• Tue
  • Sep 2, 2014
  • Updated: 6:04pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 3:55am

Public swearing seemed fine … until I became a target

Peter Kammerer tells how personal experience changed his mind about a teacher's public use of a few choice words to vent her anger

I've yet to meet someone who doesn't swear. Some people do it all the time, others rarely, but I do not believe there is anyone who has never uttered bad language. I was therefore initially sympathetic to primary school teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze, who is being ever-so-publicly hauled over the coals for using three choice words - two in Cantonese, another in English - to police officers. But my thinking has dramatically changed after I was at the receiving end on a bus of some of the self-same profanity.

The words were uttered by an elderly man who was seated in my favourite spot, next to the door. Rightly or otherwise, as a visually impaired passenger, I have come to expect that seat to be always available for my easy exit. As usual the other night, I boarded and moved to the place, putting out my hand to make sure it was vacant. Usually people make way for me, but this time, I encountered a knee - then a slap that swept my hand away and from the occupant, in a loud voice, two of Lam's expressions.

I was stunned. We hear swearing around us all the time, especially from the earthier among us. Men are especially prone to cussing, as some would term it, in matey settings like pubs and on the sports field. There are bosses who like to use tough talk and work colleagues who slip into the colloquial - I admit to being among them - to make an emotional point. How many among us can deny a muttered oath when hitting a thumb with a hammer or realising that a shop has cheated in an especially inventive way?

There are endless examples of officials and celebrities being caught on record using words that our grandmothers would threaten to wash our mouths out for saying. Careers have often been ended, but those high enough up the food chain can get away with them. US Vice-President Joe Biden muttered some last year in a moment of joy to President Barack Obama after a health bill finally got passed.

In moments of stress or tension, swearing can be cathartic and, dare I say, enjoyable. It even has benefits: a recent study in the scientific journal NeuroReport found that people who use swear words in painful situations experience less pain.

But the man seated unbudgingly before me on the bus was no drinking buddy, work colleague or joke-sharing neighbour. He was a stranger in a public place and a foul-mouthed one at that. So, in loud and clear English, I let him have some choice words of my own. Alas, it was clear that he was no linguist as my utterances made no impression. Nor was he a policeman, the education minister or chief executive, as I have avoided the fate of Lam.

Another passenger, expressing sympathy, helped me to a different seat. Red-eared, I realised that I had fallen into the man's trap and descended to his low-brow level. I worried that children were present and I had unthinkingly added to their vocabularies. Then and there, I realised how wrong Lam had been.

There is a time and place for swearing. In public, some words are best left unsaid and we should watch what we say in front of children and those who may object. A golden rule: avoid giving offence to others. Or perhaps be creative and invent personal swear words no one else knows.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post

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shun.lee.3158
I was a old man I bore in china study in hk . now in usa ,when i read and watch you tube.the lady talking and mouthing i feel sorry and sad?as a chinese oversea we lost our face,and also why some of hong konger support her.i thing some one is sick and a mental problem?
the sun also rises
maybe you just didn't understand the cause of the fury of Ms Lam Wai-sze who happened to walk past Sai Yeung Choi Street south in Mongkok on July 14th with her husband and found that the booth of Falun Gong (which is not illegal as it is in Mainland China) was surrounded by the so-called Hong Kong Youth Care Association's banners. And the cops called just encircled both rival parties with a cordon tape ---setting up a cordon zone which did not allow any people to walk in ! ---it indirectly helped the Assn.! Ms Lam and many on-lookers/passers-by argued with the cops concerned before Ms Lam burst out foul language (what the fxxk ! ) against a police officer ! She lost her temper due to the injustice in her eyes under broad daylight ! With common sense in mind, the cops should separate the rival groups instead of encircling them together in the cordoned zone ! Right ?
Dai Muff
Perhaps if you lived in Hong Kong instead of the USA you would understand better.
daniel18
If Lam Wai Sze still can be a teacher, then the subject she teaches should be "foul language swearing course". Moreover, because of her radical political stance, how can I not worry that she indoctrinate my kids to go radical? How can I ensure that she will not use foul language to swear at my kids or other teachers who have the opposite view on some matters?
the sun also rises
Do you dare to publicly state that you have never sworn in a public place ? You daren't ! Ms Lam lost her temper out of great fury---the unfair treatment of the cops in an argument between the Falun Gong and the Youth Care Assn.in Mongkok street ( not in a classroom against her students !) against a cop ! As all know, many gangsters used to swear at cops after midnight in Mongkok ! Have they all been arrested or charged ? Never ! Swearing at cops is not an offence here in Hong Kong !
Camel
@silence is gold
Wow, taking example with Gangster in Monkok. How about letting the gangsters teach your children?
Dai Muff
Give it a rest. When you are not criticising a teacher for swearing (against soft-handed police treatment to the mainland anti-cult-backed Youth Care Association) you are defending triad violence at political rallies. Where you are coming from is kind of obvious. It is not the police force's job to stand back and let thugs intimidate legal protesters. In EITHER situation. What we let you do to Ms Lam today you will want to do to us all tomorrow.
seikocreamy
Last week, I was unfortunate enough to witness a scene at a restaurant where a middle aged man was scolding a young waitress over his bill. I was not aware of the exact details but the gist of matter was that his discount coupon was being rejected for some reason. The man wasn't in an uncontrolled rage, but he was clearly intent on distressing the waitress. He used foul language at the waitress that included words referring to a woman's genitals or more specifically, her mothers and sexual activity concerning the same. Now I grew up in a tough neighborhood overseas but to this day, I still find Cantonese swear words to be particularly foul and rank. Anyway, the man was accompanied by a woman and a girl of about 15 who looked like being his daughter. I wondered how the middle aged man would feel if in a few years time someone else directed those very same swear words at his own daughter. How would he react to his daughter being subjected to comments concerning the state of her mother's ****? The young waitress did not seem to be much older than that man's own daughter. I find it laughable how some people - even academics refer to swearing as a form of free expression. Swearing, when directed at someone is a personal attack. Where I come from, I daresay it can attract physical injury.
Camel
Swearing and insulting others, using bad words is like fighting dirty not with hands and fists but with words. An indication of bad education and manners. Of course, I am not an exception. I have used bad words before in some occasions but I'm also considerate and educated enough to restrain myself if I am in public or my kids are around. This teacher Lam insulted in public police officers, setting a very bad example for the public and especially for the children and she is a teacher of a primary school.
If you swear and insult people you want to hurt them. You use very dirty words you want to hurt them seriously. Not with fists and hands but with words. And that was the intention of this teacher Lam. How can the children in her class look up to her, to hear, to listen to her teaching about how to behave and that "using bad words is sign of bad manners" when she herself does this in public to police officers? I would hate it if the teachers of my children would behave like this. I would immediately take them from the school.
mercedes2233
Our objection to a teacher swearing is that the policemen and women were only doing their job, did not deserve the abuse and could not answer back. Her behaviour is unbecoming for a teacher. If you 'earn' the swear words, then it is another matter.

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