July 16, 2009

I swear, it’s true

Capt. Haddock made it count.So, a new “research” study reveals that profanity can be good for you. Apparently, it helps to ease pain. This is welcome news for the pipe band world, which I’m sure previously thought that swearing was debilitating to band morale and the pipe-major’s health. It’s welcome information that the pain of a badly blown D can be relieved by a choice cuss.

I must confess, I quite like swearing. But, like everything, try to do it in moderation. A good oath blurted out at the right time can really emphasize a message. I don’t think I know any adults who never swear, but I know many who rarely let out a good curse-word and, when they do, you know they really mean it. They make it count.

And then there are those who swear all the time. Cursing is part of their everyday language and just about every sentence includes sharp Fs and Cs. You end up not even hearing it, and after a while you realize that they have an affliction and you start making fun of them behind their back. If the good people at Guinness gave such an award, I’m sure one or two very famous pipers might have the world record for the highest percentage of swear-words in normal conversation.

There’s a lot of swearing in pipe bands. Since kids generally join bands that include mostly adults, they are indoctrinated to the wonderful world of cussing at an early age. Like good blowing and solid attacks, swearing is a learned skill in pipe bands, passed from generation to generation.

But I remember that even before I joined my first pipe band at the age of 12 I was already swearing like Captain Haddock. I can only imagine that the language of tweens is at least as filthy now as it was in the 1970s, so most kids joining the pipe band universe won’t be shocked. And if their parents are alarmed, they should f&*#ing chill.

There was a recent story about a piping teacher who was dismissed from the school system that he taught at for many years because he allegedly exploded with a bit of profanity in the presence of a young student. While piping and drumming teachers would be wise to rein in the invective, I can’t help think that, gosh darn it, it’s all part of good training for a life in piping and drumming.

Besides, it’s damned good for you.


  1. I had my days at military school where I cussed like, well, a soldier, and I’ve also had my church-going days where I promised myself that I didn’t swear at all. Those days are both behind me now, and I really try to not swear very much because I think it makes me sound like an uneducated moron. As you point out though, a well-placed naughty word from someone who doesn’t usually say such things can emphasize the fact that “This guy isn’t f%#^ing joking.” The role of swearing in leadership should be carefully considered by the individual leader, and I would quickly leave a band if I’m getting sworn at by the pipe major. Personal attacks do not help build an atmosphere conducive to progressing musically.

  2. Well the idea of stringing together sounds and syllables to express what you feel is fundamentally a good one. I can see how a five or ten minute swearing session at every band practice might work wonders and relieve tensions. Do you think pipers and drummers, who after all play LOUD instruments, have more to swear about than say a violinist or a piccolo player? Teachers of piping and drumming, anyone playing professionally, or bands in which children are present, will surely not swear. It can be very disrespectful, and if sworn at in a lesson or at band, I’d probably quit. I guess I think respect should be the key word, when with others, but a good swearing session in private or with ‘mates’ I’m quite sure gets a whole lot off peoples’ minds, and means the thing being sworn ABOUT is not stored up to cause bigger problems later.

  3. People would honestly leave a band after some swore at them, or stop going to an instructor if they swore at you? I think the point of this article is that a well placed expletive really reinforces a point, and isn’t meant to offend but draw your attention. Maybe if the PM or your private instructor is swearing at you it’s because they are trying to get the point through, perhaps because you weren’t listening effectively or at all in some cases. In my experience, sometimes people need a little bit of rough treatment to motivate a change.

    Now, in the case were the PM or instructor cusses a lot because that is how they talk, well then I can’t really see a point in getting upset over it. A little dirty word has never been so offensive to me that I was motivated to stop learning from someone I truly respected and felt taught me something. I direct your attention to “sticks and stones.” Also “professionals” cuss all the time, watch the Open coverage of Tiger Woods and I think you’ll see an F-bomb or two during his time on screen.

  4. The only time some offending words are needed is when things are sounding like Sh..t.
    Usually the people offended quit and the playing improves, problem solved.

    Pipe bands are not for the faint of heart!

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people expressing themselves and getting it out, rather than bottle anything up and make themselves ill. Nor am I talking about a one off slip of the tongue, nor the normal banter that goes on at band practices. I’m talking about routine over-the – top swearing at a band. And there’s no way I would pay top fees for lessons, to be sworn at. The thing about women and children is a strange one, because I know many men who don’t like being sworn at either. You know though, thinking about it, I don’t think I’ve heard so much as a single swear word at my band in three years. Is this so unusual? And I don’t remember any teacher of any instrument swearing at me, nor have I ever sworn at a pupil in a lesson. The other thing of course is that other words , not necessarily seen as swear words, can be equally offensive. Fortunately in piping as in other things, there are choices. You can go along with it or not, whatever feels right to you.

  6. I used to be a member of pipe band (have since joined another) and I was told off for swearing!! John Mitchell, you are right, pipe bands are not for the faint-hearted, if you cannot cope, get out. Yes, too much is not nice but it adds to the environment and it is the culture, love or hate it, I happen to love it.

  7. Individual berating is a throwover from the military origins of the pipe band and really doesn’t have a place in the modern band. I cannot recall any incident involving the PM swearing and yelling at any individual during the time that I played in bands and cannot see how that would do anything other than embarass both individuals in front of everyone else. If a player needs some help, it is better done one-on-one with an instructor or off to the side. The idea is to build the team, not destroy it.

  8. Well said! Much surely has to do with the state of mind of the people doing the swearing. At the point of swearing, they’ve not been able to hold onto whatever strong emotion they’re feeling so it gets vented on some other poor soul. Self containment classes for Pipe Majors? Can’t really see it taking off. There again, actually I ‘ve met quite a few who ARE interested in that kind of thing. I’d think if you get to the point of swearing and cursing, there’s something that’s not happening, and a better approach would be to rethink whatever it is that’s the problem. Could be its not being described in the best way, or a step back needs to be taken to analyse the specific problem. In other words, stop and think, rather than go steaming in with a string of expletives. I still think though that a five minute swearing session wouldn’t be a bad thing at the start of a band practice to let people vent the frustrations of the day before settling down to the music. T’would keep everything in its place.

  9. A true story….those involved will remian nameless;

    A young promising piper turns up for a lesson with his tutor, who will have cane drone reeds and nothing else…the young lad is found to be playing a synthetic bass reed, to which his tutor jumps op and screams – “What the f*** is that??? A f***ing s*x toy??!!”

    Nuff said

  10. Perhaps we have the makings of a reality TV series here? We could follow the weekly drama within a pipe band as all of the players interacted with each other by yelling, screaming, cussing each other out, throwing objects across the circle, destroying instruments, etc. Overacting, overreacting. the emotion, the highs, the lows, ;
    all so very “Hollywoodish”…….Bound to be entertaining!
    Oh…..uhmmm, I’ll choose to watch, not participate….



Forgotten Password?