Often called helping verbs in a lighter vein, the use of cuss words in public domain has always been a matter of controversy as was recently highlighted by the hullabaloo over the Bollywood flick 'Udta Punjab'. Like its robust lifestyle, big fat weddings and many other things, the state is also known for its liberal use of abuses in common parlance. And nobody seems to mind as abuses fly within family discussions, official interactions and almost in all sorts of communication. Perhaps that is why Punjabis enjoyed the expletives while watching 'Udta Punjab' though there were some who felt that the cuss words were 'overused'.

But understanding the social phenomenon behind the cuss words in society makes a very interesting study. Australia based Dr Kapoor Kaur Jaggi carried out an academic research on Punjabi expletives some years ago and brought out a book, something very rare in for a woman to do in the highly conservative patriarchal society of Punjab. She was helped by her friend Davi Davinder. Jaggi has very riveting observations to make. She told The Citizen that data collection was one of the biggest challenges as people were not comfortable with either question answer format or even recording what they said. Things only moved when the two of them descended on a village and started making note of the language used in the daily drill of the locals.

She says “Although this language is harsh and insulting, swear or abusive words are a form of communication .There are two types of swear words acceptable in the society (idioms, wedding songs and satire) and non-acceptable ones (abusive words which are related to male and female’s sexual or reproductive organs and some other).”

She points out that in their life time almost every person uses abusive language in some form. Males use abusive words related to females (mother, daughter and sister) but there is no abusive word for a wife’s relationship). The same holds true for females who hurl abuses related to males.

“People use these words when they feel insecure, angry, stressed, helpless, feel loss or sometimes for fun and entertainment,” she says.

Her research pointed out that males use abusive words towards other males like mera saala, kanjar da putt, kamina, bewakoof, ullu da patha, gandi aulaad and also related to unacceptable physical relationships such as lundr, bhain da yaar, harami etc. They also mention the name of sexual organs. For females they use words such as, ptola, maruti, kaato, chalu maal, purja, taxi etc.

Similarly the females use abusive words for females such as, haramzadi , bewa, kanjri, rkaan, kutti, baandri, gandi, luchi, chudel, saukan etc. For males they use abuses like jai vadha, chaura, tlanga, tut paina, muchal, harami, baandar etc.

For the usage of cuss words in 'Udta Punjab' Jaggi says that at times such words are relevant to the situations and characters for a realistic presentation. However, she feels that such behaviour and language shouldn’t be ignored. She points out that at times cuss words are stress busters. “But the people who are receiving this abusive language gain stress,” she says.

Dr Zia Siddiqui, one of the prominent Urdu scholars in India, has a different take on the issue. He feels, “Every interaction is an opportunity to learn as language is the only mode of interaction and expression.” He points out that one of the essential part of one's learning is the 'Raaste ki zubaan' that finds an important place in informal communication. “Life’s disappointments are harder to take when you do not know any cuss words. I am saddened to live in a culture where people are more offended by swear words than they are by destruction of the generations, warfare and famines,” he says.