September 1st, 2010

Yeah, sorry about that, RR. The kids say hi, by the way…

Glasgow Rich at 10:08 pm on September 9th, 2010

One little question stuck to the bottom of your blog entry sneaks in unexpected and crushes what remained of my fragile psyche.

I can’t think of anything odd that has EVER happened to me here. Not necessarily because it hasn’t, but because I can’t remember.

What emptiness!

Well maybe the day I walked out of my new flat and found an overturned car on my litter-strewn road with several military men and bio-hazard besuited people. Imagine my relief when Ewan McGregor appeared.

That’s not even odd, but it almost was.

Adam at 1:55 pm on September 10th, 2010

“What’s the oddest thing that’s happened to you in Scotland?”

Being born was a bit mental.

Victoria Coren

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