The use of what he calls “bang words” (obscenities included for effect), writes Barton Swaim, is “rhetorical cheating. It’s the forensic equivalent of pulling out a knife to win an argument.” In Oh, the Profanity!, he notes that in a Youtube video of the movies’ hundred greatest insults, precisely one is memorably funny, and that one was from Casablanca, a movie produced about seventy years ago.
The rest are mainly “imbecilic retorts and put-downs spiced with what I like to call bang words.” (The article, fyi, includes a lot of rude words — written with dashes instead of letters, but still, you’ll always know what they are.)
Which are easy to write. I made a similar point in From Junior High Down to VH1. It’s a bad sign, and a loss of expressiveness, when writers depend upon boorishness, whether crude insults or obscenities. For one thing, as Swaim writes, bang words
lend otherwise ordinary sentences a feeling of aggression and menace. They turn commonplace sentiments, sentiments one might be inclined to ignore (“Turn the music down, please”) into expressions that grab you by the ears and force you to listen (“Please turn that s— down”). It’s that function of profanity—to heighten the importance of common utterances—that makes it so dangerous to useful thinking. Very few of our utterances are intrinsically important, and every sentence bearing the f-word (or one of its cousins) gets a promotion, deserved or not.
Listening to this kind of speech is like listening to a pleasant song constantly interrupted by jackhammer blasts and loud recordings of fingers running down blackboards. It gets your attention, but soon you’ll go away to find a quiet place where you can actually hear the song. Unless you stay too long and get used to it, as many people apparently have.