31 January 2005

Preparing to Count

After receiving several comments from friends and family about the increase in my bad language during 2004, I decided to start the Swear Box 2005 project. I would be able to monitor my language and to assess how many swear words I was using on a daily basis. The virtual Swear Box would have a similar effect to a real swear box in that it would make me more conscious of my swear usage, and that it would implement a consequence for each swear word I said.

I have previously counted my swear words for an entire year during the Daily Quantification Records project in 2003. I remember it was quite difficult to keep track of them. Every time I said a swear word I would make a mental note then add it to the written tally on the Daily Quantification Record later in the day. Sometimes I would note down the words I’d said and the event or actions which caused them, but this was not a compulsory requirement of the project. Sometimes when I was in a real rage, it was near impossible to remember each and every word, so as soon as I had sufficiently calmed down an estimate would have to be made. The overall effect of this the process was a reduction in the amount of swear words I used each day.

I thought it would be a simple progression from counting the ‘number of swear words uttered’ for the Daily Quantification Records to recording all the necessary information required for Swear Box 2005. IE: the exact date, time, entire sentence in which the swear word occurred and the person to whom the word was directed. Maybe I’d forgotten how difficult it was or maybe last time I didn’t notice because my brain was completely swamped by the multitude of other information I was counting, but maintaining Swear Box 2005 really became much more of a challenge than I’d anticipated...


Only the first three days of the Swear Box 2005 project give an accurate representation of the quantity of swear words I would say in normal circumstances. During these three days my brain had not yet become accustomed to the fact that its language usage was being monitored and I still retained my freedom of speech.

From 1st – 3rd January 16 swear words were uttered, an average of 5.3 swear words a day. This will probably be the highest recorded daily average for the entire year. During this period I never forgot to record a word after it was said, but my brain was never conscious that its language was being monitored until after the event. Then there would be a sudden jolt of recognition, a slight sense of regret and I would have to fumble around for a pen and paper to record the offending sentence.

This sensation only happened for the first three days of the project. After a while my brain quickly began to associate the saying of the defined swear words with the palaver that followed: having to stop my conversation, run to wherever it was I’d left my notebook and write down the details. After I had set up the virtual Swear Box in Flash and inputted the first 30 swear words I was able to calculate that each time I uttered a swear word it would take up at least 5 minutes of my time to upload it to the website! This was the consequence that I faced for each outburst – so from this point onwards it seemed like swear word usage had to be rationed.

Red Alert...

It felt very unnatural, but I just stopped swearing. I went from an estimated 5 – 8 swear words a day in 2004 to practically nothing. I couldn’t help it. My brain was on 24 hour alert: It would trawl through the sentences in my head before I had a chance to say them and would replace any potential swears with inoffensive alternatives. Every time I actually broke though this barrier and said a swear word it felt phoney – as if I was forcing myself to say the word and that it had no real meaning.

Very rarely, at a rate of less than one a day, I would say a swear word and not be conscious of it happening beforehand. It was the word ‘bloody’ that cropped up most frequently in these situations. Maybe I was wrong to classify this as a swear word, I don’t find it particularly offensive and therefore allowed it to slip out on several occasions


By the end of January I was faced with a real sense of frustration at the effect the project was having on my life, my conversational skills and my ability to let off steam. On one occasion on 29th January, I became extremely angry beyond belief, after discovering that my ‘pay-as-you-go Oystercard’ had in charged me nearly £18 for two days travelling in London. I found myself trapped in a position where I could not swear, in a situation where I would normally have said several swear words in one long continuous sentence, just to make myself feel better and to emphasise my anger at the situation. I found this situation incredibly claustrophobic and in the end had to make do with several mutterings under my breath which I had to record by estimate after the event.


The first alcohol I consumed in 2005 was at the launch party of the Gold Card Adventures exhibition on 27th January. This exposed yet another problem to overcome in the recording process. It made me realise how difficult it was to remember swear words uttered during conversation and to record them after the event. This was also the first time in 2005 that I had been faced with a large social event and had to engage in many conversations with old friends who were, no doubt, used to my foul language. The alcohol made my brain less attentive to noticing swear words before they had been uttered. The social situation made me slip swear words into conversations so as not to appear up tight or alien to my friends.

On several occasions that night I uttered swear words during conversation. After they were said I again had that sudden jolt of recognition that I had experienced at the start of the project. I consciously repeated the sentence over and over in my head about three times, and convinced myself that I would be able to remember it later in the evening in order to write it down. Sure enough, later on I had completely forgotten, my mind was a complete blank. I could remember that I had said a swear word but could not, for the life of me, remember the specifics. Again estimations had to be made.

On repeated occasions in January I managed to forget the sentences that I’d said. This did not only happen when I was drinking, sometimes I’d forget if I just left it too long between saying the word and going to write it down. When this did happen I again felt really frustrated that my brain was not good enough or big enough to store this information and that it had let me down.

It appeared necessary to develop a more efficient way of recording swear words. I needed something that would help me be more spontaneous and natural when faced with a frustrating situation and when in conversation by allowing me to accurately record swear words as and when they occurred. I thought that if I could suceed in taking the pressure off the recording side of the project then my brain might be convinced to revert to being more relaxed about my language usage. Then Swear Box 2005 might once again become a more real representation of my daily swear usage.

The previous method for recording swear words was to write them in a swear notebook. This worked to a point, but had a few problems: Firstly the length of time it took to locate the notebook and pen and to record the word often meant that things were forgotten. In order to maintain accuracy it was important to go straight to the notebook after the word had been said, but this was not discrete if I was in the middle of a conversation.

So at the end of January I decided to try a new method of recording swears. I would repeat them into the ‘voice memo’ device on my mobile phone. This would also automatically record the time the swear was said. When repeating the sentences the offending word would be replaced with and abbreviation like ‘f-ing’ so as not to count as another utterance. This new method should be more discrete, more spontaneous and more accurate. I decided to experiment with this method throughout February...

February Swear Diary >