My Take

If you must curse, at least get it right

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2013, 4:04am

Legislators should not curse in public, especially not in English. If nothing else, they don't know how to do it properly.

Take the case of Lawrence Ma Yan-kwok, the barrister and Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker, who denounced pan-democratic lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung as "not a f**king Chinese" in the Legislative Council this week.

It is not that I disapprove of the word. Like any self-respecting reporter, I can't imagine a work day without cursing in its Cantonese and English variants. They say "curse like a sailor" but I suspect we journalists are worse.

The F-word is arguably the most versatile in the English language. Used as a verb, noun or adjective, it can be deployed in myriad situations and expressions - to curse, to convey exuberance or frustration, to provoke, amuse and, as originally intended, to pleasure. It works equally effectively as a modifier and standalone.

That may be why it is usually one of the first English words we Chinese learn inadvertently. The thing is, English is not only a beautiful but also convenient language, and has a word for practically everything under the sun. Excessive use of the F-word might limit your vocabulary.

Now, "a f**king Chinese" is a phrase more likely to be uttered by an ignorant sinophobic foreigner or racist. Presumably, Ma is trying to say he is a proud Chinese, rather than a f**king one.

Let us take a look at the full sentence which he shouted out, strangely, in English: "I am a Chinese, you are not. You are not even a f**king Chinese!" Did Ma think there are normal Chinese and then f**king ones? I suggest he is linguistically confused.

You see, Lawrence, even cursing has its own grammar. Perhaps no one taught you how to curse properly as you were too busy learning multi-syllabic legalese in law school.

Ma was berating Leung for being without education and proper qualifications, unlike him, while they debated civil liberties. Leung could hardly complain, since he long since threw Legco etiquette out the window. Still, there might be children listening.

I shudder to think what school life would be like if they learned from Ma and all shouted: "We are f**king Chinese."