The curse of swearing like a foreigner

WARNING: This post contains swearwords. But so did the most popular blog post I’ve ever written, so either deal with it or move on…

My love of appropriate swearing – no, that’s not an oxymoron – has been documented before. I thought I knew the whole lexicon. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover a whole new swearword: shithouse.

At first I wasn’t actually sure whether it meant good or bad. Was it the Aussie’s sense of irony at play? But a quick scan of the Urban Dictionary revealed that it was far more straightforward than that. It definitely means bad.

But much as I love the word, there is a problem with it. I just sound ridiculous saying it.

Maybe it’s because I’m female. It sounds totally natural when spoken by an Aussie man, which of course is where I first heard it. The example of usage given in the Urban Dictionary is perhaps a giveaway: Fuck me, I lost my right testicle! That is shithouse. Frankly, I can’t see when I’d ever use that combination of words, in that order.

Or maybe it’s my Scottish accent. While my accent has definitely got a bit milder in the two decades that I’ve been away from Scotland, the only people who can’t tell that I’m Scottish are those who assume I’m Irish (‘What part of Ireland are you from?’ ‘Er, the part that’s in Scotland…’). Indeed, there are some who still think I sound like Billy Connolly. An Australian colleague’s wife commented on how broad I sounded when she first met me; I felt like turning into the Scottish linguistic equivalent of Crocodile Dundee and introducing her to my relatives and schoolfriends: ‘That’s not an accent. That’s an accent!’

And as anyone who has ever watched anyone from Scotland depicted in a TV drama, swearing is (apparently) what our accents were designed for…although I fear it only extends to our native words.

I’d never want to change the way I speak permanently. Not only would it mean losing my identity, but it would also not go down well with my Scottish compatriots. Just ask Sheena Easton. But it would be nice to sound a bit less Scottish when it mattered – like in my Spanish oral exam at university, or when I need to use the dialect of where I live, rather than where I’m from. In Bristol, I always sounded like I was taking the mickey when I hopped off a bus with a friendly ‘Cheers Drive!’ in my approximation of a West Country accent and in Australia, I can’t say ‘shithouse’ without sounding like it’s a word I’ve never, ever said before.

And that really is shithouse.